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Thomas Frank blesses Bill Black's concept of "control fraud," after a defense team in California uses it as their theory of the case

This really is very, very big; I can't imagine why Joan Walsh let it through. Thomas Frank in Salon:

The case started as a routine mortgage-fraud prosecution, brought by none other than the aforementioned U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner. A group of eastern European immigrants had bought houses in California in 2006, in a real-estate market that was in the early stages of collapse. According to the indictment, filed in 2012, these people’s mortgage applications contained blank spots and wrong information; they were accused of getting the mortgages in order to sell the houses to one another at pumped-up prices in what is called a “straw buyer” scheme. Also, they defaulted on the loans.

However, members of the immigrants’ legal defense team—several of them appointed by the state—had read the newspapers over the years and were aware of the kinds of things that had gone on in real estate during the bubble. They knew, for example, that in the go-go days of the last decade, the mortgage origination industry routinely cranked out “stated income” loans—also known as “liar’s loans”—to people who were obviously unable to make the payments. The bankers back then almost never checked on whether the borrower was telling the truth about their income; they just wanted to make the loan. So the defense team in Sacramento came up with a novel strategy: How can the borrower have committed fraud on a mortgage application if the lender didn’t care whether their answers were truthful?

And lenders so didn’t care back in the bubble days. They invented liar’s loans and blanketed the country with them during the Oughts not because the poors talked them into doing it, or because the liberals in the Bush Administration forced them to do it—on the contrary, the government warned them against issuing these things, just as the government warns us against swallowing arsenic. The reason bankers did it was because liar’s loans were making bankers rich.

This is a difficult thing to understand—indeed, not understanding it is the stated reason Obama Administration officials have made no effort to send financiers to jail—so let us take this slowly. Executives at the mortgage origination companies got huge bonuses in those days for writing lots of loans. OK? They wanted to write more of them, and the only way to really crank out mortgages on a vast scale was by giving one to anyone who wanted one, regardless of their ability to pay, a feat that is only possible by means of the “liar’s loan.” So: Liar’s loans = rich bankers.

Now, it just so happens that liar’s loans are a lousy product, something that is virtually guaranteed to fail when prices stop rising, something that everyone knew at the time would fail when the bubble burst. That’s why you don’t see liar’s loans when banks are honest and regulators are on the job. Because the bank that makes liar’s loans—and the investor who buys a security based on liar’s loans—will eventually lose their money. That’s why they are banned today. So: Liar’s loans = dead banks. Liar’s loans = slow-acting arsenic. But on the other hand, the immediate bonuses that mortgage execs were collecting for making these poisonous loans were so sweet that they didn’t really care about the long-term effects. So while those awful loans they wrote eventually sank all the big subprime houses—and wrecked the global economy to boot, with Europe still in ruins, etc.—the bankers themselves lived to sail away into the sunset, their yachts laden with bullion.

Do you see what I’m saying? Executives do not always share the interests of the corporation that employs them. They weren’t “defrauding themselves,” as our federal protector laughs, they were defrauding the suckers that paid their bonuses, the shareholders that invested in them, the European pension funds that believed their excreta was Grade A Prime.

The name for this kind of scheme is a “control fraud”; it happens when the officers who control a firm use their power over the firm to enrich themselves while driving the firm itself to the boneyard.

And "control fraud" is Bill Black's contribution. Well played.

Did the prosecutor actually laugh? I'd love a YouTube of that.....

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BruceMcF's picture
Submitted by BruceMcF on

A quite important story, as we see that an administration representing a coalition of interests including Wall Street surprisingly doesn't pursue the perpetrators of massive control fraud, but instead pursues those who they enticed into taking out loans they couldn't pay out of income.

This is why the mess media personalizes political stories ... since the coalitions of interest include the companies that own the mess media.