Citi

The Banksters and the Cartels

Two Colombian economists decided to see who’s getting money off the illegal drug trade. And they discovered that American and British banks are getting a big chunk of the profits. (h/t Chris from Americablog) That’s because the cartels are laundering their proceeds through those banks.

The most far-reaching and detailed analysis to date of the drug economy in any country – in this case, Colombia – shows that 2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced remains within the country, while a staggering 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates, and laundered by banks, in first-world consuming countries.

Mind you, I’m not sure the analysis would be that different for any agricultural export. Even for food, farmers make less than 12% of all the money spent.

But one of the factors, the economists contend, is that the US more stringently polices money laundering in Colombian banks than in US ones.

Colombia’s banks, meanwhile, said Mejía, “are subject to rigorous control, to stop laundering of profits that may return to our country. Just to bank $2,000 involves a huge amount of paperwork – and much of this is overseen by Americans.”

“In Colombia,” said Gaviria, “they ask questions of banks they’d never ask in the US. If they did, it would be against the laws of banking privacy. In the US you have very strong laws on bank secrecy, in Colombia not – though the proportion of laundered money is the other way round. It’s kind of hypocrisy, right?”

I have noted (as does the Guardian), how banks like Wachovia used drug proceeds to help offset their losses from the mortgage bubble shitpile. I have noted how much less stringent we were in rooting out all the crime than we are with other banks, such as the Lebanese Canadian Bank. And I noted Citi’s recent wrist slap for allowing money laundering in the same shitpile period.

This article shows the other side to that: while our banksters get rich off of crime here, Colombia and Mexico and Honduras suffer the violence that results. That really has to change.

Whose Illicit Money Did Citi Help Launder?

Back when the story of how Wachovia helped drug cartels launder money was breaking in 2010, reports said that cartels had also used Citi to launder their money.

A Mexican judge on Jan. 22 accused the owners of six centros cambiarios, or money changers, in Culiacan and Tijuana of laundering drug funds through their accounts at the Mexican units of Banco Santander SA, Citigroup Inc. and HSBC, according to court documents filed in the case.

Citigroup, HSBC and Santander, which is the largest Spanish bank by assets, weren’t accused of any wrongdoing. The three banks say Mexican law bars them from commenting on the case, adding that they each carefully enforce anti-money-laundering programs.

HSBC has stopped accepting dollar deposits in Mexico, and Citigroup no longer allows non-customers to change dollars there. Citigroup detected suspicious activity in the Tijuana accounts, reported it to regulators and closed the accounts, Citigroup spokesman Paulo Carreno says.

At the time, it seemed that Citi had reported the attempted money laundering as required by US bank secrecy laws.

I guess they didn’t report everything they were supposed to. The Office of the Comptroller and the Currency, Citi’s regulator, just announced a cease and desist order covering inadequacies in Citi’s anti-money laundering compliance.

(3) Some of the critical deficiencies in the elements of the Bank’s BSA/AML compliance program include the following:
(a) The Bank has internal control weaknesses including the incomplete identification of high risk customers in multiple areas of the bank, inability to assess and monitor client relationships on a bank-wide basis, inadequate scope of periodic reviews of customers, weaknesses in the scope and documentation of the validation and optimization process applied to the automated transaction monitoring system, and inadequate customer due diligence;
(b) The Bank failed to adequately conduct customer due diligence and enhanced due diligence on its foreign correspondent customers, its retail banking customers, and its international personal banking customers and did not properly obtain and analyze information to ascertain the risk and expected activity of particular customers;
(c) The Bank self-reported to the OCC that from 2006 through 2010, the Bank failed to adequately monitor its remote deposit capture/international cash letter instrument processing in connection with foreign correspondent banking;
(d) As a result of that inadequate monitoring, the Bank failed to file timely SARs involving remote deposit capture/international cash letter activity in its foreign correspondent banking business; and
(e) The Bank’s independent BSA/AML audit function failed to identify systemic deficiencies found by the OCC during the examination process. [my emphasis]

Note that among other things, Citi took this opportunity to ‘fess up to not adequately monitoring the use of cash letters (see this article for a description of how cash letters are used in money laundering) in the 2006-2010 period. You know? The period when Citi was reeling because it had invested too deeply in shitpile?

