March 31, 2014
Reiss on Snuffing out FIRREA
Law360 quoting me in BofA Fight Won’t Blunt DOJ’s Favorite Bank Fraud Weapon (behind a paywall). It reads in part,
A federal magistrate judge on Thursday put a Justice Department case against Bank of America Corp. using a fraud statute from the 1980s in peril, but the case’s limited scope means the government is not likely to abandon its favorite financial fraud fighting tool, attorneys say.
Federal prosecutors have increasingly leaned on the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, a relic of the 1980s savings and loan crisis, as a vehicle for taking on banks and other financial institutions over alleged violations perpetrated during the housing bubble years.
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Some banking analysts hailed the ruling as potentially the beginning of the end of the government’s pursuit of housing bubble-era violations.
“If the judge’s recommendation is accepted by the federal district court judge, then this development will represent a significant setback for the government’s legal efforts and likely mark the beginning of the end for crisis-era litigation,” Isaac Boltansky, a policy analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading LLC, said in a client note.
However, others say the government’s case was brought under relatively narrow claims that Bank of America did not properly value the securities to induce regulated banks to purchase securities they otherwise might not have.
That is a tougher case to bring than the broad wire fraud and mail fraud claims that were available to the government under FIRREA. The government has employed those tools with great success against Bank of America and Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC in other cases in far-flung jurisdictions, said Peter Vinella, a director at Berkeley Research Group.
“There was no issue about whether BofA did anything wrong or not. It’s just that the case was filed incorrectly. It was very narrowly defined,” he said.
It is not entirely clear that Bank of America is in the clear in this case, either.
U.S. district judges tend to give great deference to reports from magistrate judges, according to David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.
But even if U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. accepts the recommendation, the Justice Department has already lodged a notice of appeal related to the report. And in the worst-case scenario, the government could amend its complaint.
A victory for Bank of America in the North Carolina case is unlikely to have a widespread impact, given the claims that are at stake. The government will still be able to bring its broader, and more powerful claims, under a law with a 10-year statute of limitations.
“It is one opinion that is going against a number of FIRREA precedents that have been decided in others parts of the country,” Reiss said. “It also appears that this case was brought and decided on much narrower grounds than those other cases, so I don’t think that it will halt the government’s use of the law.”| Permalink