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JPMorgan Chase Engaged in Mortgage Fraud: The Securitization Scheme that Collapsed the Housing Market Washington’s Blog

JPMorgan Chase Engaged in Mortgage Fraud: The Securitization Scheme that Collapsed the Housing Market Washington’s Blog.

By Ellen Brown.

In a nearly $13 billion settlement with the US Justice Department in November 2013, JPMorganChase admitted that it, along with every other large US bank, had engaged in mortgage fraud as a routine business practice, sowing the seeds of the mortgage meltdown. JPMorgan and other megabanks have now been caught in over a dozen major frauds, including LIBOR-rigging and bid-rigging; yet no prominent banker has gone to jail. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of all mortgages nationally remain underwater (meaning the balance owed exceeds the current value of the home), sapping homeowners’ budgets, the housing market and the economy. Since the banks, the courts and the federal government have failed to give adequate relief to homeowners, some cities are taking matters into their own hands.

Gayle McLaughlin, the bold mayor of Richmond, California, has gone where no woman dared go before, threatening to take underwater mortgages by eminent domain from Wall Street banks and renegotiate them on behalf of beleaguered homeowners. A member of the Green Party, which takes no corporate campaign money, she proved her mettle standing up to Chevron, which dominates the Richmond landscape. But the banks have signaled that if Richmond or another city tries the eminent domain gambit, they will rush to court seeking an injunction. Their grounds: an unconstitutional taking of private property and breach of contract.

How to refute those charges? There is a way; but to understand it, you first need to grasp the massive fraud perpetrated on homeowners. It is how you were duped into paying more than your house was worth; why you should not just turn in your keys or short-sell your underwater property away; why you should urge Congress not to legalize the MERS scheme; and why you should insist that your local government help you acquire title to your home at a fair price if the banks won’t. That is exactly what Richmond and other city councils are attempting to do through the tool of eminent domain.

The Securitization Fraud That Collapsed the Housing Market

One settlement after another has now been reached with investors and government agencies for the sale of “faulty mortgage bonds,” including a suit brought by Fannie and Freddie that settled in October 2013 for $5.1 billion. “Faulty” is a euphemism for “fraudulent.” It means that mortgages subject to securitization have “clouded” or “defective” titles. And that means the banks and real estate trusts claiming title as owners or nominees don’t actually have title – or have standing to enjoin the city from proceeding with eminent domain. They can’t claim an unconstitutional taking of property because they can’t prove they own the property, and they can’t claim breach of contract because they weren’t the real parties in interest to the mortgages (the parties putting up the money).

“Securitization” involves bundling mortgages into a pool, selling them to a non-bank vehicle called a “real estate trust,” and then selling “securities” (bonds) to investors (called “mortgage-backed securities” or “collateralized debt obligations”). By 2007, 75% of all mortgage originations were securitized. According to investment banker and financial analyst Christopher Whalen, the purpose of securitization was to allow banks to avoid capitalization requirements, enabling them to borrow at unregulated levels.

Since the real estate trusts were “off-balance sheet,” they did not count in the banks’ capital requirements. But under applicable accounting rules, that was true only if they were “true sales.” According to Whalen, “most of the securitizations done by banks over the past two decades were in fact secured borrowings, not true sales, and thus potential frauds on insured depositories.” He concludes, “bank abuses of non-bank vehicles to pretend to sell assets and thereby lower required capital levels was a major cause of the subprime financial crisis.”

In 1997, the FDIC gave the banks a pass on these disguised borrowings by granting them “safe harbor” status. This proved to be a colossal mistake, which led to the implosion of the housing market and the economy at large. Safe harbor status was finally withdrawn in 2011; but in the meantime, “financings” were disguised as “true sales,” permitting banks to grossly over-borrow and over-leverage. Over-leveraging allowed credit to be pumped up to bubble levels, driving up home prices. When the bubble collapsed, homeowners had to pick up the tab by paying on mortgages that far exceeded the market value of their homes. According to Whalen:

[T]he largest commercial banks became “too big to fail” in large part because they used non-bank vehicles to increase leverage without disclosure or capital backing. . . .