Now maybe in the near future, Treasury will release a similar notice telling us whether all this negligence on Citi’s part only could have–or actually did–help some nefarious types launder money. But for now, OCC’s not telling. Nor is OCC fining Citi (which they would normally do if Citi violates this consent order–banks, you see, get do-overs when they fuck up).

Continue reading

Vikram Pandit’s Material Mistatements

It appears that Vikram Pandit’s failure to disclose material problems with Citibank’s valuation of its shitpile is another of the crimes we’re supposed to look forward and ignore. Jonathan Weil looks at how one of the documents disclosed in the FCIC dump–a February 14, 2008 OCC report finding that Citibank’s models for measuring the value of its shitpile were crap.

The gist of the regulator’s findings: Citigroup’s internal controls were a mess. So were its valuation methods for subprime mortgage bonds, which had spawned record losses at the bank. Among other things, “weaknesses were noted with model documentation, validation and control group oversight,” the letter said. The main valuation model Citigroup was using “is not in a controlled environment.” In other words, the model wasn’t reliable.

That report was addressed to Vikram Pandit.

But eight days later, in the annual report that Pandit certified himself, Citibank made no mention of its shitpile valuation problems.

Eight days later, on Feb. 22, Citigroup filed its annual report to shareholders, in which it said “management believes that, as of Dec. 31, 2007, the company’s internal control over financial reporting is effective.” Pandit certified the report personally, including the part about Citigroup’s internal controls. So did Citigroup’s chief financial officer at the time, Gary Crittenden.The annual report also included a Feb. 22 letter from KPMG LLP, Citigroup’s outside auditor, vouching for the effectiveness of the company’s financial-reporting controls. Nowhere did Citigroup or KPMG mention any of the problems cited by the OCC. KPMG, which earned $88.1 million in fees from Citigroup for 2007, should have been aware of them, too. The lead partner on KPMG’s Citigroup audit, William O’Mara, was listed on the “cc” line of the OCC’s Feb. 14 letter.

Now, if DOJ actually want to jail a high level criminal, this is the kind of easy thing they ought to look into. And perhaps Pandit’s failure to disclose Citi’s problems modeling shitpile is one of the things FCIC referred to DOJ.

But I doubt it. Pandit’s a former MOTU, after all, and MOTUs simply shouldn’t be bothered with minor things like misleading stockholders.

About that AG “Investigation” and “Settlement”

About four hours ago, Iowa’s Attorney General Tom Miller testified to the Senate Banking Committee  it would be months before the combined AG “investigation” came up with a settlement (he also suggested that there were new aspects that were just being added to the “investigation”).

Dodd: How long AG investigation?

Miller: Months, rather than year or longer. Depends on negotiations. If we expand scope, expands time. Maybe something on fees allowed. Forced insurance, huge abuse. Same thing w/dual track. If you all could solve the 2nd lien problem.

That’s almost exactly the moment when the WaPo posted a story reporting the AGs were close to a settlement.

The 50 state attorneys general are in negotiations over an agreement over foreclosures that would include a victims’ compensation fund that would provide money for borrowers whose homes have been taken away improperly, according to state and industry officials.

The discussions are still preliminary and the final deal may change significantly as details are hammered out and the settlement is vetted by 50 separate state offices, the official said.

Now, there’s a lot that’s weird with this story, aside from the way it seemingly contradicted what Miller was saying to Congress at precisely the moment he was saying it. First, only three of the big servicers were mentioned in the story:

While there’s no universal agreement that would apply industry wide and the AGs are negotiating separately with each bank, many of the stipulations are the same for the agreements being discussed with the three largest mortgage servicers: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

No mention of GMAC or Citi–or Goldman Sachs, which just announced a freeze on its foreclosures.

And this story reported that dual-track processing–in which people are being processed for modification at the same time they’re being foreclosed on–”should” stop.

