A Manhattan federal jury found the Bank of America Corp liable for fraud yesterday in connection to its Countrywide subsidiary selling defective mortgages. The trial last four weeks when a 10-person jury found the bank liable of one civil fraud charge.
In a process called “Hustle,” Countrywide developed and sold bad home loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Along with the bank itself, former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone was found liable on one fraud charge by the jury. The U.S. Department of Justice said it would recommend that U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff render a verdict $848.2 million, which would equal Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s gross losses.
Officials with Bank of America downplayed anyway wrongdoing by the bank.
“The jury’s decision concerned a single Countrywide program that lasted several months and ended before Bank of America’s acquisition of the company,” said BoA spokesman Lawrence Grayson. “We will evaluate our options for appeal.”
The case was originally brought about by whistleblower Edward O’Donnell, a former Countrywide executive. The program “Hustle,” which is a deviation of the acronym “HSSL,” or “High Speed Swim Lane,” began in 2007 and involved Countrywide “eliminat[ing] loan-quality checkpoints and paid employees based on loan volume and speed.”
The case was also the first to be heard under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), which was developed to cover fraud “affecting federally insured financial institutions.” The law was drafted and passed shortly after the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s.
The DOJ resurfaced the law to place against banks indicted for fraud and has a statute of limitations of 10 years. The law gives the government power to bring civil cases for alleged criminal acts.
“This case shows the ongoing effort by the Department of Justice to hold these giant financial institutions accountable for their recklessness,” said Peter Mougey, shareholder at the Levin, Papantonio law firm. “Financial institutions like JPMorgan, and, in this case, Bank of America, are the most notorious. Regulators have to keep pushing, showing no tolerance for banking practices that are damaging to customers and our economy.”