The failure of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and most notably Citigroup all were largely attributable to deliberate acts of securities fraud whereby assets were “sold” to investors via non-bank financial vehicles.  These transactions were styled as “sales” in an effort to meet applicable accounting rules, but were in fact bank frauds that must, by GAAP and law applicable to non-banks since 1997, be reported as secured borrowings.  Under legal tests stretching from 16th Century UK law to the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act of the 1980s, virtually none of the mortgage backed securities deals of the 2000s met the test of a true sale.

. . . When the crisis hit, it suddenly became clear that the banks’ capital was insufficient.

Today . . . hundreds of billions in claims against banks arising from these purported “sales” of assets remain pending before the courts.

Eminent Domain as a Negotiating Tool

Investors can afford high-powered attorneys to bring investor class actions, but underwater and defaulting homeowners usually cannot; and that is where local government comes in. Eminent domain is a way to bring banks and investors to the bargaining table.

Professor Robert Hockett of Cornell University Law School is the author of the plan to use eminent domain to take underwater loans and write them down for homeowners. He writes on NewYorkFed.org:

[In] the case of privately securitized mortgages, [principal] write-downs are almost impossible to carry out, since loan modifications on the scale necessitated by the housing market crash would require collective action by a multitude of geographically dispersed security holders. The solution . . . Is for state and municipal governments to use their eminent domain powers to buy up and restructure underwater mortgages, thereby sidestepping the need to coordinate action across large numbers of security holders.

The problem is blowback from the banks, but it can be blocked by requiring them to prove title to the properties. Securities are governed by federal law, but real estate law is the domain of the states. Counties have a mandate to maintain clean title records; and legally, clean title requires a chain of “wet” signatures, from A to B to C to D. If the chain is broken, title is clouded. Properties for which title cannot be established escheat (or revert) to the state by law, allowing the government to start fresh with clean title.

New York State law governs most of the trusts involved in securitization. Under it, transfers of mortgages into a trust after the cutoff date specified in the Pooling and Servicing Agreement (PSA) governing the trust are void.

For obscure reasons, the REMICs (Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits) claiming to own the properties routinely received them after the closing date specified in the PSAs. The late transfers were done throu gh the fraudulent signatures-after-the-fact called “robo-signing,” which occurred so regularly that they were the basis of a $25 billion settlement between a coalition of state attorneys general and the five biggest mortgage servicers in February 2012. (Why all the robo-signing? Good question. See my earlier article here.)

Until recently, courts have precluded homeowners from raising the late transfers into the trust as a defense to foreclosure, because the homeowners were not parties to the PSAs. But in August 2013, in Glaski v. Bank of America, N.A., 218 Cal. App. 4th 1079 (July 31, 2013), a California appellate court ruled that the question whether the loan ever made it into the asset pool could be raised in determining the proper party to initiate foreclosure. And whether or not the homeowner was a party to the PSA, the city and county have a clear legal interest in seeing that the PSA’s terms were complied with, since the job of the county recorder is to maintain records establishing clean title.

Before the rise of mortgage securitization, any transfer of a note and deed needed to be recorded as a public record, to give notice of ownership and establish a “priority of liens.” With securitization, a private database called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) circumvented this procedure by keeping the deeds as “nominee for the beneficiary,” obscuring the property’s legal owner and avoiding the expense of recording the transfer (usually about $30 each). Estimates are that untraceable property assignments concealed behind MERS may have cost counties nationwide billions of dollars in recording fees. (See my earlier article here.)

Counties thus have not only a fiduciary but a financial interest in establishing clean title to the properties in their jurisdictions. If no one can establish title, the properties escheat and can be claimed free and clear. Eminent domain can be a powerful tool for negotiating loan modifications on underwater mortgages; and if the banks cannot prove title, they have no standing to complain.