They also agree that there should be no more “dual track” loan modification negotiations that end suddenly with foreclosures.

Yet at almost precisely the time when WaPo published this claim, BoA’s President of Home Loans, Barbara Desoer was explaining that they couldn’t end dual-track processing except on those loans BoA held on its own books and/or for loans that qualify for HAMP, and Chase’s CEO of Home Lending David Lowman was testifying that they wouldn’t end dual-track processing (he did suggest there was something Congress could do to give servicers safe harbor to end dual-track processing, but that he wouldn’t describe it in the hearing).

Then there’s the claim that there would be a compensation fund set up for those wrongly foreclosed.

The most radical part of the settlement deal has to do with providing monetary compensation for homeowners who have lost their homes but can prove that they have been foreclosed on wrongly. This is the most contentious item because the amount of the funds that would go into this have not been worked out and it’s also unclear how it would be administered.

At least the WaPo had the grace to suggest, without saying outright, that any such fund would be ripe for abuse by the banksters. The banks, after all, are often unable to give any real accounting of the amounts owned (and if they were able to, they’d be unwilling to show the illegal fees and accounting they were using). So how is a wrongly-foreclosed homeowner supposed to prove they were wrongly-foreclosed?

And then the article mentions nothing about modifications going forward. In other words, this “settlement” would achieve absolutely nothing–except for getting a bunch of banksters excused, again, for breaking the law. Not that I find that hard to believe. Just odd that WaPo wouldn’t mention that this alleged “settlement” wouldn’t accomplish the primary requirement of any “settlement:” fixing any problem but the legal liability of the banksters.

Mind you, I did note during the hearing that Miller didn’t seem to have consumers’ interests in minds when he was talking about any settlement, so I guess the outlined proposal is a possible one.

But most of all, note the big news in this story.

There is no mention of an investigation.

There was not a single soul at today’s hearing who claimed to have a good sense of the scope or reasons for the massive foreclosure fraud perpetrated by the banks. Indeed, almost everyone acknowledged the need for further investigation to make that clear.

That “investigation” was supposed to be conducted by the 50 AGs.

But if this article has even a shred of truth to it then the AG “investigation” is instead a fast-track effort not to “investigate” (god forbid, because you might actually expose how the banksters had ended private property and rule of law in the United States), but to find a way to get the banksters out of any accountability for their crimes.

Richard Shelby’s Selective Investigation

Let me make a rare statement: I agree with just about everything Richard Shelby said in his call for an investigation of mortgage servicers.

The Federal Banking Regulators should immediately review the mortgage servicing and foreclosure activities of Ally Financial, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America. The regulators should determine exactly what occurred at these institutions and make those findings available to the Banking Committee without delay.

Furthermore, because it appears that the regulators have failed yet again to properly supervise the entities under their jurisdiction, the Committee should immediately commence a separate, independent investigation into these allegations. It is the Committee’s fundamental responsibility to conduct oversight of the banking regulatory agencies and the firms under their jurisdiction.

With the recent passage of the Dodd-Frank Act wherein the financial regulators were granted even broader powers, I am highly troubled that once again our federal regulators appear to be asleep at the switch.

But I am rather curious about one thing. Just days after Goldman Sachs announced that its servicing arm, Litton Loan Servicing, was suspending foreclosures in some states, why aren’t they–or the other big servicers, Citi and Wells Fargo, on Shelby’s list?

Mind you, given HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s announcement that the government has been investigating FHA servicers since May and had already identified problems from some servicers (but had apparently done nothing about those problems), maybe Shelby has reason to pick on just three of the servicers.

But Shelby’s choice of targets sure does bear watching.

Want to Sue the Banksters? Ask WhereIsTheNote

Remember WhereIsTheNote?

In the face of mounting evidence that the banks foreclosing on homes did not comply with legal requirements during securitization of mortgages and therefore don’t have legal standing to foreclose, the SEIU and some community organizations teamed together last month to create an online tool that anyone can use to ask their mortgage servicer where their note is. By helping homeowners proactively check whether their bank has the right paperwork, it gives them more power in the event of a foreclosure.

