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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/14/16

Wall Street's Fraud of the Week Club

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Reprinted from Campaign For America's Future

Goldman Sachs
Goldman Sachs
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In April 2006, while Goldman was preparing an RMBS backed by Countrywide loans for securitization, a Goldman mortgage department manager circulated a "very bullish" equity research report that recommended the purchase of Countrywide stock. Goldman's head of due diligence, who had just overseen the due diligence on six Countrywide pools, responded "If they only knew ..." -- Annex 1, "Statement of Facts," Goldman Sachs/U.S. Department of Justice, April 11 2016

"In his capacity as Vice President of Credit-Risk -- Quality Assurance at Wells Fargo, Lofrano executed on Wells Fargo's behalf the annual certifications required by HUD ... Moreover, Lofrano received Wells Fargo quality assurance reports identifying thousands of FHA loans with material findings -- very few of which Wells Fargo reported to HUD." -- Department of Justice press release, April 8 2016

A $5.1 billion fraud settlement from Goldman Sachs, a $1.2 billion fraud agreement with Wells Fargo -- and that's just from the past week. Over the last several years banks have paid an estimated $200 billion in fraud fines and settlements. How many settlements, how many billions, will it take to convince some fact-resistant pundits and politicians that there is an epidemic of fraud on Wall Street?

When a gullible equity research outfit recommended that investors buy into Countrywide, a Goldman executive who knew what was being kept secret wrote: "If they only knew."

No matter how hard some politicians and press try to persuade us otherwise, the evidence shows that the banking community is rife with unpunished fraudsters. Its political influence, however, apparently remains undiminished.

The latest Goldman Sachs settlement is a case in point. While the settlement documents are somewhat obscure and difficult to read (as is typical in agreements of this kind), the facts are incontestable.

Simply put, the people at Goldman Sachs lied -- a lot -- to investors. The settlement included "a statement of facts to which Goldman has agreed," meaning that its high-priced lawyers aggressively negotiated each and every word. Despite those efforts, at least some of the ugly truth comes through loud and clear. Some excerpts:

"Between December 2005 and 2007, Goldman, Sachs & Co ... securitized thousands of prime, Alt-A, and subprime mortgage loans and sold the resulting residential mortgage-backed securities ("RMBS") for tens of billions of dollars to investors nationwide ... Goldman ... made representations to investors in offering documents about the characteristics of the underlying loans and Goldman's process for reviewing and approving loan originators ...

"As described below, in the due diligence process, Goldman received information indicating that, for certain loan pools, significant percentages of the loans reviewed did not conform to the representations made to investors about the pools of loans to be securitized, and Goldman also received certain negative information regarding the originators' business practices ...

"Between September 2006 and 2007, certain Goldman-sponsored RMBS included a number of loans purchased from conduit originators that, at the time of securitization, had been 'suspended' by Goldman. Goldman's offering documents for those RMBS transactions did not inform investors that loans purchased from suspended conduit originators had been included in the RMBS."

Translation: Goldman Sachs repeatedly sold mortgage risk to investors by claiming that it was making sure these mortgages were being written according to strict rules -- even when it knew that they weren't, and that a lot of the mortgages were in fact not what they claimed.

That's fraud, plain and simple. And it gets worse. In the case of Fremont Investment & Loan, a loan originator, Goldman Sachs didn't just fail to disclose Fremont's bad underwriting to investors. When it learned there was a problem, Goldman "undertook a significant marketing effort" to tell investors exactly the opposite -- that Fremont had a "commitment to loan quality over volume."

A lot of people must have colluded in that fraud, but no executives have been indicted at Goldman Sachs. Nor have its leaders exhibited any shame. They have participated in charity events (including the Clinton Global Initiative), and Goldman has a strong presence in the presidential race. One candidate was paid six-figure sums to give speeches at Goldman Sachs. Another received a Goldman Sachs loan for his Senate campaign and is married to one of its executives.

Apparently fraud doesn't carry as heavy a stigma as it once did.

Goldman Sachs still seems to have political clout, too, because that reported $5.1 billion settlement isn't all it's cracked up to be. As the New York Times reports, that figure is overstated by an estimated $1 billion. The watchdog group Better Markets estimates that as much as half of this settlement will be tax-deductible -- meaning that taxpayers will once again foot the bill for Goldman Sachs fraud. And, as Alan Pyke reports in Think Progress, some of the actions called for by this agreement will actually benefit the bank.

As Better Markets' Dennis Kelleher noted, "a $5 billion settlement is meaningless unless it is publicly disclosed how much money was made from the illegal conduct and the total amount of investor losses." Kelleher also points out that the statement of facts is incomplete, that the settlement amount is trivial when compared to Goldman's net revenue, and that "every single individual at Goldman who received a bonus from this illegal conduct not only keeps the entire bonus, but suffers no penalty at all."

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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