Federal prosecutors hit Bank of America with a $1 billion lawsuit Wedesday, accusing the bank of mortgage fraud that contributed to the housing crisis. Bank of America became entangled in the scheme -- known as “High-Speed Swim Lane” or “Hustle” -- when it purchased Countrywide Financial in July 2008, just as the economy was slipping into recession. Countrywide, a mortgage lending giant, was already known for approving risky loans when it introduced its “Hustle” program to churn out more loans, effectively eliminating a system that ensured the mortgages were being made to buyers who could afford them. A top U.S. attorney said the bank’s fraud was “spectacularly brazen in scope.”
Wednesday's case, originally brought by a whistleblower, is the U.S. Department of Justice's first civil fraud lawsuit over mortgage loans sold to the big mortgage financiers, which were bailed out in 2008.
It also compounds the legal problems that Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan faces over the second-largest U.S. bank's disastrous July 2008 purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp, once the nation's largest mortgage lender.
According to a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, Countrywide in 2007 invented and Bank of America continued a scheme known as the "Hustle" to speed up processing of residential home loans.
Operating under the motto "Loans Move Forward, Never Backward," mortgage executives tried to eliminate "toll gates" designed to ensure that loans were sound and not tainted by fraud, the government said.
This led to "defect rates" that approached 40 percent, roughly nine times the industry norm, but Countrywide concealed this from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and even awarded bonuses to staff to "rebut" the problems being found, it added.
Defaults and foreclosures soared, yet the bank has resisted buying back many of the defaulted loans from the scheme, which ran through 2009, the government added.
Much more at Reuters.
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