NY AG Schneiderman Tells Frontline A Few Things that Just don’t Add Up

NY Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, sat down in a rare interview with Martin Smith for his Frontline film The Untouchables. A lot of that interview didn’t make into the PBS documentary film so the transcript of his entire interview has been released. The NY AG pumps up Obama’s mortgage task force as a vehicle that really helped him bring his civil fraud suit against JP Morgan for the sins of Bear Stearns RMBS trading group. I don’t think that’s what happen — in fact I know it’s not.

As the only journalist who published the first Bear Stearns/EMC on the record whistleblower in May 2010 for The Atlantic I was able to get a unique behind the scenes look at how every regulator and private litigator was or was not involved in figuring out how Tom Marano, Jeff Verschleiser and Mike Nierenberg orchestrated the double-dipping putback scheme the NY AG sued over. At some point they all called me. This is one of the reason’s Martin Smith approached me in July to help him learn about who the players in the fraud were and how the suit was built while he was choosing which Wall Street fraud stories would make it into his Frontline film. He told me the Bear Stearns double dipping scheme looked like the case with the most evidence that has escaped criminal prosecution and I agreed. He was equally interested in the battle it took just to get the series of stories I reported on the actions of Bear Stearns and JP Morgan and their lawyers published.

Martin did a great job getting tough and focused questions in front of the NY AG. It’s an accomplishment he even got him to sit down for an interview and talk about an ongoing case. It’s also too bad more of the interview didn’t make it into the film so I think it’s really important to talk about what the NY AG said or didn’t say.

First off the NY AG did not figure out the Bear double dipping scheme that is part of his civil fraud suit against JP Morgan. When I reported the story at The Atlantic in January 2011 the scheme had already been laid out in sealed court documents by the lawyers at Paterson Belknap in mid 2010. The law firm, known as PBWT, represented three monoline clients with initial losses of just over one billion. These details were discovered before the NY AG EVER took office.

Martin Smith tries to ask Schneiderman about this here:

MS: Were you drawn for any particular reason to the monoline (PBWT’s Work) cases? Did they offer an opportunity to get at the documentation inside or the due diligence work that had gone on?

NY AG: Well, some. We started our own investigation in the spring of 2011, and we’ve reviewed millions of pages of documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses and taken depositions. So it was really a supplement to that.

But we looked at those cases and we looked at other cases. We subpoenaed records, and there’s a big, fat spreadsheet of cases that have been brought by various players out there against these institutions. But you have to keep in mind, individual firms or investors can only sue for their damages. They can sue for the particular deals they worked on, or they bought shares in.

And what we’ve put together is a platform case, which is really much broader. It’s about the systemic pattern of conduct, because, as we allege in our complaints, no investor during this period of time would have purchased any mortgage-backed securities if they had realized that the due diligence process was a sham, that the quality control process was a sham, and that the representations about underwriters meeting standards and originators meeting standards was really not being followed through.

To me supplement means the NY AG would have come up with some new evidence in his suit or charged the Bear executives individually. He didn’t do that. His suit has paragraphs literally copied out of the Ambac v. JPM/ Bear suit that PBWT did the leg work on. His suit even got the name of the audit firm wrong who told Bear’s senior executives that the practice of the RMBS traders keeping dollars from mortgage putbacks and not passing them back to the security was ‘not industry practice’ (nice way of saying it’s wrong).Francine McKenna who writes for Forbes and American Banker figured this out and questioned the NY AG’s office about it who had to admit they made a mistake in the suit. Mistakes like that are made when you copy other lawyers work. Instead the only thing new the AG came up with was a fancy legal term ‘ the PLATFORM case’ to describe his lawsuit filed off of the private sectors work.

He sued for over $20bn in rmbs issued by the bank which is more than the monoline suits sued for but if he settles and gets less than a billion from JP Morgan then he’s fined them less than the actual damages of the total monoline suits. I guess that’s what the NY AG means by supplement?

The NY AG – unlike the DOJ who did not contact any of the Bear whistleblowers during my three years of reporting of the fraud – did at least interview whistleblowers used in my reporting. He also made the effort to contact Nick Verbitsky, doc film maker who had EMC whistleblowers on camera for his film, and ask for all his unedited tape – which I reported for DealFlow Media in mid 2011. Basically he just did a Fact Check for his role in his JP Morgan/Bear suit and clearly found that the work of reporters and lawyers at PBWT was enough to bring a fraud suit. Except he falls down on his sword and sues civilly without charging any individuals or charging a bank with criminal wrong doing.