The site launched just over three weeks ago. 200,000 people have visited the website; around 15,000 have used the tool to ask their bank for their note (I’ll have a more exact number shortly).

What has happened since gets very interesting. In the first few days, some banks responded quickly and in apparent good faith, some admitting there was a problem, and others sending what they claimed was the note, but was either something else entirely, or clearly did not meet the requirements for transfer.

But as banks realized those first requests were not isolated requests, two things happened. Either banks have sent back a response saying the homeowner had no right to see their note. Or, banks have not responded at all.

Here’s where things get interesting. The WhereIsTheNote-generated letters invoke the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Section 6 of RESPA dictates how loan servicers must reply to consumer complaints about their loan.

Section 6 provides borrowers with important consumer protections relating to the servicing of their loans. Under Section 6 of RESPA, borrowers who have a problem with the servicing of their loan (including escrow account questions), should contact their loan servicer in writing, outlining the nature of their complaint. The servicer must acknowledge the complaint in writing within 20 business days of receipt of the complaint. Within 60 business days the servicer must resolve the complaint by correcting the account or giving a statement of the reasons for its position. Until the complaint is resolved, borrowers should continue to make the servicer’s required payment.

A borrower may bring a private law suit, or a group of borrowers may bring a class action suit, within three years, against a servicer who fails to comply with Section 6′s provisions. Borrowers may obtain actual damages, as well as additional damages if there is a pattern of noncompliance. [my emphasis]

In other words, RESPA says that if homeowners write their servicer and say, “I have a problem with the way you’re servicing my loan,” the law requires that the bank acknowledge that the homeowner has written that letter within in 20 days. And it requires that it resolve that complaint within 60 days. If banks don’t do so, homeowners can sue.

So, as I said, just over three weeks after people started using this site, banks have been writing back and either telling homeowners that the complaint basically saying “I have doubts about whether you actually have legal standing to collect my mortgage payments” doesn’t qualify as a “problem” under RESPA. Here’s how IndyMac made such a claim in one response letter.

Although your fax references the response as RESPA Qualified Written Response eligible, your request actually does not qualify. The statute and case law require that the correspondence disputes the servicing of the loan and requires the sender to provide the servicer specific facts that would enable the servicer to investigate and respond. For instance, a dispute may involve a misapplication of a payment or a miscalculation of a monthly escrow amount. The statement that you are concerned about what you may have heard on the news does not qualify as a dispute with the servicing of your loan. Consequently, we are not subject to the response requirements set forth in the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

In other cases–such as Citibank in my case–the bank appears to have simply let the 20-day deadline pass without a response.

Now, the genius of the WhereIsTheNote campaign is twofold. First, for the first time, someone is collecting an independent set of data about whether banks have a right to collect payment on the loan or not (there is privately available data, but it’s very expensive). WhereIsTheNote has already recognized, for example, that Bank of America and its subsidiaries have adopted a uniform claim that RESPA doesn’t apply in this case (of course, Bank of America is one of the most suspect banks for note problems). And WhereIsTheNote is collecting information that will show that not just those houses in foreclosure, but performing loans have note problems, proving that this is not an issue of “deadbeat” homeowners, but rather banks that are playing fast and loose with private property rights.

But more interesting is enforcement. As the section I cited above makes clear, borrowers whose banks refuse to respond to a RESPA request can sue for damages.

And as it happens, the Attorneys General in all 50 states are already investigating whether the banks are engaging in foreclosure fraud to cover up securitization problems. Which means there are already lawyers out there ready to take on the banks that do things–like refusing to respond to homeowner RESPA requests. WhereIsTheNote will be referring these RESPA non-responses to the AGs to respond accordingly.

If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to ask your servicer WhereIsTheNote. Because–on a day when all else seems hopeless–it may well be a means of holding the banks accountable for the shitpile they made of our nation.

Citi’s Fear

I wanted to return to a detail I mentioned in yesterday’s book salon. As I noted, in his book on the auto bailout, Steven Rattner described Citi as being worried during the Chrysler negotiations that retail customers would retaliate if Citi played hard ball.

