OCC

After Having Let Off HSBC with an Inadequate Fine, Regulators Prepare to Let JPMC Off with No Fine

It has been less than 18 months since JP Morgan Chase was fined $88.3 million for–among other things–sending a ton of gold bullion to Iran.

Yet JPMC’s regulators are about to scold JPMC–and demand it improve the compliance programs it promised to improve 18 months ago–again.

Only, having found JPMC didn’t implement the promised compliance programs after being fined, JPMC’s regulators this time will not fine the bank for violating US law.

A U.S. regulatory probe of JP Morgan Chase & Co is expected to result in an order that the bank correct lapses in how it polices suspect money flows, in an action expected as soon as Friday, people familiar with the situation said.

The action would be in the form of a cease-and-desist order, whichregulators use to force banks to improve compliance weaknesses, the sources said.

The order is expected to be issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve.

JP Morgan is not expected to pay a monetary penalty, according to one person familiar with the situation.

This is what counts as seriousness from US bank regulators–ever quieting peeps when American banks openly flout the law (they’re a bit harsher with European banks, though still believe in forgiving such banks for things like material support to terrorism).

A teenager busted for shoplifting would pay more in fines than JPMC reportedly will pay for helping crooks–even alleged assassins–do their crime.

 

Barney Frank: “As Well as To Financial Regulators”

When I first read about this letter from retiring Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Barney Frank to Eric Holder, I thought it akin to what retiring Homeland Security Chair Joe Lieberman did on the Sunday shows when he aggressively called for gun control: a PR stunt by an outgoing top Committee member, addressing a problem in all-but retirement that he didn’t address while he had the authority to do so in Congress.

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

I note several instances recently in which Administration officials have proceeded civilly against blatant violations of our important financial laws, in part because of the difficulty of proving cases beyond a reasonable doubt, especially where the law may have been somewhat uncertain, but also because of a concern that the criminal conviction—and even indictment—of a major financial institution could have a destabilizing effect. This latter consideration does not apply, similarly, to individuals. It is, of course, the case that no corporation can have engaged in wrongdoing without the active decision of individual officers of that entity. I believe it is also the case that prosecuting individuals has more of a deterrent effect than prosecuting corporations.

I am writing to you as well as to financial regulators, understanding that the decision to pursue criminal proceedings rests with the Justice Department, so I ask that there be a series of consultations involving law enforcement officials and regulators with the goal of increasing prosecution of culpable individuals as an important step in seeing that the laws that protect the stability and integrity of our financial system are better observed.

BARNEY FRANK

And that may well be what this is: an effort to pile on all the calls for prosecuting the banksters.

But I am fascinated by that second paragraph, the mention of the financial regulators. Consider this NYT account of HSBC’s wrist-slap that Bill Black highlighted.

Despite the Justice Department’s proposed compromise, Treasury Department officials and bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency pointed to potential issues with the aggressive stance, according to the officials briefed on the matter. When approached by the Justice Department for their thoughts, the regulators cautioned about the effect on the broader economy.

“The Justice Department asked Treasury for our view about the potential implications of prosecuting a large financial institution,” David S. Cohen, the Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement. “We did not believe we were in a position to offer any meaningful assessment. The decision of how the Justice Department exercises its prosecutorial discretion is solely theirs and Treasury had no role.”

Still, some prosecutors proposed that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. meet with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, people briefed on the matter said. The meeting never took place. [my emphasis]

DOJ went to Treasury and the Fed and OCC and asked for permission to get HSBC to plead guilty to Bank Secrecy Act violations. According to Cohen, Treasury said they had no meaningful assessment. According to NYT, the regulators–the Fed and OCC–raised concerns about the broader economy.

And Barney Frank says he is writing financial regulators (in addition to Holder himself) about bank immunity, but this appears not to be the letter to financial regulators, because they are not CC’ed on the letter. Yet he has not released a separate letter to regulators to the press (though if my attempts to get this letter this morning are any indication, Frank’s staffers have already moved onto look for new jobs).

This suggests there’s another letter to the people who told DOJ to let HSBC skate.

It’s worth noting that one of these regulators–OCC–was broadly implicated by the Permanent Subcommittee Investigation of HSBC.

In any case, there seems to be more to what Frank is doing. It may be he’s just trying to push Holder to meet with TurboTax Timmeh and the financial regulators, as Holder’s prosecutors attempted to make happen. Or he may be doing something else here, potentially even coaxing regulators to embrace individual indictments to stave off the larger anger about the HSBC wrist-slap.

It may well be this is a show. But it appears that we’re only seeing half the show.

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).

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The John Walsh-Liz Warren-Investors & Homeowners Cage Fight

I noted the other day that the Administration was floating a ridiculously small $20 billion Get out of Jail Free plan to excuse the banksters fort their foreclosure fraud. Apparently, the banksters think that $20 billion is just a “crazy figure” that will never be imposed. The actual homeowners affected by the banksters’ crime, however, believe it is “chump change.” From a press release from the CrimeShouldn’tPay effort:

“We need more than just another slap on the wrist.  Home prices have plummeted by $9 trillion over the last four years because of the massive fraud that the big banks perpetrated on the American people. $20 billion is chump change, especially when you divide that amongst the nation’s 14 largest banks,” says Gina Gates from San Jose, CA who lost her home fraudulently to JP Morgan Chase.  “This cannot be more ‘business as usual’ for the nation’s biggest banks – break the law, make hundreds of billions of dollars doing so, and then pay a small percentage of their bounty in fines while leaving everyone else suffering the consequence of their actions. No, this time, the punishment must fit the crime. The big banks must pay commensurate to the pain and suffering they’ve caused so many people.”