The End of “Too Big to Fail”?

Richmond’s city council is only one vote short of the supermajority needed to pursue the eminent domain plan, and it is seeking partners in a Joint Powers Authority that will make the push much stronger. Grassroots efforts to pursue eminent domain are also underway in a number of other cities around the country. If Richmond pulls it off successfully, others will rush to follow.

The result could be costly for some very large banks, but they have brought it on themselves with shady dealings. Christopher Whalen predicts that the FDIC’s withdrawal of “safe harbor” status for the securitization model may herald the end of “too big to fail” for those banks, which will no longer have the power to grossly over-leverage and may have to keep their loans on their books.

Wall Street banks are deemed “too big to fail” only because there is no viable alternative – but there could be. Local governments could form their own publicly-owned banks, on the model of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. They could then put their revenues, their savings, and their newly-acquired real estate into those public utilities, to be used to generate interest-free credit for the local government (since it would own the bank) and low-cost credit for the local community. For more on this promising option, which has been or is being explored in almost half the state legislatures in the US, see here.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and a candidate for California State Treasurer running on a state bank platform. She is the author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt and her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, which explores successful public banking models historically and globally.

JPMorgan Chase Engaged in Mortgage Fraud: The Securitization Scheme that Collapsed the Housing Market Washington's Blog

JPMorgan Chase Engaged in Mortgage Fraud: The Securitization Scheme that Collapsed the Housing Market Washington’s Blog.

By Ellen Brown.

In a nearly $13 billion settlement with the US Justice Department in November 2013, JPMorganChase admitted that it, along with every other large US bank, had engaged in mortgage fraud as a routine business practice, sowing the seeds of the mortgage meltdown. JPMorgan and other megabanks have now been caught in over a dozen major frauds, including LIBOR-rigging and bid-rigging; yet no prominent banker has gone to jail. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of all mortgages nationally remain underwater (meaning the balance owed exceeds the current value of the home), sapping homeowners’ budgets, the housing market and the economy. Since the banks, the courts and the federal government have failed to give adequate relief to homeowners, some cities are taking matters into their own hands.

Gayle McLaughlin, the bold mayor of Richmond, California, has gone where no woman dared go before, threatening to take underwater mortgages by eminent domain from Wall Street banks and renegotiate them on behalf of beleaguered homeowners. A member of the Green Party, which takes no corporate campaign money, she proved her mettle standing up to Chevron, which dominates the Richmond landscape. But the banks have signaled that if Richmond or another city tries the eminent domain gambit, they will rush to court seeking an injunction. Their grounds: an unconstitutional taking of private property and breach of contract.

How to refute those charges? There is a way; but to understand it, you first need to grasp the massive fraud perpetrated on homeowners. It is how you were duped into paying more than your house was worth; why you should not just turn in your keys or short-sell your underwater property away; why you should urge Congress not to legalize the MERS scheme; and why you should insist that your local government help you acquire title to your home at a fair price if the banks won’t. That is exactly what Richmond and other city councils are attempting to do through the tool of eminent domain.

The Securitization Fraud That Collapsed the Housing Market

One settlement after another has now been reached with investors and government agencies for the sale of “faulty mortgage bonds,” including a suit brought by Fannie and Freddie that settled in October 2013 for $5.1 billion. “Faulty” is a euphemism for “fraudulent.” It means that mortgages subject to securitization have “clouded” or “defective” titles. And that means the banks and real estate trusts claiming title as owners or nominees don’t actually have title – or have standing to enjoin the city from proceeding with eminent domain. They can’t claim an unconstitutional taking of property because they can’t prove they own the property, and they can’t claim breach of contract because they weren’t the real parties in interest to the mortgages (the parties putting up the money).

“Securitization” involves bundling mortgages into a pool, selling them to a non-bank vehicle called a “real estate trust,” and then selling “securities” (bonds) to investors (called “mortgage-backed securities” or “collateralized debt obligations”). By 2007, 75% of all mortgage originations were securitized. According to investment banker and financial analyst Christopher Whalen, the purpose of securitization was to allow banks to avoid capitalization requirements, enabling them to borrow at unregulated levels.