Bankers for Goldman and Citi had advised [JP Morgan Chase VP and the Chrysler bondholder's lead negotiator] Jimmy Lee to make the best of a bad situation. Privately they felt his brinksmanship was embarrassing and potentially costly. Citi especially wanted to avoid a liquidation. Its analysis showed it would recover no more than 20 cents on the dollar in that instance. Citi also feared losing business in its branches in states like Michigan and Ohio where consumers might blame it for Chrysler’s demise. (173)

That didn’t make sense to me given that Citi doesn’t have branches in MI and OH; the closest actual branches are in Chicago. Compare that to Chase, which just took over from Comerica as the biggest bank in MI by deposits and was presumably second at the time of the bailout negotiations. Citi should only fear retaliation from consumers elsewhere, in those urban areas that actually have Citi branches, or they should fear retaliation some other way, presumably through their credit card business. I asked Rattner why Citi was worried, but JP Morgan Chase was not, given its much greater involvement in the auto states. He responded, “Yes, they were definitely worried.”

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this. Given the context of the claim–in which Goldman and Citi are portrayed as talking Jimmy Lee down from a hardass negotiating position–JPMC appears not to have been sufficiently worried to change its behavior. And the Citi claim doesn’t make sense on its face. Perhaps Citi was worried about something else. Perhaps they were just more worried because they were insolvent? There are a few details he pretty clearly got wrong in his book (such as his claim that Nissan’s consideration of a deal with Chrysler was secret), but this seems instead like one of the abundant examples of where Rattner is an unreliable narrator. Rattner chose to portray Citi as worried (and quickly agree the hard-bargaining JPMC was, too), but it’s unclear whether that was really true or just nice spin on the banks.

What Rattner probably didn’t know was that FDL was trying to increase this worry at the time by encouraging people to take their money out of Chase. That was a mostly unsuccessful effort (let me tell you, Chrysler is  no more popular in this country than the big banks) to target the banksters for actions that hurt the communities they’re in.

As unsuccessful as our effort was in terms of numbers, if Rattner-the-unreliable-narrator’s claim has any basis in fact, then our effort to pressure JPMC to behave better worked. Sort of.

Since then, Arianna’s Move Your Money campaign has more successfully advocated for people and institutions to move their money out of the big banks. By April, they claimed $5 billion had been moved. And it does seem like some of the banks are losing market share to smaller banks.

The largest banks in Michigan are losing market share and Chase Bank now has the most deposits in the state, according to new data released Thursday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

As of June 30, the five biggest banks in Michigan — Chase Bank, Comerica Bank, PNC Bank, Bank of America and Fifth Third Bank — accounted for 55% of all deposits in the state. That’s down from 57.3% on June 30, 2009.

I raise all this because of another interesting discussion about whether consumer action might more effectively target the banks. Via Yves Smith, I found this Playboy article on Edmundo Braverman’s WallStreetOasis.com’s proposal on How to Destroy a Bank (Yup, it appears you have to have a pierced navel and no pubic hair to be a Playboy model these days).

This article set forth a plan for how consumers could destroy one of America’s four largest banks. Customers would deliver a series of escalating threats against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, demanding policy changes. The threats would culminate in a series of flash-mob bank runs that targeted one of the banks.

In a comment in Yves thread, Braverman acknowledged his idea was a thought exercise to take Move Your Money the next step.

The whole thing was inspired by Arianna Huffington’s “Move Your Money” idea. I thought it was a good idea, but not one that would be dramatic enough to produce any changes in the way the banks did business. So I asked myself, “What would have an impact on the banks?” and that’s when I came up with the Tank-A-Bank plan.

It was always just a thought exercise, and never something I advocated.

Yves seems to be thinking more about this; what can consumers do that won’t get them jailed as terrorists but will get us to a point where the finance industry isn’t dragging our country down even while stealing our money in the process?

Continue reading

If Voluntary Moratoria Mean Banks Are Solving the Problem, What about Wells Fargo?