PBWT’s suit named-names like Tom Marano, Mike Nierenberg, Jeff Verschleiser – that’s because internal Bear emails and over 30 whistleblowers gave them evidence to name these names. A judge eventually ruled out the Bear individuals as defendants but at least they tried.

The NY AG went on to tell Martin Smith that he’s not ruling out brining future charges against individuals – that is if more whistleblowers come forward. OK well how about going out to find some whistleblowers on your own like the DOJ had done in insider trading cases. Arrest one – I’d start with the Bear Stearns desk traders Jeff and Mike who were on the frontline of the double dipping scheme and see if they flip on bigger players like Marano or even Warren Spector his boss.

The NY AG is also racing against a time clock – which he points out in his Frontline interview – because of statute of limitations. Now if he tried to use civil RICO as a charge he could buy himself time.

The NY AG’s brag about coming up with a ‘platform case’, that shows this was a systemic problem, is a deviation to something former DOJ chief, Larry Thompson, put out in 2003 called the Thompson Memo. This memo told prosecutors how to negotiate with intuitions when deciding to sue or make plea deals in cases where their employees committed crimes. The heart of the directive was to find the individuals to charge criminally because by charging the whole bank, who has tons of employees who did NO harm, the effect of punitive justice is diminished by job and net worth loss to innocent people. Thompson was involved in the litigation that brought down Enron and saw Arthur Anderson destroyed as a result. The Thompson memo got watered down as new DOJ heads came in and I’d be scared to death to see what a Lanny Breuer (current head of DOJ criminal division) memo would look like.

The take away from Smith’s Frontline film was: The American people still don’t have a good reason for not going after bankers individually for financial crimes. And the excuse Lanny Breuer gave about worrying if it would crack the US financial system is making people want to scream even louder about serious problems in the leaders of our Justice departments.

Martin Smith interviewed me about where Tom, Jeff, and Mike went after Bear Stearns (all have million jobs at other big bank institutions) but none of that material made it into the film. Likely because he’d need another half an hour just to show all the evidence against this crew of former Bear traders. Until the NY AG charges these men with a crime that could cost them jail time or sues them so they lose their securities license and personally bankrupts them – his platform case is another way of saying I haven’t used the unique powers my job enables me to do yet.

San Bernardino County Backs Down From Shoddy VC Plan Using Eminent Domain

A Southern California government official from a depressed county tried to go up against Wall Street this summer when he shocked the mortgage bond community by telling them he was thinking about using eminent domain to force-buy underwater mortgages out of the securities at a discount. That man was Greg Devereaux, a former city planner, who is the appointed CEO of San Bernardino County located in the Inland Empire of Southern California. It’s one of the largest counties in the state who had one of it’s larger cities file bankruptcy last year. On Thursday at a public hearing Devereaux did a bit of a 180 and basically said he couldn’t take the risk of using eminent domain because Wall Street would attack it and his constituents were voicing they really didn’t want to do it.

I was on the ground for six weeks this summer following the hearings and community reaction in the county. Viewers of RT’s Keiser Report saw me explain how these good-hearted muni officials were about to get bamboozled by a San Francisco venture capitalist with a firm call Mortgage Resolution Partners. What we were really faced with was two finance groups duking it out over profits with financial screwed homeowners as the sucker in the middle. MRP played San Bernardino’s heart-strings by promising to clean out the abundance of underwater homes in the county that were keeping real estate recovery at a stall.

Except as I exposed on Keiser Report, MRP was really just setting themselves up to make a double-digit profit if they could get Devereaux to break contract law and buy the underwater mortgages at a discount to their value within the mortgage bond. Meaning RMBS holders, which include pension funds, could get their investment wiped out. By breaking contract law San Bernardino County risked high borrowing rates via banks afraid to do business with anyone in the county going forward. The kicker was MRP wasn’t going to buy mortgages with borrowers who were not paying; instead they wanted the cream of the crop, the paying overvalued mortgages, so they could off load them down the road to the FHA or GSE’s. There wasn’t a lot of risk for MRP in the plan but there sure was for the local residents.

