The Obama White House continues to push for a settlement that would let bankers avoid being punished - or even investigated - for a wave of mortgage-related crimes that includes perjury, tax evasion, and several types of fraud.
Despite the President's new-found populism - rhetorically, anyway - officials in his Administration continue to push an unfair deal designed to conceal the financial Crime of the Century.
The Financial Times reported on new details of the proposed settlement, whose stated purpose is to punish banks and reduce the amount of money owed by underwater homeowners. But it's increasingly clear that the deal wouldn't help homeowners very much and wouldn't punish bankers at all.
Banks could lower those loan balances by reducing the amount owed on mortgages owned by investors and not by the bank itself. That's what Bank of America is accused of doing as part of an $8 billion settlement it reached in 2008. This deal would set the stage for a repeat performance.
This proposed deal is still unfair, unjust, and very unbalanced. And it has the Administration's fingerprints all over it.
Banks deceived investors into buying bundled mortgages (mortgage-backed securities) that they knew were worth far less than they were paying. Now, as part of this settlement deal, they could shaft those investors again. Many of the investors are from the 99 percent, not the one percent. As the head of the Association of Mortgage Investors told the Financial Times, "It would be a pyrrhic victory to settle the mortgage crisis with the money of public institutions, pension funds and seniors."
The proposed deal would force banks to meet a certain dollar limit for reducing mortgage principal. But it's designed to let them use other people's money - mortgage investors' money - to reach that limit. They would have to reduce principals by a larger amount if they were using someone else's money.
Taking $1.00 off their own books might get them $1.00 closer to their goal, while using investors' money money only "earn" them fifty cents. Is that really supposed to encourage them to do the right thing?
Ask yourself: What if you were given a choice between spending a thousand dollars of your own money to pay a fine - or two thousand dollars of someone else's? (And remember: You're a banker, so don't let conscience influence your decision.) What would you do?
The money should come out of the banks' balance sheets, not those of mortgage investors that in many cases they've already defrauded. Even that isn't entirely fair: Many pension funds and other institutional investors hold bank stock, too, as do unwary private investors. They've also been defrauded by bank executives. But someone has to pay the price for trusting these bankers and tolerating their continued presence in the executive suite.