Since the real estate trusts were “off-balance sheet,” they did not count in the banks’ capital requirements. But under applicable accounting rules, that was true only if they were “true sales.” According to Whalen, “most of the securitizations done by banks over the past two decades were in fact secured borrowings, not true sales, and thus potential frauds on insured depositories.” He concludes, “bank abuses of non-bank vehicles to pretend to sell assets and thereby lower required capital levels was a major cause of the subprime financial crisis.”

In 1997, the FDIC gave the banks a pass on these disguised borrowings by granting them “safe harbor” status. This proved to be a colossal mistake, which led to the implosion of the housing market and the economy at large. Safe harbor status was finally withdrawn in 2011; but in the meantime, “financings” were disguised as “true sales,” permitting banks to grossly over-borrow and over-leverage. Over-leveraging allowed credit to be pumped up to bubble levels, driving up home prices. When the bubble collapsed, homeowners had to pick up the tab by paying on mortgages that far exceeded the market value of their homes. According to Whalen:

[T]he largest commercial banks became “too big to fail” in large part because they used non-bank vehicles to increase leverage without disclosure or capital backing. . . .

The failure of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and most notably Citigroup all were largely attributable to deliberate acts of securities fraud whereby assets were “sold” to investors via non-bank financial vehicles.  These transactions were styled as “sales” in an effort to meet applicable accounting rules, but were in fact bank frauds that must, by GAAP and law applicable to non-banks since 1997, be reported as secured borrowings.  Under legal tests stretching from 16th Century UK law to the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act of the 1980s, virtually none of the mortgage backed securities deals of the 2000s met the test of a true sale.

. . . When the crisis hit, it suddenly became clear that the banks’ capital was insufficient.

Today . . . hundreds of billions in claims against banks arising from these purported “sales” of assets remain pending before the courts.

Eminent Domain as a Negotiating Tool

Investors can afford high-powered attorneys to bring investor class actions, but underwater and defaulting homeowners usually cannot; and that is where local government comes in. Eminent domain is a way to bring banks and investors to the bargaining table.

Professor Robert Hockett of Cornell University Law School is the author of the plan to use eminent domain to take underwater loans and write them down for homeowners. He writes on NewYorkFed.org:

[In] the case of privately securitized mortgages, [principal] write-downs are almost impossible to carry out, since loan modifications on the scale necessitated by the housing market crash would require collective action by a multitude of geographically dispersed security holders. The solution . . . Is for state and municipal governments to use their eminent domain powers to buy up and restructure underwater mortgages, thereby sidestepping the need to coordinate action across large numbers of security holders.

The problem is blowback from the banks, but it can be blocked by requiring them to prove title to the properties. Securities are governed by federal law, but real estate law is the domain of the states. Counties have a mandate to maintain clean title records; and legally, clean title requires a chain of “wet” signatures, from A to B to C to D. If the chain is broken, title is clouded. Properties for which title cannot be established escheat (or revert) to the state by law, allowing the government to start fresh with clean title.

New York State law governs most of the trusts involved in securitization. Under it, transfers of mortgages into a trust after the cutoff date specified in the Pooling and Servicing Agreement (PSA) governing the trust are void.

For obscure reasons, the REMICs (Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits) claiming to own the properties routinely received them after the closing date specified in the PSAs. The late transfers were done throu gh the fraudulent signatures-after-the-fact called “robo-signing,” which occurred so regularly that they were the basis of a $25 billion settlement between a coalition of state attorneys general and the five biggest mortgage servicers in February 2012. (Why all the robo-signing? Good question. See my earlier article here.)

