Marlins future owner Bruce Sherman settles Bear Stearns stock fraud lawsuit

The last remaining Bear Stearns lawsuit being litigated via our federal courts for alleged securities fraud has settled out of court. On September 6th, just a few weeks before the trial was set to begin, billionaire Bruce Sherman signed a settlement that nixed the chance for the American public to see these alleged Wall St bad actors be forced to testify about what they really knew about the problems that caused Bear Stearns failure.

Last year a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, Judge Sweet, ruled Sherman’s case could go to trial after he said there was enough evidence presented in discovery that shows the senior executives running Bear Stearns could have committed shareholder fraud because they knew the bank was failing for a while but encouraged investors like Sherman to buy more stock. The ruling, denying JP Morgan (Bear Stearns successor) motion to dismiss, was a pivotal moment in litigation stemming from the financial crisis. No government agency had made it this far through the legal system to put individuals who worked for the big banks on trial for fraud.

Sherman’s attorney, Philip Korologos, told this reporter, “We are happy with what we got from the settlement.” Which is legal speak for I can’t tell you how disappointed I am we that we didn’t get to grill these Bear Stearns executives on the stand. The reality is Sherman didn’t recover his full losses, a jury didn’t get the chance to award 3 times punitive damages, and maybe he got the million+ in legal fees he spent covered in the settlement.

Last year I sued to unseal the parts of the discovery Attorney Korologos, and his team at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, had unearthed which included enlightening internal emails from Bear Stearns most senior leadership and a private risk analysis evaluation of the bank from the Securities and Exchange Commission. I worked with investigative journalist Roddy Boyd to report an exclusive blockbuster story that showed the Bear Executives had lied to congress when they testified about how and why the bank failed and showed for the first time that top leadership at Bear knew a full year before the bank collapsed that they were in real trouble of failing because of a liquidity crisis caused by their decision to package and sell mortgage banked securities. Bear’s lawyers have insisted since January 2009 that the firm’s operational risks were fully disclosed in numerous public filings and that its management did nothing wrong. But Sherman’s claim cited previously unreleased emails between key Bear executives bluntly discussing its troubled balance sheet and fretting about its declining short-term funding options.

Our reporting rewrote the history we thought we knew about the bank’s failure and with out Bruce Sherman spending his own money to litigating the Bear executives for fraud the public would have never know the truth. The stark truth here is it took a private citizen and journalists to uncover the real cause of Bear Stearns failure not government prosecutors, the Obama administration, or the bank’s regulators.

Because the case settled right before trial this unfortunately means the full testimony taken during discovery depositions from Alan Schwartz, the last CEO of Bear Stearns, will never be made public because of confidentiality agreements in the settlement. Testimony I was told is an amazing historical record of what the last days of Bear Stearns was really like along with the stories of people who tried to help save the bank or destroy it. If the case had gone to trial the testimony would have been made public and I am troubled we will never get to hear it. I am sure JP Morgan’s lawyers at Paul Weiss are patting themselves on their backs for this.

In September 2009 Bruce Sherman, the founder and chief executive officer of Naples, Fla.-based Private Capital Management–it once owned 5.9 percent of Bear Stearns’ shares–sued the bank and a pair of its former senior executives, chief executive officer James Cayne and president Warren Spector. Sherman’s lawyers at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP allege Spector and Cayne repeatedly lied to him about the firm’s financial health, especially its valuation and risk management practices. (Sherman is a once revered value investor who sold Private Capital Management to Legg Mason in 2001 for $1.38 billion; he is suing over approximately $13 million of losses from buying Bear Stearns stock in his personal, charitable foundation and escrow accounts.) If Sherman had won his case at trial a jury could have award penalties three times his actual damages because the fraud claim survived the motion to dismiss.

Sherman is back in the headlines now because he is buying a Florida major league baseball team with Derek Jeter. The sales of the Marlins to Sherman and team hasn’t been approved yet and I have to wonder if the additional time and energy of going through with the Bear Stearns trial was something he figured he’d need to save for the baseball team. The reported price tag Sherman is going to shell out for the Marlins is $1.2 billion.

