With the Justice Department desperate to rehabilitate its image as a diligent prosecutor of financial fraud, securing a headline like “the largest fine against a single company in history” is a lifeline. A tentative deal would force JPMorgan Chase to pay a $9 billion fine and commit $4 billion in mortgage relief, to settle multiple investigations into their mortgage-backed securities business. The bank stands accused of knowingly selling investors mortgage bonds backed by loans that didn’t meet quality control standards outlined in its investment materials. JPMorgan Chase wants to “pay for peace” in this deal, ending all civil litigation around mortgage-backed securities by state and federal law enforcement (at least one criminal case would remain open).
“Let’s kill all the lawyers,” Shakespeare demanded over 400 years ago. These days, lawyers have taken a back seat to Wall Street as the main target of public ire. But when a bank sues a homeowner for foreclosure or engages in any other legal action related to delinquent mortgages, they hire a law firm to represent them. Nicknamed “foreclosure mills” because of the relentless churn of cases they take on, these firms are complicit in much of the misconduct we attribute to banks throughout the foreclosure process. There’s a long list of documented abuse by foreclosure mills, which are often specialist law firms built to handle thousands of foreclosures at once.
Who becomes the next Federal Reserve chair matters, not only because of the implications for economic and monetary policy, but because the Fed remains one of the nation’s chief financial regulators. There are dozens of policies, some we don’t even know about, over which the Fed wields critical influence. While the past year has seen a small but important shift toward tighter controls, particularly on the largest Wall Street institutions, all of that could change if President Barack Obama selects another deregulator in the Greenspan tradition.
One of the biggest catastrophes of the 2008 financial crisis came out of the AIG Financial Products division, whose disastrous trades eventually led to a $182 billion bailout of the insurance company. One of the largest financial market blowups since the crisis came from the Chief Investment Office of JPMorgan Chase, where similar trades backfired and cost the company at least $6.2 billion. The common thread? Both of these offices, despite being subsidiaries of American corporations, were based in London, and they enjoyed a degree of autonomy, both from their management teams and from federal regulators, who were unable to recognize the outsized risk until it was too late.