Fannie Mae Keeps Asking for Billions of Mortgage Putbacks from Suntrust: SEC Silent on Investigation

The SEC investigation into SunTrust Banks alleged gaming of Fannie Mae by the bank’s wholesale mortgage division is back in the news. Gretchen Morgenson, New York Times columnist and reporter, has picked up on my exclusive news reported in November for finance trade publication Growth Capitalist. Morgenson has a habit of journalism shoplifting by writing about other reporters original investigative news without crediting them. But it’s at least refreshing to see the New York Times try to hold the SEC accountable for not moving faster on the Suntrust case. A case that Barry Ritholtz headlined this week could be the “biggest fraud in mortgage history”.

I reported in November for Growth Capitalist, the Atlanta office of the S.E.C. started interviewing people involved in the case almost a year ago and the worry is if the last action of alleged misconduct by Suntrust was in 2008 then the regulator could be near its statute of limitations.

Filed with the S.E.C. more than a year ago by a former SunTrust employee, it appears to be languishing even though time’s a-wasting, writes Morgenson.

The whistleblowers got Morgenson to write about the lawsuit the SEC is looking at in hopes of putting pressure on the securities regulator to act and the Dept of Justice to get off their rears and charge Suntrust for a crime that was very similar to what they charged Countrywide for in ‘The Hustle’ program.

Ritholtz, an asset manager who runs a well read financial blog called The Big Picture, published this view by housing analyst Mark Hanson yesterday:

Bottom line: Agency “Shortcut” loan programs, exclusively originated by SunTrust, made loan underwriters impotent in their due-diligence; these Alt-A loans that should have carried higher interest rates and been originated using more stringent guidelines; were sold to Fannie Mae as premium full-documented loans, and have resulted in abnormally high default and loss rates relative to true “fully documented” loans.

Suntrust is one of many banks on which Hanson has focused for years, warning hedge funds, of problems pertaining to high-risk legacy loan originations and fraud that has led to large rep and warranty liability and bank loan losses. He has also spoken with the Suntrust whistleblower named in the SEC suit about the alleged pattern of behavior to wholesale billions of Alt-A loans to Fannie Mae disguised as Prime loans.

The impact to Suntrust net profit, because of mortgage repurchase demands, is hardly visible yet because the bank sold near two billion dollars of Coke stock last year to pay for a $375 million mortgage putback charge. You see Fannie Mae knows prime loans they’d bought from Suntrust from 06-08 were really Alt-A low doc loans so they keep going back to the bank and telling them it’s time to honor your contract and buy these defunct loans back. On Suntrust Q1 earnings report, released Friday, they admitted another $491 million worth of loans had been submitted as putbacks. Over the last five quarters the average quarterly putback demand from the GSEs has been around $400 million. That’s a lot of faulty loans they sold the taxpayer funded Fannie Mae.

In September 2012 when Suntrust sold the Coke stock the bank also issued a press release that this should be the last of their legacy putback request from the GSEs. And now we see how silly that statement is because 2013 Q1’s mortgage putback request of $491 million is actually the highest over the last five quarters. Suntrust investor relations team even came up with an excuse that the GSE has ‘accelerated their work pace of auditing the vintage loans’ bought from Suntrust and that’s why they still have high mortgage repurchase demands. Suntrust doesn’t actually buy all those repurchase demands back right away from the GSE. They stall and claim they have to do their own audit and then slowly take charges of the faulty loans sold to the GSE on their income statement.

The big hit to earnings that Suntrust could face is if the DOJ grows a pair of balls and charges the bank for billions of fraud like they did Countrywide last fall. Of course the other issue is the new chiefs at the SEC and DOJ financial crime unit could just gloss over all the evidence turned in by the Suntrust whistleblower and then as Ritholtz says we’ve seen:

” willful purposeful fraud for profit resulting in taxpayer obligations for many billions of dollars.But whatever you do, you cannot prosecute any banks for this — we don’t want to disrupt the global economy! ”


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  1. Teri this is a good a update. I saw you talk about the Suntrust investigation this winter on the Keiser Report. Isn’t Warren Buffet invested in this bank. Maybe that’s why the SEC is stalling?

    And screw the NYT – no one reads the Sunday business section except old people who invest in mutual funds. Gretchen is a copy-cat journalist and educated readers knows it.

    Keep up the great reporting.

  2. Hi, I check your news site regularly. Your story-telling style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing!


    Fantastic writing

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