I have reported on the financial crimes committed by Bear Stearns executives since 2010 starting with an exclusive story at The Atlantic that ended up forcing JP Morgan paying a $13 billion government fine in 2013 for Bear Stearns sins and its own misconduct. Bruce Sherman’s trial witness list included Bear’s mortgage backed securities sales team consisting of Tom Marrano, Mike Nierenberg, Jeff Verschleiser. I am terribly disappointed these men won’t be forced to go through a grilling cross examination exploring why they stole billions from their own clients and then pretended Bears mortgage desk risk wasn’t as bad as it they knew it was. All of them have gone on to continue making millions at other financial institutions, were never charged criminally for financial crimes, and appear to have no remorse for their actions.

With the Sherman lawsuit settlement and the statue of limitations running out this year for the DOJ to charge Bear executives this is likely my last story on Bear Stearns. It’s been seven years of staying on the subject even when my peers covering Wall Street had moved on to other stories and main stream media publications weren’t interested in reporting on why the bank really failed. I want to thank my readers for the donations you have made that helped pay for some of the research and legal cost of this reporting. I am most thankful though simply for the fact you read the work and commented on the impact I made.

Unsealed Bear Stearns emails shows Executives lied about Bank Failure

For a few months I’ve been fighting behind the scenes to get a private civil fraud lawsuit against Bear Stearns and its senior leaders Jimmy Cayne and Warren Spector unsealed. I won that battle last month in Manhattan federal court and discovered a war chest of internal emails by over a dozen Bear Stearns executives and confidential communications to its regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, that showed these men have misled the public for 8 years on the how, when, and why Bear Stearns really failed. I then chose to partner with one of my favorite and highly respected investigative journalist Roddy Boyd to report a story on how the SEC knew as far back as 2005 that something wasn’t right about the way Bear Stearns was disclosing its risk in the fixed income-mortgages department, run by Tom Marano, that eventually took down the bank. Shockingly the unsealed emails showed Bear’s CFO and public face to investors, Sam Molinaro, tell his team “we need liquidity ASAP” on the same day (Aug 3rd 2007) he held a public investor call reassuring Bear Stearns investors capital levels and liquidity was just fine.

The fact pattern I uncovered, which shows the depth of internal awakening by Bear Stearns executives back in the summer of 2007 that their beloved 100-year-old bank was in serious trouble and they planed to keep it quite from The Street and investors, is beyond troubling. But when I realized the SEC could have published a letter Molinaro sent them detailing what their real subprime risk was (and not disclosed in their financial statements) months before the bank failed and admitting they could go under; feels like the SEC aided these executives in their crimes of investor fraud and complete breach of their fiduciary duties.

I urge all my readers to take the time to read our story at the non-profit investigative journalism publication This publication was founded by Roddy Boyd and depends on the generous donations of readers to cover and report stories that a lot of main street financial publications won’t touch but should. You can find the DONATE NOW button on the top right of the home page. I spent my time and money going through the legal system to unseal this case and make these important documents available to The Street, other reporters, and the investing public to read for free. It took Roddy Boyd and I a lot of digging and skill to write an engaging story that corrects the record and exposes this truth that occurred during one period of the financial crisis. Please join the other readers who have donated to help us cover the cost of this important work.

I would also like to thank the New York-based law firm of Rottenberg Lipman Rich and attorney Tom Chase who represented me in our legal work to get the case of Bruce Sherman v. Bear Stearns unsealed. And to William D. Cohen who gave credit to my work in the New York Times today. He’s got his own amazing account from rare interviews with Bear executives that shows the level of deception these men went through to push blame to anyone but themselves.

JP Morgan Pays Off Ambac for Full Amount of RMBS Fraud Claim

I once told millions of RT’s Keiser Report viewers JP Morgan was going to pay at least $1 billion dollars to mortgage insurer Ambac for Bear Stearns committing system wide mortgage-back securities fraud and then trying to cover it with accounting tricks. Last night that report came true when JPM settled with Ambac for $995 million over a lawsuit, filed in 2008, asking for mega millions in damages resulting from breach of contract and fraud.