Until recently, courts have precluded homeowners from raising the late transfers into the trust as a defense to foreclosure, because the homeowners were not parties to the PSAs. But in August 2013, in Glaski v. Bank of America, N.A., 218 Cal. App. 4th 1079 (July 31, 2013), a California appellate court ruled that the question whether the loan ever made it into the asset pool could be raised in determining the proper party to initiate foreclosure. And whether or not the homeowner was a party to the PSA, the city and county have a clear legal interest in seeing that the PSA’s terms were complied with, since the job of the county recorder is to maintain records establishing clean title.

Before the rise of mortgage securitization, any transfer of a note and deed needed to be recorded as a public record, to give notice of ownership and establish a “priority of liens.” With securitization, a private database called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) circumvented this procedure by keeping the deeds as “nominee for the beneficiary,” obscuring the property’s legal owner and avoiding the expense of recording the transfer (usually about $30 each). Estimates are that untraceable property assignments concealed behind MERS may have cost counties nationwide billions of dollars in recording fees. (See my earlier article here.)

Counties thus have not only a fiduciary but a financial interest in establishing clean title to the properties in their jurisdictions. If no one can establish title, the properties escheat and can be claimed free and clear. Eminent domain can be a powerful tool for negotiating loan modifications on underwater mortgages; and if the banks cannot prove title, they have no standing to complain.

The End of “Too Big to Fail”?

Richmond’s city council is only one vote short of the supermajority needed to pursue the eminent domain plan, and it is seeking partners in a Joint Powers Authority that will make the push much stronger. Grassroots efforts to pursue eminent domain are also underway in a number of other cities around the country. If Richmond pulls it off successfully, others will rush to follow.

The result could be costly for some very large banks, but they have brought it on themselves with shady dealings. Christopher Whalen predicts that the FDIC’s withdrawal of “safe harbor” status for the securitization model may herald the end of “too big to fail” for those banks, which will no longer have the power to grossly over-leverage and may have to keep their loans on their books.

Wall Street banks are deemed “too big to fail” only because there is no viable alternative – but there could be. Local governments could form their own publicly-owned banks, on the model of the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. They could then put their revenues, their savings, and their newly-acquired real estate into those public utilities, to be used to generate interest-free credit for the local government (since it would own the bank) and low-cost credit for the local community. For more on this promising option, which has been or is being explored in almost half the state legislatures in the US, see here.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and a candidate for California State Treasurer running on a state bank platform. She is the author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt and her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, which explores successful public banking models historically and globally.

The Smog of Fraud | KUNSTLER

The Smog of Fraud | KUNSTLER.

Team Obama pulled a cute one last week nominating Blythe Masters, JP Morgan’s commodity chief, to an advisory committee of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) which supposedly regulates activities on the paper trades in corn, pork bellies, cocoa, coffee, wheat, corn — oh, and gold, too, by the way, in which JP Morgan has been suspected of massive gold (and silver) market manipulations and other misconduct lately. That would include the 2011 MF Global Fiasco in which nearly a billion dollars from “segregated” customer accounts somehow ended up parked over at JP Morgan as a result of bad derivative bets on tanking Eurozone bonds. MF Global, primarily a commodities trading brokerage, was liquidated in 2011. The CFTC never issued referrals for prosecution to the Department of Justice in the matter and, of course, MF Global’s notorious CEO, Jon Corzine remains at large, enjoying caramel flan lattes in the Hamptons to this day. Such are the Teflon transactions of the Obama years: nothing sticks.

There was such a Twitter storm over Blythe Masters that she withdrew from consideration for the committee before the day was out.

JP Morgan is one of the specially privileged “primary dealer” banks said to be systemically indispensible to world finance. Supposedly, if one of them is allowed to flop, the whole global matrix of global debt obligations — and, hence, global money — would dissolve in a misty cloud of broken promises. They are primary dealers to their shadow partner, the Federal Reserve, and their main job in that relationship is buying treasury bonds, bills, and notes from the US government and then “selling” them to the Fed (earning commissions on the sales, of course). The Fed, in turn, “lends” billions of dollars at zero interest back to the primary dealers who then park the “borrowed” money in accounts at the Fed at a higher interest rate. This is, of course, money for nothing, and even small interest rate differentials add up to tidy profits when the volumes on deposit are so massive.

