The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is suing three former top executives of Washington Mutual Bank, alleging that their negligence and risk-taking caused the bank’s 2008 collapse — the largest bank failure in U.S. history.
The $900 million civil suit is among the FDIC’s most ambitious attempts to sue bank executives for alleged wrongdoing during the recent financial crisis.
The complaint accuses former chief executive officer Kerry K. Killinger, former chief operating officer Stephen J. Rotella and former home loans president David C. Schneider of taking “extreme and historically unprecedented risks” with the bank’s home loans portfolio to boost their pay.
“They focused on short-term gains to increase their own compensation, with reckless disregard for WaMu’s long- term safety and soundness,” according to the complaint. The suit was filed Wednesday night in U.S. District Court in Seattle, where WaMu was headquartered. “Their negligence, gross negligence and breaches of fiduciary duty caused WaMu to lose billions of dollars,” the complaint said.
In a written statement Thursday, Rotella said the FDIC investigation “lacks credibility.” “It is patently unfair for the FDIC to expect an individual to have perfect foresight into a crisis that the FDIC itself did not see coming,” Rotella said.
Killinger said in a written statement: “The factual allegations are fiction . . . Trial in a courtroom that honors the rule of law — and not the will of Washington, D.C. — will confirm that Kerry Killinger’s management, diligence and commitment to Washington Mutual responsibly and consistently served the interests of its depositors, customers and shareholders.”
A spokesman said Schneider declined to comment.
The FDIC action was not unexpected. As of Tuesday, the FDIC had authorized suits against 158 individuals from the financial crisis with damage claims of at least $3.57 billion. This includes five lawsuits naming 39 individuals, according to the FDIC Web site. A Washington state newspaper, the Puget Sound Business Journal, reported earlier this year that the regulator had sent letters to the former WaMu executives warning of possible legal steps. The notices are routinely used as a device to reach a settlement.
WaMu was a big player in the subprime mortgage sector, in which banks made home loans to high-risk borrowers. When the economy began to collapse and borrowers could not make their mortgage payments, lenders such as WaMu faced huge losses on those loans.
After a run on the bank, the FDIC took over WaMu in September 2008 and sold its assets to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. for $1.8 billion.
Debt holders and stockholders, including TPG, the private equity giant led by David Bonderman, lost billions in the WaMu collapse. The FDIC is in asset negotiations with WaMu’s bond and equity holders and J.P. Morgan Chase.