San Bernardino County spokesperson David Wert wrote in an email after the vote to drop eminent domain:

“Board Chairman Greg Devereaux pointed out many experts have warned the use of eminent domain would destabilize an already weak local housing market and even worsen the mortgage crisis. At the same time, very few local homeowners and other stakeholders expressed support for the use of eminent domain. Many, in fact, opposed such a strategy.”

When the plan was first presented the local Inland Emprie press and liberal media like Huffington Post were working like public relation dogs for MRP. Glossing over the fine print details of how a homeowner could get totally screwed if their loan was bought via eminent domain. But as my peers in the financial press picked up on what was really going on and we saw Reuters to the Wall Street Journal writing about the evil pitfalls residents would face and it got local business owners, real estate agents, or homeowners not underwater really worried.

Devereaux says he never fully committed to do MRP’s plan but he did think it was worth telling his residents about so a public debate could happen. That debate turned into a somewhat union ball breaking style of backroom convos by the wall street lobby groups with relators and homeowners across the county. Devereaux’s office told me SIFMA even threaten them ‘not to talk about eminent domain publically’ or all holy hell would break out for their local economy. That threat didn’t bode well with progressive minded Devereaux who thinks governments job is to share openly with it’s resident (shocking right). The county was hoping at some point data would come out that showed the plan was good for the community as a whole but bad data kept showing up in the press that made Devereaux look like he’d be Darth Vadar leading the evil empire if he just started condemning mortgages with his power of eminent domain.

San Bernardino County has some of the poorest neighborhoods in southern California mixed in with a few gem upper middle class cities like Lake Arrowhead and Redlands. Cites that didn’t allow a housing boom in the last decade and were not packed with underwater homeowners.

These cities are not particularly populated with people who understand high finance like you’d see in Fairfield County, CT but they are college educated, often Republican, and had to do some quick education on how a mortgage bond security worked. The best thing MRP did by coming to town was educate San Bernardino County residents how high finance products work so they can make better decisions the next time a stranger shows up looking like a healer with a quick fix plan to ‘help’ their troubled economy.

Devereaux said at the last hearing even he got an education from bond lobby groups like SIFMA and SIFMA sure now knows where San Bernardino is now. The county is still seeking housing fix proposals from the private sector–this time they will ask for firms to included a risk assessment in their plans. Good for Devereaux.

As for MRP they put out a spin statement this week that said in the last year they’ve talked to around 30 cities who are still entertaining their eminent domain housing plan – although Chicago has also turned them down. Tad Friend at The New Yorker was able to follow Steven Gluckstern of MRP around late this summer and detailed how a northern cal town, Salinas, was interested at first but after news reports started to show flaws and consequences to his plan they backed down.

I found it interesting Gluckstern choose a journalist, Tad Friend, who doesn’t have a history of reporting on high-finance or wall street firms to cover his agenda. Friend is a good story teller who was able to quote Gluckstern admitting the homeowner would not have a choice if their home was bought out of the RMBS via eminent domain. A glaring fact that hadn’t been reported yet. The New Yorker also doesn’t tell the reader where some of their bold statistical statements come from. Such as “yet even as homes prices have risen for six of the past seven months, twenty person of America’s homeowners remain underwater”. That kind of statement is just to broad and the reporter should know he needed to source in the story where that data comes from so the reader can judge its accuracy. (Friend has now answered he used corelogic numbers for his story but I think it should have been stated in the print) This is the kind of thing we saw Gluckstern do all last year. Throw up numbers that reporters had to go back and fact check. Jon Prior at Housingwire found his number of underwater homes for San Bernardino County included Riverside, which is not in San Bernardino County, and his 60% underwater projection was really only a 43% number according to corelogic.

America is founded on free market capitalism. It’s interesting to watch who’s still fighting to keep that alive these days.

Editors Note: I grew up in a resort mountain community called Lake Arrowhead that is in San Bernardino County. I haven’t lived there in near 20 years but I applaud its residents for doing their homework and using their voices to stop a plan they didn’t think would benefit their community. It was also refreshing to see that government listened to them.