This “carry trade” was started because the primary dealer banks were functionally insolvent after 2008 and needed to build “reserves” up to some level that would putatively render them sound. But that was a sketchy concept anyway since accounting standards had been officially abandoned in 2009 when the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) declared that banks could report the stuff on their books at any value they felt like. In short, the soundness of the biggest banks in the USA could no longer be determined, period. They were beyond accounting as they were beyond the law. At the same time, the banks began the operations of shifting all the janky debt paper, mostly mortgages and derivative instruments (i.e. made-up shit like “CDOs squared”), value unknown, from their vaults to the a vaults of the Federal Reserve, where it resides to this day, rotting away like so much forgotten ground round in the sub-basement of an abandoned warehouse of a bankrupt burger chain.

All of these nearly incomprehensible shenanigans have been going on because debt all over the world can’t be repaid. The world’s economy, as constructed emergently over the decades, can’t function without repayable debt, which is the essence of “credit” — the fundamental trust implicit in banking. You have “credit” because other persons or parties believe in your ability to repay. After a while, this becomes a mere convention in millions of transactions. What’s happened is that the conventions remain in place but the trust is gone. It’s gone in particular among the parties deemed too big to fail.

Everybody knows this now and everybody is trying desperately to work around it, led by the Federal Reserve. Trust is gone and credit is going and debt is sitting between a rock and a hard place with its grubby hands pressed together, praying that it will be forgiven, forgotten, or overlooked a little while longer. By the way, the reason trust and credit are gone is because oil is no longer cheap and world economies can’t grow anymore. They can’t afford to run the day-to-day operations of a techno-industrial society. They can only pretend to afford it. The stock markets are mere scorecards for players who can only lie and cheat now to keep the game going. Somewhere beyond all the legerdemain and fraud, however, there remains a real world that is not going away. We just don’t know what it will look like when the smog of fraud clears.

Enough Is Enough: Fraud-ridden Banks Are Not L.A.’s Only Option Washington’s Blog

Enough Is Enough: Fraud-ridden Banks Are Not L.A.’s Only Option Washington’s Blog.

Guest post by Ellen Brown.

“Epic in scale, unprecedented in world history. That is how William K. Black, professor of law and economics and former bank fraud investigator, describes the frauds in which JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has now been implicated. They involve more than a dozen felonies, including bid-rigging on municipal bond debt; colluding to rig interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars in mortgages, derivatives and other contracts; exposing investors to excessive risk; failing to disclose known risks, including those in the Bernie Madoff scandal; and engaging in multiple forms of mortgage fraud.

So why, asks Chicago Alderwoman Leslie Hairston, are we still doing business with them? She plans to introduce a city council ordinance deleting JPM from the city’s list of designated municipal depositories. As quoted in the January 14th Chicago Sun-Times:

The bank has violated the city code by making admissions of dishonesty and deceit in the way they dealt with their investors in the mortgage securities and Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandals. . . . We use this code against city contractors and all the small companies, why wouldn’t we use this against one of the largest banks in the world?

A similar move has been recommended for the City of Los Angeles by L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo. But in a January 19th editorial titled “There’s No Profit in L A. Bashing JPMorgan Chase,” the L.A. Times editorial board warned against pulling the city’s money out of JPM and other mega-banks – even though the city attorney is suing them for allegedly causing an epidemic of foreclosures in minority neighborhoods.

 “L.A. relies on these banks,” says The Times, “for long-term financing to build bridges and restore lakes, and for short-term financing to pay the bills.” The editorial noted that a similar proposal brought in the fall of 2011 by then-Councilman Richard Alarcon, backed by Occupy L.A., was abandoned because it would have resulted in termination fees and higher interest payments by the city.

It seems we must bow to our oppressors because we have no viable alternative – or do we? What if there is an alternative that would not only save the city money but would be a safer place to deposit its funds than in Wall Street banks?

