DOJ Sues Bank Of America Over Mortgage-Backed Securities

The Justice Department has filed a civil lawsuit against Bank of America, alleging that the company lied to investors about the relative riskiness of the mortgage loans backing the residential mortgage-backed securities, made false statements after intentionally not performing proper due diligence and filled the securitization with a disproportionate amount of risky mortgages.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. The Justice Department is bringing civil charges against one of the nation's largest banks. The government alleges Bank of America made false statements about the quality of $850 million worth of home loans. Those loans were then sold to investors. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: U.S. attorneys allege, basically, this: that Bank of America told investors it was selling them a big bundle of mortgages back in 2008 that were of prime or good quality, but they say the bank was lying about that. In fact, they say that Bank of America didn't look at the loan quality and sold off a pile of garbage loans. According to the complaint, more than 40 percent of the mortgages did not comply with the bank's own quality control standards and had, quote, "glaring problems" - overstated income, fake employments, inflated home value appraisals.

And as a result, the government says investors lost millions of dollars when homeowners defaulted on those loans. The thing is, though, critics point out that civil charges like these are not new.

NEIL BAROFSKY: Where's the criminal action?

ARNOLD: Neil Barofsky is a former federal prosecutor who also served as the inspector general in Washington overseeing Congress' big bank bailout five years ago. He says we've already seen a string of these civil actions brought by the SEC and other regulators. But often, banks settle without admitting any wrongdoing. Nobody goes to jail.

BAROFSKY: Once again, we see the Department of Justice stepping forward on the civil, not criminal case. Fraud is fraud.

ARNOLD: Other former top regulators, too, say that they would like to see more FBI agents assigned to investigate fraud inside the largest financial institutions who, they say, damaged the economy through their role in the financial crisis. For its part, Bank of America declined an interview but said in a statement that these loans were sold to sophisticated investors with ample access to the loan data. A spokesman also said that the bank is, quote, "not responsible for the housing market collapse that caused mortgage loans to default at such an unprecedented rate." Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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