It comes as no surprise that BofA, now the unproud owner of Countrywide, would repeatedly appeal a judgment in which a moral man tried to avoid moral hazard at Countrywide and was fired for it. Corporations do that all the time to gain the advantage of achieving a smaller settlement or to dissuade others from doing the same thing. I feel appalled that this guy in Gretchen’s story is still waiting for his compensation and that if BofA has its way, he will be deprived of it altogether. BofA of coruse says that when they acquired CW there just wasn’t a job left for him. Bullcrap:
“But a juror in the case rejected this argument. “There was no doubt in my mind that the guys at Countrywide had not only done something wrong legally and ethically, but they weren’t very bright about it,” said that juror, Sam Usher, a former human resources executive at General Motors who spoke recently about the officials who testified. “If somebody in an organization is a whistle-blower, then you not only treat him with respect, you also make sure that whatever he was concerned about gets taken care of. These folks went in the other direction.” (e.s., see full article below and link).
“These folks went in the other direction” is an understatement. And while most of the media is stepping back from foreclosure stories except for reporting the numbers, this story brings back the raw, mean, lawless intent of Countrywide and other leaders of the securitization scam. Let me first remind you that for the most part, the “securitization” never occurred. Any loan declared to be part of a pool that was “securitized” or otherwise transferred into the pool is a damn lie. Very few people understand how that even COULD be true, much less believe that it is an accurate statement. But it is true. There was no securitization in most cases.
If a loan was securitized it would have been underwritten by a bona fide lender and then sold to an aggregator, and from there sold to a REMIC “trust” or special purpose vehicle. Certificates of ownership of the loan together with a promise to pay the owner of the loan a sum of money with interest would have been issued to qualified investors like pension funds and other institutional investors upon which our society depends for social services and a safety net (which in the case of pension funds is largely funded by the workers themselves). Of course the investors would have paid the investment banker for those loans including a small fee for brokering the transaction. And everyone lives happily ever after because Tinker Bell certified the transactions.
So if the loan was securitized, then both the document trail and the money trail would show that the loan was properly owned and funded by the “lender,”, the lender assigned the loan in exchange for payment from the aggregator and the aggregator assigned the loan in exchange for payment into the pool (REMIC, trust, or whatever you want to call it). The problem for the banks is that none of that happened in most cases. And their solution to that problem, instead of acting like trustworthy banks, is to delay and fabricate and forge and intimidate. (PRACTICE NOTE: THESE ARE THE DOCUMENTS AND PROOF OF PAYMENT YOU WANT IN DISCOVERY)
The real story is that the loan was not underwritten by a bona fide lender whose role involved any risk of loss on the loan. In fact, in most cases there was no financial transaction between the lender named on the note and mortgage and the borrower. The financial transaction actually occurred between the borrower and an undifferentiated commingled group of investors who THOUGHT they were buying into REMICs but whose money was used for anything BUT the REMICs. Their money was in an account far from the securitization chain described above controlled by an investment bank who was taking “trading profits” and fees out of the money as though it was their own private piggy bank.
The “assignment” (sometimes erroneously referred to as an allonge or endorsement) was offered and accepted between the named lender (who was not the real lender) and the mortgage aggregator WITHOUT PAYMENT. The assignment says “for value received” but the value was received by the borrower and the investment bank and so there was no payment by the aggregator for an assignment from a “lender” that wasn’t the lender anyway and who never had one penny in the deal, nor any legal right to declare that they were the owner of the loan.
The “aggregator” was a fictitious entity meant to deceive any inquiring eyes. My eyes were inquiring and for a long while I believed in the existence of the aggregator — but then I was late on getting the real scoop on Santa and tooth fairy too. But it misdirects the attention of the audience like any illusionist. Meanwhile various “affiliates of the investment bank are busy creating “exotic instruments” that make believe that the bank owns the loan and thus has the power to sell it, when in fact we all know that the investors own the note but even they don’t quite understand how they own the note — a fact complicated by the fact that the “aggregator” was a fiction and the money came from a Superfund escrow account in which ALL the money from ALL the investors was commingled and the moment of funding of each loan was a different moment in the SuperFund account because money was coming and going and so were investors. This is what enabled the banks to (a) sell something they didn’t own (they called it selling forward, but it wasn’t selling forward, it was fraud) (b) sell it over and over again, by calling the “exotic instrument” something else, changing a few pieces of information about the loan data and presto!, Bear Stearns had “leveraged” the loan 42 times.
Translation: They sold something they didn’t have 42 times. And the risk of loss was that if someone in the chain of sales ever demanded delivery, they needed to go out and buy the loans which they figured was a sure thing because in all probability the loans were not worth the paper they were written on and in the open market, they could be purchased for pennies while Bear Stearns et al was selling the loans 42 times over at 100 cents on the dollar.
The last “assignment” for “value received” into the “pool” also had similar problems. First, the aggregator was a fictitious entity, second there was no value paid, and third they had already sold the loan 42 times. Add to that the assignment simply never took place to either the aggregator or the pool unless there was litigation and you have a real mess on your hands, which is where distraction and delay and illusion and raw intimidation come into play — all present in the case of one Michael Winston, a former executive at Countrywide Financial.
The repeated sales of the loans, the repeated collection of insurance for losses that never occurred, and repeated collection of proceeds of credit default swaps (a/k/a sales with a different name) means quite simply that the loan was paid in full from the start and that there is no balance due and probably never was any balance due and even if there was a balance due it was never due to the people who are now foreclosing. So why are they foreclosing? Because if they get to complete a foreclosure it completes the illusion that the investors were owed the money from the borrower instead of the bank that stole their money in the first place. So they pursue foreclosures while their PR machines grind out the illusion of modifications and mediation and short-sales. Nobody is getting good title or a title policy worth the paper it is written upon, but who cares?
