Housing Bubble Crisis Roots

Wall Street Bashers Owed True Look At Crisis Roots

By PAUL SPERRY Posted 10/21/2011 06:36 PM ET

Angelides: Protecting Democrats and chumming for trial lawyers since the opening gavel of his Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

Look who’s egging on the anti-Wall Street rabble: It’s Phil Angelides, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission chairman who provided them and their supporters the official version of the false narrative that “greedy” bankers caused the crisis.

“Good for those young people,” Angelides said. “Do I cheer on the fact that they’re elevating the issue to center stage? Absolutely.”

If unemployed protesters got a raw deal, it’s from politicians like Angelides, not bankers.

The Democrat activist and former California state treasurer ran a dirty investigation. He put big-time trial lawyers in key slots where they could gun for the same banks their firms are suing.

He fixed it so trial lawyers who donated to his political campaigns could leverage banks for class-action settlements for state pension funds that invested in bad subprime securities that politicians like Angelides pushed them into investing in the run-up to the crisis.

In January, Angelides released the panel’s tainted findings exonerating federal and state officials like himself, while framing Wall Street executives. Now he’s under investigation.

The House Oversight Committee is preparing a report detailing as many as nine ethics violations by Angelides and his staff. That alone should cast doubt on his final report, cited by the White House and press corps stenographers as the final authority on the crisis.

Even worse is his biased conduct. Protecting Democrats involved in the crisis was his first order of business.

From the opening gavel, Angelides, a Pelosi crony appointed by the former speaker, declared ex-Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo “off limits” in the investigation. He failed to call to testify the subprime lender who was the largest source for private mortgage-backed security tranches used to create CDOs for nine of the 10 largest CDO underwriters on Wall Street. Why?

Mozilo was not only a big Democrat donor, but employed Pelosi’s son as a Countrywide broker and sales manager.

And if Mozilo were allowed to testify, the public might learn the inconvenient truth that HUD pressured him to originate nearly $800 billion in toxic loans (later sold to Fannie and Freddie) to meet “fair lending” pledges he signed under HUD’s little-known Best Practices Initiative “to help wipe out discriminatory practices in mortgage lending.” This, of course, would have undercut the commission’s “predatory lending” story line.

Angelides, former chair of the California Democratic Party (a position omitted from his commission bio), also failed to grill under the klieg lights — as he did Wall Street bankers — former HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo and Fannie CEO Franklin Raines, who together plunged Fannie into the subprime market.

At the time, Cuomo was running for Democratic governor of New York, and Raines was advising President Obama. Their testimony decidedly would not have been good optics.

Midway through the inquiry, Angelides suppressed a report by a former chief Fannie credit officer documenting how in 2008 more than two-thirds of the 27 million subprime and other high-risk mortgages in the financial system were on the books of Fannie, Freddie, FHA and other entities controlled by the government.

When Commissioner Peter Wallison tried to include the data in a 100-page dissent to the cooked majority report, Angelides censored all but eight pages of it. The dissent, which blamed federal housing policy for the crisis, was excluded almost in its entirety from the copy of the final report made available for purchase in bookstores.

Several months before the report was published — and while the investigation was still active — Angelides gave state pension-fund officials a sneak preview of the commission’s findings at a closed-door meeting hosted by a law firm that employed a Democrat commissioner and Angelides’ hand-picked chief investigator.

Several of their Robbins Geller partners spoke at the September 2010 private event held in Laguna Beach, Calif. Robbins Geller, which is suing several major banks on behalf of public-employee pensions, gave more than $255,000 in political contributions to Angelides.

Angelides knew he was barred from disclosing such information before the panel officially released its findings.

“Too early for us to talk publicly about investigative findings,” he told one questioner at a February 2010 speech he gave to a liberal think tank in Washington. “We feel an obligation to make sure that we don’t do anything in terms of releasing information that jeopardizes our investigative work.”

Later, in response to another question, Angelides cautioned: “Since we’re in our inquiry, I have to restrain my normal inclination to express my view.”

Yet he showed no such restraint just months later when he, according to a Robbins Geller company bulletin, “updated participants on what the commission has learned as it heads toward reaching its conclusions, and how revelations about the causes of the recent crisis provide actionable lessons for fiduciaries” — that is, pension funds and their trial lawyers looking to sue banks targeted by the Angelides Commission.

Angelides put Robbins Geller partner Chris Seefer in charge of the entire crisis investigation. Seefer personally led the commission’s probe of Goldman Sachs, using subpoenas to dig up dirt on the Wall Street bank — while his law firm was preparing a suit against Goldman.

Robbins Geller is now using that information in its lawsuit. Working with Seefer was senior investigator Tom Krebs, another trial lawyer who’d teamed with Robbins Geller on past class-action suits. How much contact did they have with their firms while investigating banks at taxpayer expense (inquiry cost: $10 million)?

Angelides gave his trial-lawyer pals an unfair advantage in other ways, too. He dumped thousands of pages of sensitive bank-exam records on the FCIC website — despite warnings from the nation’s top bank regulator that releasing them would have a chilling effect on the examination process.

Trial lawyers are now using the confidential data to help strengthen their cases against banks.

Then there are the personal conflicts. During hearings, Angelides pilloried Goldman for shorting mortgage securities. Yet he failed to disclose his position in a firm that owns and manages an offshore hedge fund that shorted more than $1 billion in subprime securities in the run-up to the financial crisis.

“We were among the first funds to take a short position in subprime mortgage securities,” the California-based Canyon Value Realization Fund (Cayman) Ltd. boasts in one investor report.

Angelides should have been a witness in, not head of, one of the most important investigations in U.S. history. Yet he couldn’t be happier with the results. His trial lawyer pals have launched a barrage of litigation against banks for selling state pensions subprime securities that soured. By one count, there are now at least 90 suits seeking nearly $200 billion from banks and other Wall Street firms.

One of them was brought by Robbins Geller on behalf of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. As California’s treasurer until 2007, Angelides mandated Calpers and other state pensions sink 2% of holdings into risky urban investments, including billions in subprime and other nonprime securities backed by Fannie and Freddie.

“These (legal) actions hold out the possibility of recompense and reform in the wake of disturbing breaches of ethics” by banks, Angelides recently opined.

Angelides is one to talk.

• Sperry, formerly IBD Washington bureau chief, is author of “The Great American Bank Robbery: The Unauthorized Report About What Really Caused the Great Recession” (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

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