SEC Names Ex-Credit Suisse Employees in Subprime Fraud Scheme

Four
former investment bankers and traders from the Credit Suisse Group were charged
by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Wednesday violating multiple
sections of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 while trading in subprime
mortgage bonds
.  The indictments allege
the four engaged in a complex scheme to fraudulently overstate the prices of $3
billion of the bonds during the height of the subprime credit crisis. 

The
four are Kareem Serageldin, the group’s former global head of structured credit
trading; David Higgs, former head of hedge trading; and two traders, Faisal Siddiqui and Salmaan
Siddiqui.  According to the complaint
filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Serageldin
oversaw a significant portion of Credit Suisse’s structured products and
mortgage-related businesses. The traders reported to Higgs and Serageldin.

The SEC charges that the four
deliberately ignored specific market information showing that prices of the
subject bonds were declining sharply, pricing them instead in a way that
allowed Credit Suisse to achieve fictional profits, and, through the traders,
changing bond prices in order to hit daily and monthly profit target and cover
losses.  The scheme was driven in part by
the prospect of lavish year-end bonuses and promotions.  The scheme hit its peak at the end of 2007.

“The
stunning scale of the illegal mismarking in this case was surpassed only by the
greed of the senior bankers behind the scheme,” said Robert Khuzami, Director
of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement and a Co-Chair of the newly formed Residential
Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group
, “At precisely the moment investors
and market participants were urgently seeking accurate information about
financial institutions’ exposure to the subprime market, the senior bankers
falsely and selfishly inflated the value of more than $3 billion in
asset-backed securities in order to protect their bonuses and, in one case,
protect a highly coveted promotion.”  

SEC
explained that it was not charging Credit Suisse in the scheme because the
wrongdoing was isolated; Credit Suisse reported the violations to the SEC,
voluntarily terminated the four, implemented internal controls to prevent
additional misconduct, and cooperated with SEC in the investigation.  The SEC said that the four named in the
complaint also cooperated in the investigation and that assistance was provided
by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
and the United Kingdom Financial Services Authority.

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Solemn Remembrance of Those Lost Aboard Shuttle Columbia

Like countless persons across the world, I watched in quiet disbelief as thousands of pieces of debris streaked across the vast Texas sky the morning of February 1, 2003.
 
Unlike what had transpired in 1986 during the launch of the shuttle Challenger, this time the shuttle Columbia was re-entering earth’s atmosphere.  Traveling at Mach 19 at an altitude of 200,000 feet, the shuttle was only a dozen or so minutes from touching down at the Kennedy Space Center – where family and support personnel waited.  Sadly, that landing never happened.
 
What also made this morning different for me was that I had taken over the White House Office of Cabinet Affairs only 10 days earlier.  The Office served as a policy-coordinating body across the White House policy councils, in addition to its primary function as an early warning system for events transpiring across the Executive branch – including NASA.
 
Watching the events unfold on television, I knew to quickly head to the office as I did most Saturdays and not surprisingly my phone went off en route to the White House.  I arrived at 10:00 and already meetings and conference calls related to the disaster were being scheduled.
 
There was no doubt that all aboard were lost – a point made crystal clear to us later that morning.  A human simply cannot withstand the tremendous physical forces from a rapid deceleration of that magnitude.  We also learned quickly that few nations have the capability to shoot down anything traveling at that altitude and speed, thus ruling out the possibility of an act of terror.
 
All we knew was that something had gone horribly wrong.
 
White House Chief of Staff Card entered my West Wing office early that afternoon and told me I was going to be the main point of contact for the White House for this tragic event and for the soon-to-be-announced accident investigation board.  I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at the time but Mr. Card instructed me to get the NASA chief of staff on the phone.
 
That is when I first met Courtney Stadd – an impassioned public servant who had dedicated his life to the US space program.  Courtney was amazingly patient with me and explained in great detail what protocols were already being invoked, as were dictated post-shuttle Challenger accident.  Courtney was laser-focused on the families of the astronauts, as was all of NASA.  Throughout the months-long ordeal of the accident investigation, Courtney worked diligently behind the scenes, focused at all times on the well-being of the families of the fallen astronauts.
 
