US steps up probe of JPMorgan over Bear Stearns
By Emily Flitter, Karen Freifeld and David Henry ,ReutersNEW YORK -- The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped up a probe in recent weeks into Bear Stearns mortgage dealings in the run-up to the financial crisis, adding to JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s legal problems, according to three sources familiar with the situation.
August 10, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
JPMorgan bought failing Bear Stearns with government encouragement during the financial crisis in 2008, but then became embroiled in private lawsuits by mortgage bond insurers alleging that home loans underlying securities were rotten from the start.
The probe, news of which was first reported by Reuters in February, has picked up steam in recent weeks. Justice Department officials have taken sworn testimony from at least three people, including former Bear Stearns employees, about mortgage-backed securities, according to one of the sources.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment. A JPMorgan spokesman declined to comment.
The developments follow new mortage-related investigations by the Eastern District of California. All are fresh obstacles for CEO Jamie Dimon who is striving to restore the bank's reputation for controlling risks after losing more than US$6.2 billion in 2012 on its so-called “London Whale” derivatives trades.
The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California has been conducting criminal and civil investigations into the bank's mortgage securities, the bank said on Wednesday.
In those investigations, government lawyers have already concluded that JPMorgan committed civil violations of securities laws in offering mortgage bonds in 2005 to 2007 that were backed by subprime and other residential mortgages.
A source familiar with the situation said on Thursday that the California probes involve mortgage bonds offered by JPMorgan itself, and not those by companies the largest U.S. bank bought during the crisis.
In the “London Whale” debacle, the bank is working to reach a settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by year-end, in which it will pay a penalty and admit faults, according to a person familiar with that matter.
More than five years after the onset of the financial crisis, and 17 months after President Barack Obama formed a task force of federal and state law enforcers to bring cases, the government is finally gaining some traction against alleged wrongdoing in housing finance.
In addition to the JPMorgan mortgage investigations, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit on Tuesday against Bank of America Corp. over US$850 million in mortgage securities.
“My office anticipates further action in the coming months,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a co-chair of the mortgage-securities working group, said on Thursday.
The latest Justice Department probes of JPMorgan piggyback on previous cases by the New York attorney general and the (SEC).
Schneiderman sued JPMorgan last October over alleged improper sales of pools of home loans by Bear Stearns in 2006 and 2007. That case is ongoing. In November, JPMorgan agreed to pay US$296.9 million to settle an SEC complaint over improper mortgage securities sales.
JPMorgan has also disclosed that it faces probes and sanctions from multiple government entities over collections of consumer credit card debt, risk controls, anti-money laundering practices and systems for management of the capital it is required to have to absorb losses.