It’s a start. Sorry I can’t get more enthusiastic than that. But knowing the long history of Fannie/Freddie execs escaping accountability, expectations must be managed.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is suing a half-dozen Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac officials for fraud and deception. “All individuals” will be held accountable for the Enron-style financial mess they made, according to the SEC.
Here’s the official announcement from the SEC website:
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged six former top executives of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) with securities fraud, alleging they knew and approved of misleading statements claiming the companies had minimal holdings of higher-risk mortgage loans, including subprime loans.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the Commission in which each company agreed to accept responsibility for its conduct and not dispute, contest, or contradict the contents of an agreed-upon Statement of Facts without admitting nor denying liability. Each also agreed to cooperate with the Commission’s litigation against the former executives. In entering into these Agreements, the Commission considered the unique circumstances presented by the companies’ current status, including the financial support provided to the companies by the U.S. Treasury, the role of the Federal Housing Finance Agency as conservator of each company, and the costs that may be imposed on U.S. taxpayers.
Three former Fannie Mae executives – former Chief Executive Officer Daniel H. Mudd, former Chief Risk Officer Enrico Dallavecchia, and former Executive Vice President of Fannie Mae’s Single Family Mortgage business, Thomas A. Lund – were named in the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The SEC also charged three former Freddie Mac executives — former Chairman of the Board and CEO Richard F. Syron, former Executive Vice President and Chief Business Officer Patricia L. Cook, and former Executive Vice President for the Single Family Guarantee business Donald J. Bisenius — in a separate complaint filed in the same court.
“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives told the world that their subprime exposure was substantially smaller than it really was,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “These material misstatements occurred during a time of acute investor interest in financial institutions’ exposure to subprime loans, and misled the market about the amount of risk on the company’s books. All individuals, regardless of their rank or position, will be held accountable for perpetuating half-truths or misrepresentations about matters materially important to the interest of our country’s investors.”
The SEC is seeking financial penalties, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with interest, permanent injunctive relief and officer and director bars against Mudd, Dallavecchia, Lund, Syron, Cook, and Bisenius. Both lawsuits allege that the former executives caused the federal mortgage firms to materially misstate their holdings of subprime mortgage loans in periodic and other filings with the Commission, public statements, investor calls, and media interviews. The suit involving the Fannie Mae executives also includes similar allegations regarding Alt-A mortgage loans. The suit against the former Fannie Mae executives alleges they made misleading statements — or aided and abetted others — between December 2006 and August 2008. The former Freddie Mac executives are alleged to have made misleading statements — or aided and abetted others – between March 2007 and August 2008.
A glaring omission from the list: Former Fannie Mae head and Clinton/Obama pal Franklin Raines. Longtime readers will remember when the SEC was supposedly “cracking down” on Fannie Mae’s bogus accounting back in 2004. I called Raines the Ken Lay of Fannie Mae in 2006, when he faced civil — but not criminal — charges stemming from his massive financial scammery. Two years later, he was buying a $5 million condo and still living high on the hog.
Here’s what I reported in 2003:
Analysts unable to decipher Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s incomprehensible annual and quarterly reports have long suspected book-cooking with regard to their real cash flow. This week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Freddie Mac faces an SEC probe over possible accounting irregularities. Investigators will examine whether Freddie Mac may have deferred some income to smooth out results in future periods. The SEC will also probe the actions of the chief executive and chief financial officer, who were fired on Monday over an accounting review of earning restatements. The news sent stocks south and roiled some foreign markets as well.
Clothed in politically correct fashions (“Catch the dream,” beckons Freddie Mac’s program to boost minority home ownership; a “leader in diversity,” brags a Fannie Mae press release), these public-private hybrids are two dangerous pigs feeding at the federal trough. Congress created Fannie Mae (nickname for the Federal National Mortgage Association) in 1938 to bolster home ownership during the Depression. Three decades later, it was partially privatized, but retained a host of government benefits. In 1970, Congress spawned Freddie Mac (nickname for the Federal Home Mortgage Corp.) to provide a lending competitor to Fannie Mae. Both entities expand the pool of money for home purchasers by snapping up loans that lenders make to homebuyers, and then converting those loans into relatively safe mortgage-backed securities that are attractive to investors.
So, what’s wrong with this picture?
As Fred Smith, president of the Washington, D.C-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, has noted, these financial beasts are a textbook example of “profit-side capitalism and loss-side socialism.” When things go right for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, they keep the profits. But when things go wrong, taxpayers — not just private shareholders, managers, and employees — will be on the hook.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae each receive $2.25 billion lines of credit with the U.S. Treasury. These special pipelines give the institutions an implied federal guarantee available to no other private sector competitors in the mortgage market. That protection makes them immune to the costs normally associated with riskier and riskier behavior. Moreover, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not required to pay state and local income taxes. In addition, the standard for how much money the government requires them to keep on hand in case homebuyers default on their mortgages is lower for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae than for fully private banks and thrifts. The two corporations receive an estimated $10 billion a year in hidden taxpayer subsidies.
Political appointees to the companies’ boards pocket millions in stock options to bolster support on Capitol Hill. Clinton-appointed board members at Fannie Mae include Marc Rich lawyer Jack Quinn and Janet Reno’s lieutenant at the Justice Department, Jamie Gorelick. At the helm of Fannie Mae is another Clinton appointee, Franklin Raines, who was paid more than $4 million and had almost $6 million in unexercised stock options in his first year at the helm. Cheerleaders in both major political parties have opposed privatizing Fannie and Freddie.
If Martha Stewart is the face of capitalist excess, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the poster children for government-sponsored gluttony. The potential fall of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae could rival the savings and loan collapse of the 1980s. Too bad the Martha bashers, blind to the far greater catastrophes of market socialism, won’t pay attention until it’s too late.
All of which makes Newt Gingrich’s continued defense of the GSE racket all the more stomach-turning.
We need people in Washington who will clean up the mess. Not people who have cleaned up on it and keep rationalizing the self-dealing ad nauseum.