California Investigating Whether Bank of America & Countrywide Financial Used False Pretenses to Sell Mortgage-Backed Securities to Investors

Not long after bowing out of talks over a possible $25 billion dollar settlement between state and federal officials and the country’s largest banks (including Bank of America Corp, Citigroup, and JP Morgan Chase & Co.) over alleged foreclosure abuses, California’s Attorney General’s office has subpoenaed BofA as part of its investigation into whether it and subsidiary Countrywide Financial employed false pretenses to get private and institutional investors to purchase risky mortgage-backed securities. By walking out of the negotiations on the grounds that the banks weren’t offering a big enough settlement, the state of California has given itself the option of arriving at a larger settlement.

California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has called the proposed settlement “inadequate” for the homeowners in her state. She has also has set up a mortgage fraud strike force tasked with investigating all areas of mortgage fraud.

Countrywide is credited with playing a role in the housing boom and its later collapse because of subprime loans it gave clients with poor/no credit histories, mortgages that let borrowers pay such a small amount that their loan balances went up instead of down, and “liar” loans that were issued without assets and income being confirmed. Also, a lot of the most high-risk loans were bundled up to support private-label securities that became highly toxic for investors and banks.

Meantime, Federal and state officials are trying to get California to rejoin the larger talks. Just this week, they presented the possibility of helping troubled creditworthy owners refinance their loans. California’s involvement is key for any deal because the state so many borrowers that owe more than the value of their homes, are in foreclosure, or are running behind on mortgages.

New York, too, has backed out of the group—a move that proved to be another blow for negotiations, as well as for the Obama Administration. Officials from other states, such as Nevada, Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Kentucky, have also expressed worry about the breadth of the settlement and whether all potential misconduct has been investigated.

With its acquisition of Countrywide in 2008, BofA has sustained high losses over settlements as a result of its subsidiary’s loans. According to the Los Angeles Times, these settlements include:

• A promise to forgive up to $3 billion in principal for Massachusetts Countrywide borrowers
• $600 million to former Countrywide shareholders
• Billions of dollars to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae over buybacks of bad home loans
• $8.5 billion to institutional investors over the repurchase of Countrywide mortgage-backed bonds
• $5.5 billion reserved for mortgage bond investors with similar claims

California reportedly subpoenas BofA over toxic securities, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2011

California Pulls Out of Foreclosure Talks, Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2011

More Blog Posts:
$63 Million Mortgage-Backed Securities Lawsuit Against Bank of America is Second One Filed by Western and Southern Life Insurance Co. Against the Financial Firm, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 29, 2011

Federal Home Loan Banks Say Countrywide Financial Corp Mortgage Bond Investors May Be Owed Way More than What $8.5B Securities Settlement with Bank of America Corp. is Offering, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 22, 2011

Bank of America and Countrywide Financial Sued by Allstate over $700M in Bad Mortgaged-Backed Securities, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, December 29, 2010

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