Elizabeth Warren, presumably laying the foundation for an Administration deal with banks to not unwind the entire securitization paperwork problem in exchange for loan modifications, points to banks’ voluntary foreclosure moratoria as proof the banksters are trying to solve this problem (presumably meaning the foreclosure fraud, but not the larger problems).

She additionally stated that major servicers’ voluntary foreclosure freezes mean two things. First, this problem “is big, and it is serious,” and second, the voluntary moratoria represent evidence that “the issuers themselves are trying to get this problem solved,” she said.

But only three of the top five servicers have issued moratoria of any sort (and some of those are limited to judicial states). Citi (with 6.3% of the market) and Wells Fargo (with 16.9%) have not issued moratoria at all.

And yesterday, an FT story reported that contrary to Wells’ claims, it too engages in foreclosure fraud.

In a sworn deposition on March 9 seen by the FT, Xee Moua, identified in court documents as a vice-president of loan documentation for Wells, said she signed as many as 500 foreclosure-related papers a day on behalf of the bank.

Ms Moua, who was deposed as part of a foreclosure lawsuit in Palm Beach County, Florida, said that the only information she verified was whether her name and title appeared correctly, according to the document.

Asked whether she checked the accuracy of the principal and interest that Wells claimed the borrower owed – a crucial step in banks’ legal actions to repossess homes – Ms Moua said: “I do not.”

Now, I’m all in favor of loan modifications. But Administration talk about deals for loan mods is far too early, not least because all the banks haven’t issued moratoria (not to mention the fact that banks with moratoria seem to be continuing the foreclosures).The banks aren’t yet ready to solve the problem.

One of Obama’s signature traits is conceding on the most critical issues at the start of any negotiation, thereby preventing him from crafting a really useful deal. I fear the Administration is about to do the same with foreclosure fraud, too.

Remember the Stress Tests?

The other day, I noted that Administration claims that they were helpless to affect what they now depict as loan servicers’ “sloppiness” but what really amounts to fraud ignores their decision to stop pushing for cramdown–and with it, leverage over the loan servicers.

I think (though I’m less sure of this) they’re ignoring one other source of leverage they once had over the servicers: the stress tests.

First, remember that the top servicers also happen to be the biggest banks. Here is Reuters’ list of the top loan servicers.

  • Bank of America (19.9%)
  • Wells Fargo (16.9%)
  • JPMorgan Chase (12.6%)
  • Citi (6.3%)
  • GMAC (3.2%)
  • US Bancorp (1.8%)
  • SunTrust (1.6%)
  • PHH Mortgage (1.4%)
  • OneWest (IndyMac) (1.4%)
  • PNC Financial Services (1.4%)

And here is the list the nineteen banks that had to undergo stress tests in 2009.

  • American Express
  • Bank of America
  • BB&T
  • Bank of New York Mellon
  • Capital One
  • Citigroup
  • Fifth Third
  • GMAC
  • Goldman Sachs
  • JP Morgan Chase
  • Key Corp
  • MetLife
  • Morgan Stanley
  • PNC Financial
  • Regions
  • State Street
  • SunTrust
  • U.S. Bancorp
  • Wells Fargo

So all of the top mortgage servicers–Bank of America, Wells, JP Morgan Chase, Citi, and even GMAC–had to undergo a stress test last year to prove their viability before the government would allow them to repay TARP funds and therefore operate without that government leverage–which was threatened to include limits on executive pay, lobbying, and government oversight of major actions–over their business. Significantly, all but JPMC were found to require additional capital.

Now, I’m not sure what I make of this. The stress tests were no great analytical tool in the first place. Moreover, the stress tests focused on whether the banks could withstand loan defaults given worsening economic conditions, not whether they could withstand financial obligations incurred because their servicing business amounted to sloppiness fraud.