Following a Homeland Security Council meeting that afternoon, a second meeting was held early in the evening among the various offices within the Executive branch, as we heard more about the soon-to-be-announced Columbia Accident Investigation Board and a memorial service at the Johnson Space Center later that week.
 
While it was not discussed that day, we also learned that, this time, the mindset of the public was questioning the American space program and, specifically, whether or not the risk of space flight was worth the reward.  That was in stark contrast to the mindset post-Challenger accident, when the public was eager for the shuttle to fly safely again as soon as possible.  This new mindset ultimately led us to chart a new course for NASA – a policy announced in January 2004.
 
But that was much later, as more immediate matters took precedent.
 
At the invitation of NASA, I attended the memorial service of Astronaut David Brown of Virginia.  I had never met Mr. Brown, but you could not help but be in awe of his accomplishments, which were many.  He was by training a medical doctor and was the first Navy flight surgeon to become a fighter pilot.  He was also a college gymnast and had somehow managed to remain single.  The similarities between the two of us were few and far between, yet as I sat only three feet from his flag draped coffin, I learned we were only a couple of months apart in age and both not yet married.  And as I heard others tell his life story during the memorial service at the Arlington National Cemetery Chapel, I felt a sense of deep regret that I never had the opportunity to meet him.
 
Following the service, the coffin was placed atop a horse-drawn caisson for the mile long walk to his final resting place near the marble amphitheater.  As we got closer, the crowd was 10 deep and I recall my amazement at seeing so many school kids who, I suspect, were there as part of a school trip.  Here they stood by the hundreds, heads draped and hands over heart as the cortege moved slowly toward Mr. Brown’s final resting place.  Many of them wiped away tears and occasionally cried aloud.  Otherwise, there was compete silence except for the occasional plane landing at nearby Reagan National Airport.
 
America buried many heroes that day and this is only one of many stories to be told of sacrifice and duty to Country which in this instance includes India and Israel.  I would hope that Americans remember them all, and on this — the 9th anniversary of Shuttle Columbia’s tragic accident — pay eternal solemn respect to the crew of her final mission: Commander Rick Husband, Commander William McCool, Commander Michael Anderson, Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist Laurel Clark, and Mission Specialist David Brown.  The words of President Reagan spoken many years ago are a fitting tribute to each of them: May God cradle you in His loving arms.

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Violence Against Women Act Conforming Amendments; Final Rule, Published in Federal Register

HUD Programs: Violence Against Women Act Conforming Amendments; Final Rule, was published in the Federal Register on October 27, 2010, it can be found at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-26914.pdf. The final rule becomes effective November 26, 2010.

Housing Industry Reacts to State of the Union

Housing featured prominently in
President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.  The President made two specific proposals,
one to deal with the ghosts of housing past, the other to provide expanded
credit to homeowners.

In contrast to the settlement with banks
that Obama was widely rumored to announce
at the State of the Union, he instead directed Attorney General Eric Holder to
create a new office on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses.  The President said, “The American people
deserve a robust and comprehensive investigation into the global financial meltdown
to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.”

According to the Huffington Post, the new
office will take a three-pronged approach to the issue, holding financial
institutions accountable for abuses, compensating victims, and providing relief
for homeowners, and will operate as part of the existing Financial Fraud
Enforcement Task Force.  On Wednesday several
news outlets were reporting that the unit will be chaired by State Attorney
General Eric Schneiderman, who has been regarded as among the toughest of state
law enforcement officers with Lanny Breuer, an assistant attorney general in
the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as co-chair.  Others reported to be in the group are Robert
Khuzami, director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission,
U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Tony West, assistant AG, DOJ. 

The President’s second and more
broad-reaching proposal was for a massive refinancing of mortgage loans that
would reach beyond the current government initiates such as the Home Affordable
Refinance Program (HARP).  While few
details are available, the President said that his proposed initiative would
cut red tape and could save homeowners about $3,000 a year on their mortgage
payments because of the current historically low rates.  Unlike HARP, the program would apply to all
borrowers whether or not their current mortgages are government-backed and
would be paid for by a small fee on the largest financial institutions. Obama
did not mention principal reduction in his proposal.

