Credit Suisse accused of widespread mortgage fraud in New York suit

November 20, 2012

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a civil lawsuit against Credit Suisse on Tuesday, accusing the investment bank of packaging and selling shoddy mortgages in the run-up to the financial crisis.

The lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court, is the second such case undertaken by the Obama administration’s federal mortgage task force, of which Schneiderman is co-chairman. The first case involved JPMorgan Chase, which was also accused of widespread fraud in the sale of mortgage-backed securities at Bear Stearns, the troubled investment bank it acquired in 2008.

In the case of Credit Suisse, prosecutors say the firm misled investors in 2006 and 2007 about the quality of the residential loans that made up its mortgage securities. The firm assured investors that it had done extensive due diligence on the loans and would continue to monitor their performance.

Instead, it failed to adequately evaluate the loans and ignored glaring defects, the complaint said. As a result, investors suffered about $11.2 billion in losses on the securities, when struggling homeowners began defaulting en masse on their mortgages.

When homeowners started defaulting, investors suffered about $11.2 billion in losses on securities with an initial value of $93.6 billion.

The complaint notes Credit Suisse’s 2007 acquisition of Lime Financial Services, a subprime residential lender with a notorious reputation for poor loan underwriting. Although the head of due diligence at Credit Suisse identified numerous shoddy mortgages at Lime, the investment bank tucked more than 30 of Lime’s loans into the securities it sold.

“Credit Suisse systematically misrepresented that it had a careful and rigorous due diligence process,” Schneiderman said on a call with reporters. “They came to focus on the volume of loans and just trying to outbid others for loans . . . because they were so anxious to pool more loans, issue more mortgage-backed securities and make more money.”

Schneiderman is prosecuting the case under New York’s Martin Act, which gives the attorney general broad powers to investigate cases of securities fraud. He has not laid out the exactamount of damages he is seeking, but the lawsuit asks that Credit Suisse pay restitution to investors and hand over any profits obtained as a result of the alleged fraud.

“We firmly reject this complaint, which recycles baseless claims from private lawsuits and uses an inaccurate and exaggerated number,” said Credit Suisse spokeswoman Victoria Harmon.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s $400 million settlement  with Credit Suisse and JPMorgan last week for misleading investors in the sale of mortgage-backed securities, actions that are also part of the president’s task force.

The banking community has criticized the barrage of lawsuits coming from regulators and prosecutors. They say the mounting cases, coupled with a host of new mortgage regulations coming into effect next year, will make lenders skittish about issuing loans.

“The ever-growing number of lawsuits against those in various segments of the mortgage industry are exacerbating the level of concern and uncertainty among all lenders,” said David Stevens, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “In the end, consumers will pay the price in tighter credit and higher rates as lenders price in the added litigation risk they face or simply exit lending altogether.”

Consumer advocates, however, are praising prosecutors for stepping up efforts to take Wall Street to task for misconduct stemming from the financial crisis.

“Today’s filing is another sign that the RMBS working group is dead serious about holding banks accountable for their role in the housing crisis,” said Brian Kettenring of the Campaign for a Fair Settlement. “Like the JPMorgan case, this filing shows that banks will be brought to justice for imperiling homeowners and taking down people’s hard-earned retirement savings.”

Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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