Sadly it’s taken one day and five years after I first reported an explosive story at The Atlantic, with on the record former Bear Stearns employees detailing how Bear Stearns stole billions from their own clients, to get JP Morgan to pay Ambac the money Bear Stearns owed them. It reads like a move by the bank to avoid a summary judgment decision from Judge Ramos, who could have ruled Bear Stearns committed fraud by lying to Ambac about the quality of the loans in the RMBS and also lying about how Bear Stearns ran it’s own due dilly operations. The fraud claim would have tripled the damages instead of just a breach of contract claim that usually only awards actually damages.

On July 14, 2015 in front of New York state Judge Ramos, in Manhattan Supreme Court, Ambac’s attorney Erik Haas argued during a partial summary judgment motion on the issue of justifiable reliance. The bank’s big law lawyers at Sullivan Cromwell had moved for Judge Ramos to rule before the case got in front of a jury on JPM/Bear Stearns’s fraudulent misrepresentation. The central argument is: was Ambac fraudulently induced to insure billions of residential mortgage backed securities packaged and sold by Bear Stearns. Team JPM thought Ramos was going to rule in their favor and if you were listening to the beginning of the hearing Judge Ramos sure sounded like he didn’t think the fraud claim should go to a jury. But during oral argument attorney Eric Haas appears to have convinced Judge Ramos to see why Ambac thought they had the evidence to prove Bear Stearns/JP Morgan’s culpability in the fraud and felt so good about their legal argument winning that they asked Judge Ramos to rule right then from the bench.

Attorney Haas detailed some of the fraud they found during discovery to Judge Ramos at the July hearing saying,” And further still, in the transaction that came after that, they said, Oh, don’t worry. Don’t worry. We now have a seller monitoring program in place and it shows that only 3 percent of all of these loans come from terminated sellers. That was a lie. 14 percent, up to 14 percent of them came from terminated sellers and almost 50 percent of the loans in the transaction came from sellers that were downgraded and that had material credit risk. They lied.” The hearing transcript also says Bear Stearns didn’t even set up a ‘seller monitoring program’ till late 2006 and lied to Ambac before late 2006 that they had the program. A program which could have helped figured out if Bear was putting already defaulting 2nd lien loans into the transaction Ambac was insuring.

JP Morgan argued at the hearing that because Ambac didn’t do a loan by loan due diligence of their own, where they might have discovered that Bear Stearns was lying before they insured it, that Ambac shouldn’t be able to bring a fraud claim. Ambac’s response was that wasn’t practical or normal course of business in these transaction because they relied on what Bear Stearns told them about what was in the security and on the due diligence reports Bear paid a third party to do for insurers. Ambac said, Bear Stearns wasn’t a fly by night bucket shop that needed its work to be checked and rechecked but a bulge bank with years of reputation and transactional trust built into the market.

Ramos said in court that he would reserve ruling and not make a decision right from the bench. But after he thought about the hearing, for the first time in seven years, he told JPM and Ambac it’s time to settle. JP Morgan clearly dragged out negotiations and chose to announce the near billion dollar payout after their year-end 2015 earnings were released earlier this month. Unfortunately, as a result of the settlement Judge Ramos never got to officially rule on the summary judgment hearing or if the fraud claim should go to trial.

The bank’s lawyers were also working the court system to drag out this litigation so when they settled enough time had passed the statute of limitations for Bear Stearns stockholder lawsuits so they couldn’t use this case to prove Bear Stearns executives committed fraud.

The original Ambac lawsuit, filed December 2008, asked for $900 million in damages for problems in second lien loans. Then Erik Haas of Paterson Belknap, the pioneering attorney who discovered the deep level of fraud at JPM and Bear Stearns, added on another suit for first lien loan fraud. It’s the 2nd lawsuit that forced JPM to pay additional millions for a total payout to Ambac of $995 million. A number Ambac’s CEO said Tuesday will greatly impact their earnings. Unfortunately, the win for Ambac investors is five years overdue.