The Tiny State That Broke Free

There is a place where they don’t bow. Where they don’t park their assets on Wall Street and play the mega-bank game, and haven’t for almost 100 years. Where they escaped the 2008 banking crisis and have no government debt, the lowest foreclosure rate in the country, the lowest default rate on credit card debt, and the lowest unemployment rate. They also have the only publicly-owned bank.

The place is North Dakota, and their state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) is a model for Los Angeles and other cities, counties, and states.

Like the BND, a public bank of the City of Los Angeles would not be a commercial bank and would not compete with commercial banks. In fact, it would partner with them – using its tax revenue deposits to create credit for lending programs through the magical everyday banking practice of leveraging capital.

The BND is a major money-maker for North Dakota, returning about $30 million annually in dividends to the treasury – not bad for a state with a population that is less than one-fifth that of the City of Los Angeles. Every year since the 2008 banking crisis, the BND has reported a return on investment of 17-26%.

Like the BND, a Bank of the City of Los Angeles would provide credit for city projects – to build bridges, restore lakes, and pay bills – and this credit would essentially be interest-free, since the city would own the bank and get the interest back. Eliminating interest has been shown to reduce the cost of public projects by 35% or more.

Awesome Possibilities

 Consider what that could mean for Los Angeles. According to the current fiscal budget, the LAX Modernization project is budgeted at $4.11 billion. That’s the sticker price. But what will it cost when you add interest on revenue bonds and other funding sources? The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge earthquake retrofit boondoggle was slated to cost about $6 billion. Interest and bank fees added another $6 billion. Funding through a public bank could have saved taxpayers $6 billion, or 50%.

If Los Angeles owned its own bank, it could also avoid costly “rainy day funds,” which are held by various agencies as surplus taxes. If the city had a low-cost credit line with its own bank, these funds could be released into the general fund, generating massive amounts of new revenue for the city.

The potential for the City and County of Los Angeles can be seen by examining their respective Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs). According to the latest CAFRs (2012), the City of Los Angeles has “cash, pooled and other investments” of $11 billion beyond what is in its pension fund (page 85), and the County of Los Angeles has $22 billion (page 66). To put these sums in perspective, the austerity crisis declared by the State of California in 2012 was the result of a declared state budget deficit of only $16 billion.

The L.A. CAFR funds are currently drawing only minimal interest. With some modest changes in regulations, they could be returned to the general fund for use in the city’s budget, or deposited or invested in the city’s own bank, to be leveraged into credit for local purposes.

Minimizing Risk

 Beyond being a money-maker, a city-owned bank can minimize the risks of interest rate manipulation, excessive fees, and dishonest dealings.

Another risk that must now be added to the list is that of confiscation in the event of a “bail in.” Public funds are secured with collateral, but they take a back seat in bankruptcy to the “super priority” of Wall Street’s own derivative claims. A major derivatives fiasco of the sort seen in 2008 could wipe out even a mega-bank’s available collateral, leaving the city with empty coffers.

The city itself could be propelled into bankruptcy by speculative derivatives dealings with Wall Street banks. The dire results can be seen in Detroit, where the emergency manager, operating on behalf of the city’s creditors, put it into bankruptcy to force payment on its debts. First in line were UBS and Bank of America, claiming speculative winnings on their interest-rate swaps, which the emergency manager paid immediately before filing for bankruptcy. Critics say the swaps were improperly entered into and were what propelled the city into bankruptcy. Their propriety is now being investigated by the bankruptcy judge.

Not Too Big to Abandon

Mega-banks might be too big to fail. According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, they might even be too big to prosecute. But they are not too big to abandon as depositories for government funds.

There may indeed be no profit in bashing JPMorgan Chase, but there would be profit in pulling deposits out and putting them in Los Angeles’ own public bank. Other major cities currently exploring that possibility include San Franciscoand Philadelphia.

