Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 25, 2014

FIRREA Does the Hustle

By David Reiss

Judge Rakoff has issued another Opinion in U.S. v. Countrywide Fin. Corp. et al., 12 Civ. 1422 (Feb. 17, 2014).  Rakoff reconfirms his broad reading of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA), which covers fraudulent behavior that is self-affecting; that is, where the perpetrator and victim of the fraud are one and the same financial institution. This Opinion goes further, however, based on on developments in the litigation since that earlier opinion.

The Opinion notes that the defendants were found liable at trial and finds that

Based on the charge as given to the jury, the jury, by finding liability, necessarily found that the defendants intentionally induced two government-sponsored entities, the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (“Freddie Mac”), to purchase from the Bank Defendants thousands of loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would not otherwise have purchased. The defendants did so, the jury necessarily found, by misrepresenting that the loans they were selling were “investment quality” and that they knew of nothing that might cause investors to regard the mortgages as poor investments, when in fact the defendants knew that their underwriting process, known as the “High Speed Swim Lane,” “HSSL,” or “Hustle,” was calculated to produce loans that were not of investment quality. (3)

The Court had previously found that “the fraud here in question, perpetrated by the Countrywide defendants and Ms. Mairone, had a huge effect on Bank of America defendants, which, as a result of Bank of America’s purchase of Countrywide, paid, directly or through affiliates, billions of dollars to settle repurchase claims brought by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” (4) The opinion concludes that

It is highly improbable that Congress would have intended to place beyond the reach of FIRREA those defendants whose misconduct “affects” federally insured banks that have the great fortune to be fully insured [by their affiliates] for such losses. Even less so can it be imagined that the device of having BAC [the BoA parent holding company] indemnify BANA [the BoA federally insured bank] for losses that otherwise would result from Countrywide’s fraud immunizes Countrywide from liability under FIRREA. Indeed, defendants’ labeling of this theory of liability as the “self-affecting” theory is something of a misnomer; Countrywide’s fraud, which culminated before the merger with BANA, directly affected, not just Countrywide, but its merger partner, BANA, as well. While the effect on Countrywide might be “self-affecting,” the effect on BANA was not. (5)

This Opinion seems to bolster Rakoff’s broad reading of FIRREA.  As of now, FIRREA gives the federal government a powerful tool to pursue alleged wrongdoing affecting federally insured financial institutions.  The caselaw reads FIRREA broadly and the statute’s ten-year statute of limitations means that additional suits may still be coming down the pike.

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