Yesterday JP Morgan was telling investors in public filings the $1 billion payout won’t have a significant impact to earnings in the following quarter. That’s because they have a few billion set aside in legal reserves to payout lawsuits like this. But if JPM knew it could afford to payoff Ambac then why waste their investors money on millions in legal fees fighting these fraud charges since they took over the Bear Stearns in 2008. Why after the DOJ forced the bank to pay $13 billion in 2013 for this rmbs fraud did they drag out the Ambac case and force Ambac to spend more big dollars on attorney fees thus delaying dollars the insurer desperately needed to fund its operations. (Ambac had to file for bankruptcy in 2010 which it has now come out of) And why, as Frontline’s doc film The Untouchables pointed out, have the men that allegedly spearheaded the Bear Stearns fraud, Tom Marano, Mike Nierenberg and Jeff Verschleiser never been charged with a crime?

My peers and editors call the five years of my reporting on these crimes successful ‘Impact Reporting’ because I spoke out in print and on TV consistently proving factually how the fraud was committed and not letting the market forget JP Morgan and Bear Stearns crimes. But until at least one of the Bear Stearns executives is criminally charged the investing public doesn’t have their full impact result.

This story has been update with details from the summary judgment hearing now that the court transcripts are public

Reuters is Writing Stories to Help JP Morgan Defend Itself from the NYAG Now

J.P. Morgan’s outside counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell are showing signs of desperation in their mortgage securities fraud lawsuits. You know the ones that the bank says in SEC fillings are now $140 billion of litigation. Last week the banks lawyers got a Reuters reporter to write a hit piece on the New York Attorney General’s $22 billion civil fraud suit against JPM / Bear Stearns.

The Reuters story, by Karen Freifeld, basically speculated a judge would be looking at a conflict of interest in the AG’s office because they hired a top lawyer from the firm, PBWT, who first discovered some of the alleged Bear Stearns rmbs fraud. Freifeld starts by writing a line that ‘legal experts’ think the former PBWT attorney who worked on the Ambac v. JP Morgan Securities suit has a conflict because she also played a role in the NY AG’s suit. Karla Sanchez, the lawyer in question, started with the NY AG in January 2011 – after the explosive amended Ambac complaint was filed. This is the complaint you just saw me talking about in the Frontline film The Untouchables.

It’s odd for Retuers to not quote actual working lawyers in the story and leave the reader guessing that the reporter actually found attorneys to back up her claim. I called five securities lawyers last week trying to get one of them to go on the record that they saw a conflict here but none would. That’s because Robert Sacks, JPM’s puffy chested outside counsel from Sullivan & Cromwell, doesn’t actually lay out in the motion what he thinks the conflict is.

The Reuters reporter, who has indirectly become a JP Morgan’s flack, also doesn’t explain to the reader that JP Morgan’s lawyer, Sacks, didn’t actually file a motion in the NY AG’s case in New York civil supreme court. All he really did is indirectly mention the idea in a damn footnote in a motion for an entirely different case. On February 19th Sacks filed a motion trying to stop Judge Ramos from allowing AMBAC/PBWT to get loan file discovery and CLAS database records from third-party due diligence firm Clayton – info they been asking for over a year that Clayton is also fighting to not turn over because it’s likely really really damaging. [ You see on top of all this Clayton is apparently STILL covering up for it’s big bank clients even though they signed an agreement to help the State of New York prosecute their financial crisis cases in turn for them not getting sued for their role in billions of rmbs fraud. ] It’s this motion that has the footnote that Reuters in turn made into a story to discredit the NY AG’s head of economic cases.

Here is what the footnote says:

Defendants understand that, upon joining the NYAG, this former PBWT partner was
initially screened from participating in the NYAG’s investigation relating to Bear Stearns, but
that the screen was later lifted and she participated in the investigation. Following concerns
raised by defendants, the NYAG apparently reimposed the screen. Defendants have asked the
NYAG to confirm whether there is additional information about this lawyer’s involvement in the
matters leading up to the NYAG’s suit against Bear Stearns that they should be aware of before
deciding what further action is warranted.

Somehow that footnote made the Reuters reporter think this:

The case against JPMorgan is similar to one that the lawyer had worked on before joining the Attorney General’s office, JPMorgan said in court papers this week, raising the possibility of a conflict of interest.