Conflict Exposed: State’s Attorney in Banker Hate Crime Case is also a Muslim

The Stamford State’s Attorney office has some explaining to do as more troubling evidence has come out about how they handled the hate crime case against a former Morgan Stanley banker. Charges were dropped in October against Darien resident William Bryan Jennings who was accused by a New York Muslim cabbie of stabbing him with a pen knife after he tried to kidnap the banker over a cab fare dispute. We’ve now learned ASA Steven G Weiss – the prosecutor on the case – is a converted and practicing Muslim.

David DesRoches over at the Darien Times has a front page story today asking if Weiss choice to use a felony hate crime charge, instead of a misdemeanor assault charge, was motivated by Weiss’s own religion. Connecticut hate crime statistics show less than half a dozen hate crimes have been filed against Muslims in the last five years. The town of Darien had only one prior hate crime filed since the state started to track them.

A records and asset search for Steven G Weiss shows he served as an executive leader for the American Institute for Muslim and Islamic Studies in Fairfield, CT where he also owns a modest 4 bedroom home. (Ironically off Jennings Lane in Fairfield) Weiss who grew up Jewish in Greenwich’s poorer Bryam neighborhood converted to being a Muslim. A few people have told me this had to do with his wife’s background. The Muslim education center where he held office from 05-07 confirmed he practices prayers on his prayer rug.

Weiss, age 61, is a small-sized man who defense lawyers in Fairfield County told me can be volatile emotionally but they still respect his legal work. Work that has now come into question for violations of the Brady law. You see besides a possible religious conflict of interest for Weiss it’s also been confirmed he withheld exculpatory evidence from Jennings defense lawyer for four months. He did this while still trying to get Jennings to accept a plea deal. The Brady law says he needed to share the evidence with enough time before trial. Jennings got it only two weeks before the trial start date so it would be up to Weiss’s superiors to decide if this violated the Brady law.

When you look at the documented reporting DesRoches has done on this bizarre case I don’t see how lower Fairfield County residents aren’t very concerned that Stamford State’s attorney, David Cohen, has problems with judicial ethics on his team.

There is also the issue of shoddy police work by the Darien police explained in Jennings Franks Hearing motion that Darien residents need to pay close attention to. You see Jennings was fired from his million dollar job at Morgan Stanley and now faces the tasked of finding new work while potential employers see, via a simple Google search, headlines describing him as a racist cabbie stabber. All for an alleged crime the Darien police and the State now say never existed because they dropped the charges.

Weiss, a public official paid for by taxpayer, has been hiding under his desk from reporters like DesRoches- refusing to answer questions about how he handled the case and the State’s attorney office has Cohen defending him in quotes to the Darien Times. It’s a clusterfuck they likely want to go away.

While CT law doesn’t allow Jennings to sue a State’s attorney for a bad arrest, incurring high legal fees, and possibly ruining one’s public reputation – all he can really do is file a grievance complaint against him. Which would likely only make a black mark on Weiss’s record but wouldn’t cost him his job or law license.

Jennings stronger action is to sue the wealthy town of Darien for the actions of the local cops. Civil rights attorney Norm Pattis has commented for me in the past that Jennings case is definitely interesting with potential clout. But if Jennings does sue the town, they’d likely settle, then he’s forcing his friends and neighbors to pay for the gross mistake of the local cops. That’s not much of a win.

Another alternative is for Jennings to work with his elected town council to poll Darien taxpayers and get a petition to have the Darien cops who worked on the case fired. The town taxes do pay their salary. If there are other cases where Darien police have filed warrant reports leaving out critical evidence then that’s something the town needs to take a serious look at.

If you are Darien resident or live in a town that has to answer to David Cohen’s Stamford or Norwalk prosecutors this is case you want to pay attention to. A Muslim prosecutor coming up with a Muslim hate crime off a he-said he-said case with circumstantial evidence ,and drops it, just doesn’t sound like justice.

Editor’s Note: The Jennings case hit international headlines from the New York Post to the UK tabloids at the time of Jennings arrest. Even John Dillon at Bloomberg was aggressively covering the story-all blaming the rich white banker off a one sided Darien police report. Now that the case was dropped it’s only the Darien Times who has done the leg work to report out what really happened. It’s a shame Hearst CT Newspapers have ignored the story and never even tried to interview Jennings. That’s likely because they are afraid to ruin their info trading relationship with their local cops and State’s attorney. I am a firm believer if you start a story you’d better try to finish it – luckily DesRoches appears to be that type of reporter. It’s something we need more of in their sister paper the New Canaan Advertiser.