Bloomberg is reporting that the program is
Obama’s response to a call by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in a paper sent to Congress
earlier this month for the administration to offer more aid for housing.   While largely dealing with the need to
convert excess housing inventory to rental property, the paper also touched on
the benefits of easing refinancing beyond the HARP program.

Bloomberg also outlined some of the
tradeoffs of a super-refinancing program saying it may damage investors in
government-backed securities by more quickly paying off those with high coupons
and limited default risk while aiding holders of other home-loan securities and
banks.  Word that such a proposal might be
forthcoming in the President’s speech, Bloomberg said, “Roiled the market for
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities according to a note to clients by Bank of
America Corp.”

The Associated Press quoted Stan
Humphries, chief economist at Zillow as saying the refinancing could allow 10
million more homeowners to refinance and, by preventing foreclosures and
freeing up money for Americans to spend, could give the economy a $40 to $75
billion jolt.  The Federal Reserve, the
AP said, was more cautious, estimating that 2.5 million additional homeowners
might be able to refinance.

The refinancing initiative would require
approval by Congress, however the day after the speech the focus was on other issues
such as tax reform and we could not find any reaction from members of Congress
specific to the refinancing issue.  Even the
Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) issued a statement from its president David
H. Stevens which did not mention the refinancing program, obliquely addressing
instead the creation of the mortgage fraud office.    

“Like the
President, we believe it is time to move forward with rebuilding this nation’s
housing market and that lenders and borrowers alike contributed to the housing
crisis we are currently in.  Let there also be no mistake, those who
committed illegal acts ought to face the consequences, if they haven’t already.”

Stevens
then called for a clear national housing policy “that establishes certainty for
lenders and borrowers alike.”  This,
according to MBA, requires finalizing the Risk Retention/Qualified Residential
Mortgage (QRM) rule “in a way that ensures access to credit for all qualified
borrowers,” establishing working national servicing standards, developing a
legal safe-harbor for Dodd-Frank QRM/Ability to Repay requirements, and “Move(ing)
quickly to determine the proper role of the federal government in the mortgage market
in order to ensure sufficient mortgage liquidity through all markets, good and
bad.

Creation
of the fraud office generated substantial comment, much of which was
unfavorable.  A lot of the criticism
focused on the lack of prosecutions that have emerged from the existing fraud
task force and there was a strong suspicion voiced by the liberal blogosphere
that the new office was merely a cover for pushing the DOJ/50-state attorneys
general settlement with major banks.  However,
one analysis, written by Shahien Nasiripour in U.S. Politics and Policies pointed out the wider powers of
enforcement available to attorneys general in some states such as New York’s
Martin Act and how the states and federal government might use the new office
to pool their powers and responsibilities to the benefit of each.  

The new
office will not lure California Attorney General Kamala Harris back into the
fold.  Harris and Schneiderman both
withdrew from the national foreclosure settlement last year, feeling that it
did not represent the interest of their respective states.  Despite the appointment of Schneiderman to
head the new office, Harris announced on Wednesday that she would not be
rejoining her fellow AGs
in their negotiations saying that the latest
settlement proposal was inadequate for California.  A spokesman for her office said, “Our
state has been clear about what any multistate settlement must contain:
transparency, relief going to the most distressed homeowners, and meaningful
enforcement that ensures accountability. At this point, this deal does not
suffice for California.”

Here’s the video of the speech beginning at the point discussing housing related issues…

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HUD CHARGES MASSACHUSETTS APARTMENT BUILDING OWNER WITH DISCRIMINATING AGAINST FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced today that it is charging the owner of a 24-unit apartment building in Holyoke, Massachusetts, with housing discrimination for denying units to families that have children. HUD’s charge alleges that Nilma Fichera, who owns and manages New York-based N.A.G. Realty, LLC, violated the Fair Housing Act when she refused to show or rent apartments to families with children because she could not certify that the building was free of lead-based paint.