I did some background checking on what the lawyer in question here, Karla Sanchez, did at PBWT. She ran all of discovery in the monoline suits so yea she would know where the bodies are buried. But she didn’t leave PBWT and go work for a firm to use that info to harm her prior client Ambac. That’s where a real conflict would be. Instead people inside the AG’s office explain she simply led an administrative role in overseeing his case – for a little while – that is a copy cat of the Ambac case. But then so is nearly every rmbs putback case against JP Morgan/Bear Stearns filed in the last two years by clients of Bear’s mortage trading team. The real bulldog lawyer the AG put on the case actually came from the DOJ and joined last summer. I was told by someone familare with the case she was frustrated with the lack of action against the banks at the DOJ and jumped to work for the NY AG because he was actually going to try and hold them accountable. Her name is Virginia Romano and she’s actually known to get things done and not roll over.

Reuters went out and spent a few $ to even FOIA the AG’s records to show when Karla did or didn’t have her hands on the case. This is where the NY AG did something kind of stupid. They originally wouldn’t let her touch the case out of extra caution that JP Morgan would complain. Then they figured it was ok for her to play an admin role in the case – it’s not like she brought over whistleblower emails from the Ambac litigation – the AG actually had to subpoena PBWT for that kind of stuff in May 2011. And by the time she joined his office most of what Ambac had was public anyway because their suit had finally been unsealed and I broke news about it at The Atlantic. JP Morgan did end up complaining about her working the case so the NY AG took her off it. The NY AG should have stuck to their guns and just left Karla on the case. This all happen last year. Which is why it’s odd that Attorney Sacks is brining it up now in a footnote in a lawsuit that isn’t the NYAG’s case. And keep in mind NO motions have been filed in the AG’s suit against JP Morgan talking about a conflict of interest that Reuters somehow thinks could affect his case.

Now using footnotes in a legal motion to say something nasty that the press can then turn use as quotes for a story is an old trick – even PBWT has done it in their litigation against JP Morgan. Heck I’ve found some of great details in my series of reporting on this fraud in footnotes. But the reporter then has the responsibility to check out if actually true. Big Law lawyers like JP Morgan has hired often do dirty block and tackle moves for their clients and this one simply reads like they are trying to distract Judge Ramos from the real issues at hand and just be an all out dick trying to smear one of the NY AG’s top lawyer.

There was actually some real news on this case last week. JP Morgan had asked the court to assign the case to Judge Ramos – who is also trying the Ambac case. Ramos is an old judge who has said in court testimony he doesn’t like Ambac’s fraud claim although he hasn’t ruled it out. A few days after Sacks filed the motion that is the subject of this story Ramos was removed from the case. Yep on Thursday Judge Marcy Friedman became the new judge on the NY AG’s case. So all the ranting Sacks has been making to Ramos in the Ambac case about the AG’s case is kind of moot now as he’s got a new judge to brow beat into believing that the JPM (via Bear) didn’t really steal billions from their own rmbs clients.

Editors Note: AMBAC and JP Morgan have a conference meeting with Judge Ramos on Monday (2-25) at 4p.m. If the Reuters reporter is looking for some real news on these cases that’s a good place to start. I emailed Robert Sacks at Sullivan & Cromwell to ask how long he’d been working with the Retuers reporter to get that story published but he didn’t answer the email.

Here is motion Sacks filed that started this whole story:
JPM Brief 75

Lanny Breuer: Frontline’s The Untouchables Gets a Remake

Lanny Breuer told the world he’s removing himself from the office of the DOJ criminal division this week. Only a week after an explosive Frontline film, The Untouchables, made him look like kind of silly on camera for his explanation of why no Wall Street Bankers have been charged criminally. To honor Breuer a reader and great blogger I know, Jaime Falcon, has made this remake of Breuer’s interview with filmmaker Martin Smith.

It’s a must click and be prepared to laugh out loud in public like I did – at least five times.
Jaime calls it the – Liar Liar version. I think it has to be nominated for an Emmy.

Lanny Breuer Frontline Interview – Liar Liar Version

ps. The journalist Martin is asking Breuer about is referring to me and Nick Verbitsky.

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.