He Felled a Giant, but He Can’t Collect
By GRETCHEN MORGENSON
“TAKING on corporate Goliaths for their wrongdoing should not be so daunting.”
That’s the view of Michael Winston, a former executive at Countrywide Financial, the subprime lending machine that was swallowed up by Bank of America in 2008. Mr. Winston won a wrongful-dismissal and retaliation case against the company in February 2011, but is still waiting to receive his $3.8 million award. Bank of America is fighting back and has appealed the jury verdict twice.
After hearing a month of testimony from a parade of top Countrywide officials, including the company’s founder, Angelo Mozilo, a California state jury sided with Mr. Winston. An executive with decades of expertise in management strategy, he contended that he was pushed out for, among other things, refusing to follow questionable orders from his superiors.
But for the last year and a quarter, Mr. Winston, 61, has been in legal limbo. Bank of America lost one appeal in the court that heard the case and has filed another that is pending in state appellate court.
Mr. Winston, meanwhile, has been unable to find work that is commensurate with his experience. “The devastation caused by Countrywide to me, my family, my team, the work force, customers, shareholders, taxpayers and citizens around the world is incalculable,” he said.
Before joining Countrywide, Mr. Winston held high-powered strategy posts at Motorola, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed. He was global head of worldwide leadership and organizational strategy at Merrill Lynch in New York but resigned from that post in 2003 to care for his parents, who were terminally ill.
At Countrywide, he said, one of his problems was his refusal in fall 2006 to misrepresent the company’s corporate governance practices to analysts at Moody’s Investors Service. The ratings agency had expressed concerns about succession planning at Countrywide and other governance issues that the company hoped to allay.
Mr. Winston says a Countrywide executive asked him to write a report outlining Countrywide’s extensive succession planning for use by Moody’s. He refused, noting that he had no knowledge of any such plan. The company began to diminish his duties and department shortly thereafter. He was dismissed after Bank of America took over Countrywide.
Of course, it is not unusual for big corporate defendants to appeal jury awards. Bank of America argues in its court filings that the jury erred because Mr. Winston’s battles with his Countrywide superiors had nothing to do with his dismissal. Bank officials testified that he was let go because there was no job for him at the acquiring company.
“We believe that the jury’s finding of liability on the single claim of wrongful termination in retaliation is not supported by any evidence, let alone ‘substantial evidence’ as is required by law,” a Bank of America spokesman said.
In court filings, the bank also said that the jury appeared to be “swayed by emotion and prejudice, focusing on unsubstantiated and unsupported statements by plaintiff and his counsel slandering Countrywide and its executives.”
But a juror in the case rejected this argument. “There was no doubt in my mind that the guys at Countrywide had not only done something wrong legally and ethically, but they weren’t very bright about it,” said that juror, Sam Usher, a former human resources executive at General Motors who spoke recently about the officials who testified. “If somebody in an organization is a whistle-blower, then you not only treat him with respect, you also make sure that whatever he was concerned about gets taken care of. These folks went in the other direction.”
The credibility of all testimony in the case was central to jurors’ deliberations, Mr. Usher said. Instructions to the jury went into great detail on this point, advising them that they were “the sole and exclusive judges of the believability of the witnesses and the weight to be given the testimony of each witness.” The instructions added: “A witness, who is willfully false in one material part of his or her testimony, is to be distrusted in others.”
Mr. Usher said that those who testified against Mr. Winston “didn’t have a lot of credibility.”
That’s putting it mildly, said Charles T. Mathews, a former prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office who represented Mr. Winston. He said he was so disturbed by what he characterized as persistent perjury by various Countrywide officials that he forwarded annotated copies of court transcripts to Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles district attorney, for possible investigation.
“We won a multimillion-dollar verdict against Countrywide, but it sticks in my guts that they lied through their teeth and continue to escape accountability,” Mr. Mathews wrote to Mr. Cooley, urging him to investigate.
Whether perjury or not, the testimony ran into withering challenges.
Countrywide’s top human resources executive testified that Mr. Winston was a problematic employee and not a team player. But a performance evaluation she had written shortly before the company started to reduce his duties was produced in the case. It said Mr. Winston had “done well to build relationships with key members of senior management and continues to do so.”
The evaluation went on: “Michael strives to be a team player,” and “is absolutely focused on process improvement in his areas and has been working tirelessly to do so since he’s been on board.”
Mr. Mathews also contends that Mr. Mozilo, in a rare courtroom appearance, misrepresented his views of Mr. Winston. First, Mr. Mozilo testified that he did not know Mr. Winston, even though testimony and documents showed that he had attended presentations with him, personally given Mr. Winston a pair of Countrywide cuff links and told another employee that Mr. Winston’s leadership programs were “exactly what Countrywide needs.”
Mr. Mozilo’s testimony that he was unimpressed with Mr. Winston and his work was also refuted by another Countrywide executive who said that Mr. Mozilo was enthusiastic enough about Mr. Winston’s programs to suggest that he present them to the company’s board.
Asked about Mr. Mozilo’s testimony, David Siegel, a lawyer who represents him, said in an e-mail that there was no merit to the accusation that Mr. Mozilo was not truthful.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Cooley’s office confirmed last week that it had received the court transcripts and said that one of its prosecutors was reviewing them. She declined to comment further.
“God forbid our system continues to ignore these people and their acts,” Mr. Mathews said in an interview last week. “I am optimistic but the price of justice can be different depending on what your wallet says.”