Frontline: The Untouchables – Exposes how Wall Streeters Commit Fraud but Escape Jail

UPDATE 1-23-13 5pm: The Washington Post is reporting the DOJ’s Lanny Breuer, who was highlighted in The Untouchables, is stepping down. Now reporters had heard he was on his way out for a bit so WAPO could be reporting old news but it sure makes the Frontline film and my reporting seem to have made quite a stink at the DOJ today. Is this a case were great investigative journalism actually went to work for the American people?

1-23-13: There is a live chat with The Untouchables film maker Martin Smith today. I’d ask him if he thinks DOJ’s Lanny Breuer should still have his job.

Original Text
Tom Marano and his team of bandits at Bears Stearns mortgage trading desk took Wall Street for a ride in the last decade. I first broke news about them stealing billions from their own clients, which included pension funds, in January 2011 for The Atlantic. Tonight you’ll see how widespread their action went in a Frontline documentary film called The Untouchables.

Emmy winning documentary film maker Martin Smith contacted me this summer about my reporting on the Bear Stearns traders and the saga it entailed for JP Morgan. A bank who is now facing a Civil fraud suit by the NY AG, has $140 billion in civil RMBS fraud suits against them, and has setteled with the SEC for the double dipping scheme that attorney Eric Haas at Paterson Belknap first figured out.

When I first came about this story in early 2010 Reuters and Fortune, who asked me to pitch them, passed on it because they said the topic was too complicated. But it took only 24 hours for Dan Indivilgo (who is now writing for Reuters BreakingViews) to figure out this was a blockbuster piece of reporting and as a business editor at The Atlantic he convinced them to buy it. I only made $150 selling the story to The Atlantic instead of the few thousand dollars I’d make if I had sold it to a trade publication behind a paywall but I knew this story just had to printed online for the world to read. And they did.

Hundreds of Wall Streeters started to email or call me after they read it. People who might have never read my byline at the New York Post or Hearst Newspapers were calling to see what else I had on the outright fraud these financial titans committed. Their big takeaway was “I knew those Bear traders were always making too much money but I could not figure out how.” And the civil securities lawyers who called just wanted to play catch up to the sordid details the lawyers at Patterson Belknap had already figured out for their clients the mortgage bond insurers. Even the FHFA had an analyst call me to find out behind the scenes info and then copied Patersons Belknap’s suit when then filed for around $22 billion in civil fraud against JP Morgan.

You can see whistleblowers on camera tonight telling details I first reported about the level of due diligence Bear (and other banks) hired to mask the level of out right fraudulent loans the traders were aware of before they even put them into the mortgage securities they sold to the public.

Yet still we saw the NY AG only sue for civil fraud and not criminal fraud. Filmmaker Martin Smith got people to admit the DOJ was afraid if they actually charged these Wall Street bad boys with criminal fraud it would rock the financial system. An absurd notion for the DOJ to even consider. They are not bank regulators or butt boys for the banks like Tim Geithner. They are suppose to go after crime regardless of how it effects an industry. I consider this fraud against the American people– the DOJ didn’t do their job when the evidence was handed to them by reporters like me and Nick Verbitsky and sharp lawyers like the team at Patterson Belkanp.

But the real want-to-make-me-throw-up moment in the film came when I saw the DOJ’s Lanny Breurer tell Martin Smith he didn’t think journalist had found any whistleblowers who the DOJ hadn’t already interviewed. That’s was either an out right lie or he’s really in denial because as Nick Verbitsky said in the film he knows his unnamed whistleblowers were never contacted by the DOJ even though the lawyers at Paterson Belknap eventually got some them on the record for their civil suit against Bear Stearns/ JP Morgan. I second that…the DOJ has flat out not tried to reach a single whistleblower in my series of reporting on Bear Stearns/ EMC / JP Morgan.

The failure of the DOJ is the real crime we should never forget.

Editors Note:This news publication is funded by the generous donations of my readers. If you like what you saw in the Frontline Film or news report you see on this site please donate. You can do so via Paypal at teribuhl@gmail.com. Micro donations of $25 plus go a long way when readers like you contribute.