FBI Mortgage Fraud Investigation – Too Little Too Late? Is This Smoke and Mirrors or the Real Thing?

September 24, 2008

For some time I have been writing and speaking about white collar crime, business ethics and the issue of mortgage fraud.  Then we have the issues that have surfaced over the past several weeks culminating with the President’s address tonight.  A major recession (I’d call it a depression) is facing us if we don’t do something now.

Now just may be too late.  Many individuals and firms have either gone under or become the target of a massive FBI investigation into mortgage fraud over the past several years.  But at the heart of this entire mess is the government and their failure to provide oversight and accountability.  It seemed that a robust economy balanced on the back of home ownership was more important than practical long term ethical decisions that fall on the backs of our elected officials.  (And for anyone who feels that I am leaning one way or the other politically – I feel there is plenty of blame for all elected officials).

Now we find in published reports that the FBI is expanding it’s investigation of major institutions whose names have been at the heart of the meltdown we are today witnessing.

According to CNN:

The FBI is investigating Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG – and their executives – as part of a broad look into possible mortgage fraud, sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN Tuesday.

Two officials with knowledge of the FBI investigation into the mortgage crisis said “the investigation is all very preliminary”. They said there is a lot of anger and people want someone held accountable.

Officials are looking into whether any criminal activity occurred, but the Bureau said the investigation will take some time. They said the investigation is in the preliminary stages, and so far it is a broad look at the companies involved.

“From what I’ve seen so far, I really don’t believe we’re going to find widespread fraud,” according to one of the officials. They said they have to go where evidence and facts lead. Just because an investigation has been opened doesn’t mean there will be charges.

Trust me – there will not be charges.  The FBI investigation (done by well meaning people) is just a political smoke screen so that those who want accountability will feel that something is being done.  Frankly, nothing substantive will be done to hold those most accountable for this financial failure responsible.

As reported in my prior blog entries, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress that 1,400 individual real estate lenders, brokers and appraisers are now under investigation in addition to two dozen corporations.  What is of most interest is that the focus is on small time fish and a big sea of corruption.

Greenspan told Congress sometime in the recent past that something must be done with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae or we would face a meltdown and grave financial crisis.  His prediction has come true.  What’s sad is that our politicians from both sides of the isle did not have the fortitude to step up and do the right thing.  Rather, they buried their head in the sand and now find that they are drowning in a sea of financial misfortune.

ENRON’s leaders were held criminally liable for their financial misdeeds.  This collapse makes the ENRON mess pale in comparison.  Yet, since government backed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are at the heart of the problem – both backing poor loans and selling them to the market – there will be nothing criminal to come from this.  The government doesn’t have the will or courage to regulate itself – nor the ethical wisdom to do what is right.

Cynical – well not really.  Practical – yes.  This $700 billion dollar plan will in the end cost $3 TRILLION…just wait and see.  Meanwhile, there is a long winter ahead and the chill we will feel won’t just be the weather.

QUESTION:  Do you believe the FBI will find anyone in any major institution recently names held criminally liable?


Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Survive! On The Back of Taxpayer Deposits?

September 21, 2008

Now let me state from the outset – I don’t claim to be a financial wizard, but I find it curious that in order for the last of our country’s investment banks to survive they must become – well – regular banks.

If somehow we haven’t gotten it thus far – AMERICA IS IN FINANCIAL CRISIS!  The scope of the crisis is truly unknown to the average citizen and while I am no doomsayer – it is not over.

The borderline unethical financial practices of these institutions are the root cause of their demise.  When you loan money to people who can’t practically pay it back in the interest of profits – you are, in my opinion, acting without sound business ethics.  But here’s the deal – if it were you or I, we would be conviced of some fraud or conspiracy.  That would mean jail time.  But when your crime (yes I said crime) is so large that it shakes the foundation of our financial markets – you get bailed out and make no mistake the Fed’s action today (on a Sunday) is a bail out.

Think about it – over the course of the past three weeks our government in one form or another has spent up to nearly 1 TRILLION of our taxpayer dollars to shore up our financial institutions so that we would not experience another GREAT DEPRESSION.  Wise or not remains to be seen.  All I report on here are the facts.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are the remaining two investment backs surviving.  Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and will be sold to Barclays and Merrill Lynch was purchased by Bank of America.  Fascinating that little NCNB (former North Carolina National Bank) became Bank of America and now is the largest bank in the US with the Merrill acquisition.  Who said the South would not rise again.  But I digress.

According to a report by CNN:

The Fed announced that it had approved the request of the two investment banks. The change in status will allow them to create commercial banks that will be able to take deposits, bolstering the resources of both institutions.

It is clear that this change of status is designed to use “deposit” as a means of leverage giving them a stable source of funding.  The question is – who would want to deposit funds into either institution.

Answer:  In the surprise announcement late Sunday, the central bank said that to provide increase funding support to Goldman (GS, Fortune 500) and Morgan (MS, Fortune 500) during the transition period, they would be allowed to get short-term loans from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York against various types of collateral.

So let me get this straight in my mind – the federal reserve is going to make loans to both Goldman and Morgan giving them cash to offset their poor loan portfolio making them appear to be safe.  To me that is like paint a rotten fence with white paint and calling it new.  This is nothing more than a disguised bail out.

According to MSNBC: After the collapse of Bear Stearns and its forced sale to JP Morgan Chase last March, the Fed used powers it had been granted during the Great Depression to extend its emergency loans to investment banks as well as commercial banks. However, that extension was granted on a temporary basis.

But as commercial banks, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley will have permanent access to emergency loans from the Fed, the same privilege that other commercial banks enjoy.

So here are some questions to ponder – and feel free to respond!

Question 1: Should the Fed have taken the actions to allow Goldman and Morgan to survive by allowing “normal” banking deposits?

Question 2: Do you feel that the actions by the “investment banks” have been ethical or unethical?  Why?

Question 3: With the massive actions taken over the course of the past three or so weeks, do you feel more or less confident in our nations economy?

As a business ethics speaker, I can say that there has never been a time in my lifetime that demands more thought, focus and ethical consideration of actions taken than now.  Business is good and business done with right ethical intention can grow and prosper.  But, as I say in practically every presentation I make – Every choice has a consequence.  Now we are reaping the consequences of choices made – not so long ago.

For all our sakes let’s hope that we can weather the economic storm ahead.

Your comments are welcome!