But the truth behind the figure is–as Shahien Nasiripour reports–actually that Elizabeth Warren and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, headed by John Walsh, are fighting over what an appropriate remedy might be. Warren, along with the FDIC and FHA, believes a still-too-paltry $25-$30 billion penalty is in order.

Officials at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Administration, and those now creating a fledgling consumer financial protection bureau are inclined to seek as much as $30 billion in fines, making those funds available to provide relief to borrowers at risk of losing their homes.

[snip]

Elizabeth Warren of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has floated a figure of about $25 billion for a unified settlement, according to people familiar with the situation.

But OCC–which has a long history of protecting banksters from actual regulation–wants just a $5 billion penalty with no principal reductions.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees the nation’s largest banks, intends to pursue its own settlement with lenders, a track distinct from the talks conducted by its federal counterparts, the sources said. The OCC, eager to protect major banks from expensive fines, is seeking to limit the terms to $5 billion, while also ensuring that lenders retain wide latitude in how to administer relief for homeowners, the sources said.

[snip]

Housing experts assert that mortgage companies have been largely unwilling to shrink principal balances on first mortgages, because they understand that that this would trigger huge losses on the second mortgages they own themselves.

The OCC is opposing a settlement that would entail large-scale write-downs of mortgages precisely because of concerns about this very scenario, the sources said.

Problem is, the OCC, as the banskters’ primary regulator enabler, has control of the key documents demonstrating the banksters’ fraud.

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Oversight and Investigation: “Why Should They Take You Seriously?”

Yves Smith has a post laying out one of the most troublesome aspects of the response to the revelation of foreclosure fraud. As she explains, to conduct an “independent review” of its PR-servicing “review” of its own servicing practices, GMAC picked the lawfirm that has been in charge of its national counsel on servicing issues.

A Birmingham, Alabama law firm, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, has been GMAC’s national counsel on real estate servicing matters for some time (see here for examples of some of the matters it has handled).

Curiously, Bradley Arant is one of the firms that GMAC engaged to conduct an “independent review” after its use of robo signing became public:

GMAC Mortgage is initiating an independent review of foreclosures in all 50 states and examining foreclosure sales nationwide to ensure procedures and documentation are accurate….

The firms hired to conduct the review are Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, Morrison & Foerster LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, said a person familiar with the matter.

Given Bradley Arant’s long-standing and extensive involvement in GMAC’s mortgage business, how can it legitimately be part of the team conducting the review? It’s incentives will be to minimize any problems, for a host of reasons, the most important being so as not to ruffle a big meal ticket and to avoid the exposure of any issues that might create liability for the firm.

[snip]

Bradley Arant is certain to frame its examination as narrowly as possible and not consider potentially troublesome but germane questions such as who at the contracting organizations (LPS, Fannie, other servicers) might also be culpable.A broader look is key to understand who really bears responsibility. Foreclosures of securitized loans increasingly look to be what Bill Black would call a criminogenic environment, in which the major perps are deeply entwined and work together. And if caught, it is clearly in their best interest to cut loose the weakest, most dispensable actor in their tidy group, the foreclosure mill.

So in many ways, the selection of Bradley Arant makes perfect sense. It is familiar with the terrain, so it will be able to issue a plausible-sounding report. It is also so deeply part of this questionable backwater that it is highly unlikely to make a bottoms up investigation and potentially rock the boat.

Couple the prospect of law firms involved in the fraud conducting “independent” investigations of their own fraud with this exchange from Thursday’s House Financial Services hearing on robo-signing. Maxine Waters asks the Acting Comptroller of the Currency, John Walsh, whether or not OCC (which regulates the big banks) has imposed any penalties on the servicers for their fraud.

Waters: I asked earlier about whether or not fines had been levied from the Treasury Department [see that exchange here]. Let me turn to the OCC. Since we started experiencing the fallout from the subprime boom, has OCC taken any enforcement actions against servicers?

[long pause]

Walsh: We have certainly issued supervisory requirements on them, matters requiring attention and other things to remedy–

Waters: Have you levied any fines?

Walsh: I do not believe that we have.

Waters: Have you issued any cease and desist orders?

Walsh: I don’t believe that there have been any public actions against them.

Waters: Have you threatened to revoke any charters?

Walsh: No.

Waters: Do you think that the servicers really believe that you mean business if they don’t have to fear any consequences?

Walsh: Well, I think the consequences are quite clear and present to them. I mean that we can compel action and the threat of more serious penalties–

Waters: But you haven’t done that. You haven’t done any of that! Why should they take you seriously?

Walsh: The supervisory process is one that happens–does not mainly happen in the public spotlight. It happens in the dealings directly with the institution through the process of examination, matters requiring attention, and other things. Only when a particular problem is identified that rises to the appropriate level do we get into the area–

Waters: Let’s talk about examiners. If you have examiners onsite, can you explain how you don’t know about all the problems that have recently come to light? What do the examiners do?

Walsh: There’s, as I mentioned, our attention was focused on the modification process, it would be quite unusual for us to be in the room or present at the point where an affidavit is being signed or a notarization is taking place. We do rely on the systems and controls of the financial institution, its own internal audit, or any flags that raise the issue, like our complaint function. And unfortunately those did not raise an alarm about this process. [my emphasis]

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