But in letters between Liz Warren (as head of the TARP oversight board) and Tim Geithner in January and February 2009 discussed foreclosure modification, stress tests, and accountability for the use of TARP funds (Geithner made very specific promises about foreclosure modifications and refinancing which Treasury has failed to meet). And those discussions–and the stress tests–took place as COP reported on the problems with servicer incentives, servicer staffing and oversight, and the lack of regulation of servicers more generally (the COP report came out March 6, 2009; the stress test results were announced May 7, 2009). So at the same time as the Administration was officially learning of problems with servicers, it was also giving those servicers’ bank holding companies a dubious clean bill of health. And with it, beginning to let go of one of the biggest pieces of leverage the government had over those servicers.

Beyond that, I’m not sure what to think of any relationship between the stress tests and the servicer part of these banks’ business. Rortybomb has an important post examining how this foreclosure crisis may go systemic. If it does, these same banks that eighteen months ago promised the government they could withstand whatever the market would bring will be claiming no one could have foreseen that they’d be held liable for their fraudulent servicing practices. Ideally, we would have identified this as a systemic risk eighteen months ago, and based on that refused to let the big servicers out of their obligations (which would have provided the needed incentive for the servicers not only to treat homeowners well, but to modify loans). Had the stress tests included a real look at these banks’ servicing business, these banks might not have been declared healthy.

“Creative” Wall Street and Money-Laundering

I have long maintained that we will eventually learn that Citibank took over where BCCI and then Riggs Bank left off: serving as a money laundering vehicle used by drug cartels and other organized crime, terrorists, and spooks. But this article (h/t scribe) on the role of big banks in laundering Mexican drug money reports that–while Citibank has been implicated in money laundering (but took the appropriate regulatory steps in response)–there are a number of other banks deeply implicated:

  • Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo)
  • Bank of America
  • American Express
  • HSBC
  • Banco Santander

Most of these banks were implicated in Mexican legal filings. But in March, Wachovia entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the government that reveals some of the details behind its money laundering.

The DPA lays out the means by which Wachovia enabled money laundering as follows:

  • Allowing Mexican Casas de Cambio (exchange houses) to wire through Wachovia. From May 2004 through May 2007, Wachovia had processed at least $373 billion in CDC wire activity.
  • Offering a “bulk cash” service, in which Wachovia would arrange physical transport of large amounts of US dollars collected by the CDCs into the US. From May 2004 through May 2007, Wachovia processed over $4 billion in bulk cash for the CDCs.
  • Providing a “pouch deposit” service, in which CDCs would accept checks and travelers checks drawn on US banks, aggregate them into a pouch, and then forward them to Wachovia for processing. By May 2005, Wachovia had set up a digital scan system for this service. From May 2004 through May 2007, Wachovia processed $47 billion in digital pouch deposits for all its correspondent banking customers, including what it did for the CDCs.

The DPA also describes how Wachovia helped telemarketers steal directly from victims’ accounts–the subject of an unrelated lawsuit going back some years.

So here are two key details of this.

First, it appears that Wachovia deliberately got deeper into money-laundering for CDCs in 2005 even as the government issued more alerts about the way drug cartels were using CDCs.

As early as 2004, Wachovia understood the risk that was associated with doing business with the Mexican CDCs. Wachovia was aware of the general industry warnings. As early as July 2005, Wachovia was aware that other large U.S. banks were exiting the CDC business based on [anti-money laundering] concerns.

Despite these warnings, Wachovia remained in the business. And in September 2005, Wachovia purchased the right to solicit the international correspondent banking customers of Union Bank of California (“UBOC”). Wachovia knew that UBOC was exiting the CDC market due to AML problems. Wachovia hired at least one person from UBOC who had a significant role in the CDC business at UBOC. After UBOC exited the CDC business, Wachovia’s business volume increased notably.

September 2005 was definitely before most people realized the giant shitpile–of which Wachovia held more than its fair share–was going to explode. But Wachovia was already deep into it.

So $373 billion in wire services (some of which were surely legal), $4 billion in bulk cash services, and some portion of $47 billion in digital pouch services (again, some of which is surely legal and may pertain to remittances). Compare those numbers to the $40 to $60 billion or so in Wachovia subprime losses Wells Fargo ate when it took over Wachovia. Was Wachovia laundering money for drug cartels because it was so badly exposed in mortgage-backed securities, or was it so heavily involved in products that could be used for money laundering just for fun?

