By Maureen Tkacik
The opinions expressed are her own.
Also read part one of this series, How Ed DeMarco finally cried fraud.
A big clue something had become dysfunctional at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac came in the first week of 2011, when the government mortgage market makers announced the terms of a settlement agreement they’d reached with Bank of America, and were immediately pilloried for extending the bank another “backdoor bailout” by the likes of Maxine Waters and the American Enterprise Institute.
By the end of January an internal investigation had convened, all other settlement negotiations had been suspended, and Edward J. DeMarco, the acting Fannie/Freddie overseer pending the confirmation of his replacement, found himself suddenly faced with the challenge of replacing himself as congressional Republicans vowed to stonewall Obama’s pick. Part one of this series traced DeMarco’s unlikely conversion in 2011 from coddler of banks to unyielding litigator of bank fraud. It’s a rare shift in Washington, where “corruption” is a process that’s practically synonymous with “aging.” What’s often forgotten when bureaucrats fail as spectacularly as they have at Fannie and Freddie is the critical roles played by cluelessness, incuriosity, faulty reasoning and fraudulent economic logic as well.
Consider what the inspector general learned about the corporate procedures for pursuing “putback” claims in place at Freddie Mac. While purchase contracts entitle the GSEs to force banks to buy back any delinquent loan in which it finds evidence of fraud, Freddie restricted examiners to screening only mortgages which had defaulted within two years of origination, a tiny sliver of total foreclosures comprising less than one-tenth of defaults from the years 2004 to 2007—the vintage of the Countrywide loans. When one of DeMarco’s deputies noticed this apparent oversight and began warning executives that “Freddie could passively be absorbing billions of dollars of losses” merely by refusing to glance at 90% of their files, the enterprise … chose to absorb the losses, repeatedly resorting to a boilerplate argument justifying the two-year policy holding that:
loans that had demonstrated a consistent payment history over the first two years following origination and then defaulted in later years…likely did so for a reason such as loss of employment, which is unrelated to [fraud].
The deputy spent six or so months attempting to politely introduce his colleagues to the concept of the “teaser rate.” Perhaps, he writes in one email, Freddie was failing to take into account that “from 2005 through 2007 there was a substantial increase in non-traditional mortgage products [which] frequently featured ‘teaser’ rates initially resulting in low payments” which would “increase dramatically two, three, or five years after origination” when “rates reset and/or the repayment of principal began”—thus rendering virtually any deliberate fraud essentially “invisible” for the first few years of the life of the loan.