There has been much discussion about the lawsuit recently filed by New York’s Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, against JP Morgan for fraudulent activities committed by Bear Stearns before JP Morgan acquired it in March 2008. For the record, Empire Justice Center is very supportive of these efforts and appreciative of the leadership role Attorney General Schneiderman has taken in pursuing accountability in the face of opposition. It’s a matter of justice – those that do wrong should be held accountable for the harms they caused to both investors and homeowners.
It is absolutely critical that as a society we ensure that the predatory practices of the last decade are never repeated again. Today, many of the failed predatory lenders have been acquired by the “Too Big to Fail Banks,” like Bank of America. The price paid by the acquiring banks factored in the need to provide justice to those harmed by the predatory lenders and the litigation risks involved with the purchase.
These failed companies were not bought by mom and pop banks. Acquiring institutions bought them at fire sale prices. The 52 week high for Bear Stearns’ stock before the crisis occurred was $133 a share. JP Morgan ultimately purchased Bear Stearns for only $10 a share. Having paid the fire sale rate, the acquiring banks must live by the rules of the free market. Armies of well-paid lawyers and investment bankers reviewed the bank mergers. Therefore, it is completely disingenuous for the banks to complain about being held accountable for the very bad practices that drove down the price they paid for the predatory lenders. The litigation they now face was entirely predictable and was precisely why the predatory lenders were sold at the dramatically lower prices. Again, the cost of losing litigation and having to make whole those harmed by the illegal conduct of the predatory lenders was factored into the sale price.
Many of those who now advocate giving the acquiring banks a free pass, have in the past actually opposed the need to provide financial relief to the victims of predatory lending. They cited the risk of “moral hazard.” While we don’t see any moral hazard in making the victims of predatory lending whole, we are a bit surprised by the inconsistency of those who fail to see the moral hazard in letting the acquiring backs off the hook. To the contrary, there is a clear moral hazard in not holding predatory lenders and their acquiring institutions responsible for illegal acts that were wide-spread in the industry. Litigation such as the NY Attorney General’s against these predatory practices will play an important role in ensuring these practices are not repeated in the future because those in the industry will know that a lender's sins will not be washed away with a sale.
Furthermore, the after effects of the financial crisis these perpetrators caused have directly resulted in hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers facing the loss of their homes. Millions of families have seen a lifetime of savings wiped out. Entire neighborhoods have seen price declines of 20- 40%. Millions of homeowners have had to help bear the cost of the financial meltdown – shouldn't those harmed by illegal conduct be provided with compensation?
Despite the real suffering families are experiencing, our analysis of foreclosure data shows that the worst may still be ahead of us. Foreclosures are still making their way through the courts. The full impact of completed foreclosures and the consequences on hundreds of neighborhoods is still to be experienced. Tens of thousands families who are unable to receive significant loan modifications will start facing eviction and potential homelessness. Many minority communities will be impacted more than others.
Homeowners and their advocates have long been pushing State and Federal regulators to take legal action against these abusive practices. We are proud of the New York Attorney General’s long history of protecting the rights of consumers and we applaud our Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for his leadership and for continuing with the tradition.