Now, for all of this, DOJ made Wells Fargo pay $160 million: $50 million that is an outright fine, and $110 million for what DOJ said it had identified as clear drug proceeds laundered through Wachovia. Now, granted, DOJ is fining Wells Fargo (beneficiary of huge amounts of free money from the Fed in recent years and the recipient of huge tax deductions for taking over Wachovia), not Wachovia. And granted, this was the largest fine ever for money laundering. But as the Bloomberg story notes, that’s less than 2% of Wells Fargo’s profits last year. And isn’t even as much as Wachovia got in deposits–$418 million–from the fraudulent telemarketing scheme.

Then there’s the bigger question. Who else was using these vehicles? Banks that enable this kind of money laundering tend to be indiscriminate about their client base. And as I noted when I started this post, money laundering for drug cartels tends to go hand in hand with money laundering for other organized crime, terrorists, and spooks. Given the scale of what Wachovia was doing, where are the other busts?

And while we’re looking for those other busts, note that the investigation of Wachovia started in May 2007, 17 months before the government brokered the Wells Fargo takeover. Is there any chance that Treasury, which would have been involved in this, was unaware of the massive amounts of money laundering Wachovia had been engaged in when they brokered that deal? Recall, too, the weirdness over the competition between Citi and Wells Fargo for the privilege of taking on the Wachovia shitpile. The Federal government was at one point prepared to take on a portion of Wachovia’s shitpile to allow Citi to take over the bank for a dollar a share. And when Citi CEO Vikram Pandit lost out on the deal, Andrew Ross Sorkin reported in Too Big to Fail, he told Sheila Bair, that “This isn’t just about Citi … There are other issues we need to consider. I need to speak to you privately. … This is not right. It’s not right for the country. It’s just not right!”

I don’t want to get too tinfoil about this. But it strikes me that the efforts to keep Wall Street and all its celebrated creativity intact serves to make it easier for banks like Wachovia to engage in widespread money-laundering. That is, it’s not just shadow banking as it is politely understood, but banking for entire shadow networks, both our own and our enemies.

Update: Aaron v. Andrew fixed–thanks SaltinWound.

Update: Here’s the full Bloomberg story.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV RT @carolrosenberg: Lobster roll surveillance? Three Afghan troops go missing on Cape Cod training trip, last seen at Hyannis mall. http://…
10mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @AmyTidd: Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academia in 2014 http://t.co/xCNpNxlMdv via @Salon #morningjoe #p2
31mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @TOLOnews: #BREAKING: #Mullah #Abdul #Rahman, a close ally of #Taliban leader #Mullah #Omar has been killed by #NDS http://t.co/Wy3TUGJi
34mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @bamage02 She pulled it off perfectly. I think I'm in love. And I don't even know her name...
37mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @amanbatheja: This photo's drawing some attention online. Rick Perry meets a "fan." Look closely at her hand. http://t.co/cL8aV0jaKz
39mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel @JoeSudbay Yes of course. But can I still be the villain of Mark Warner's 2006 campaign please?
49mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Ouch. How dare political scientists like @dandrezner influence politics by fact-checking Mat Bai? http://t.co/O1vi6DrdJK
54mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV @robertcaruso Guaranteed to generate more enemies than you take out with that approach.
55mreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel RT @JimWhiteGNV: On Day Senate Approved $500 Million for War in Syria, UN Announced Funding Shortfall for Feeding Syrian Refugees http://t…
58mreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @AdamWeinstein: Huh, even our local Chamber of Commerce and school-lunch-menu newsletter opposes John Thrasher at FSU now http://t.co/vE
1hreplyretweetfavorite
emptywheel Q: How many workers already died building Qater's soccer stadia that probably won't be used? http://t.co/qqiZ5bZTOw
1hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV On Day Senate Approved $500 Million for War in Syria, UN Announced Funding Shortfall for Feeding Syrian Refugees http://t.co/ns2iJCGwiu
1hreplyretweetfavorite
September 2014
S M T W T F S
« Aug    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930