If North Dakota can bypass Wall Street with its own bank and declare its financial independence, so can the City of Los Angeles. And so can the County. And so can the State of California.

____________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, chairman of the Public Banking Institute, and author of 12 books includingThe Public Bank Solution. She is currently running for California state treasurer on the Green Party ticket.

JPMorgan, Madoff, And Why No One Dared Ask “The Cult” Any “Serious Questions As Long As The Performance Is Good” | Zero Hedge

JPMorgan, Madoff, And Why No One Dared Ask “The Cult” Any “Serious Questions As Long As The Performance Is Good” | Zero Hedge.

As was well-known in advance, today JPMorgan entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, whereby Jamie Dimon’s enterprise, where legal fees and litigation charges are no longer “non-recurring” items but a cost of doing business, paid $1.7 billion (non tax-deductible) to settle all criminal charges that it was aware well in advance that Madoff was a ponzi scheme and did nothing to alert authorities or the general public. What was less known is just how acutely JPM was aware of the developments at Madoff’s pyramid scheme, and that while apparently JPM was not convinced enough of Madoff’s criminality to alert regulators using “Suspicious Activity Reports”, it had seen enough to quietly reduce its exposure with the Ponzi from $369 million at the beginning of October 2008, or just after the Lehman collapse, to just $81 million at the time of Madoff’s arrest.

There is much more on the sequence of events in JPM’s realization that Madoff was a fraud (see filing below), but the punchline is the following extract from lengthy internal email in October 2008 by a JPM trading analyst that raised concerns about Madoff’s investment returns, and which explains why frauds are never caught until it is too late: “The October 16 Memo ended with the observation that: “[t]here are various elements in the story that could make us nervous,” including the fund managers “apparent fear of Madoff, where no one dares to ask any serious questions as long as the performance is good.… personnel at one feeder fund seem[ed] very defensive and almost scared of Madoff. They seem unwilling to ask him any difficult questions and seem to be considering his ‘interests’ before those of the investors. It’s almost a cult he seems to have fostered.”

And there you have the biggest failing of modern capital markets in a nutshell: nobody dares to ask any serious questions as long as the performance is good, and where there a cult-like following of the ringleader (see Central Banks). By the time the performance turns bad, and all the overdue questions are finally asked, it is always too late, and the cult blows up.

What is strangely missing in today’s action by the DOJ, which slams JPM (rightfully), is any mention of the SEC, you know – the regulators – those people whose job it was to catch Madoff in the act. Because while pocketing $1.7 billion from JPM may be an enjoyable exercise in populist propaganda for an administration that suddenly realizes it has created an unprecedented social class hatred schism and needs to punish bankers on a recurring, monthly basis, where is there any mention of the SEC’s fault for being completely oblivious to what JPM uncovered on its own? And yes, JPM did not alert the authorities, but at the end of the day its fiduciary obligations are first and foremost to its shareholders, which it executed, and not to a gullible public which opted for yet another “get rich quick” scheme, hoping foolishly that the SEC has some idea what it is doing.

Finally, we can’t help but wonder: when the current bubble to end all bubbles implodes, who will be punished for failing to point out that the emperor is naked, and that it is the cult of the Federal Reserve and its central bank peers around the globe, that have created the biggest Ponzi scheme the world has ever seen?

For those curious about the details of how JPM succeeded in realizing what the SEC failed to grasp, despite numerous vocal warnings from Harry Markopolos, read on.

From U.S. v. JPMorgan Chase – Deferred Prosecution Agreement PacketExhibit C

October 2008: JPMC Concludes In A Report To U.K. Regulators That Madoff s Returns Are Probably Too Good To Be True

In mid-September 2008, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and growing concerns about counter-party risk, JPMCs Head of Global Equities directed investment bank personnel to substantially reduce JPMC’s exposure to hedge funds, which had increased following JPMCs March 2008 acquisition of Bear Stearns. This directive was reiterated by the Investment Bank Risk Committee on October 3, 2008. Acting at the direction of the Head of Global Equities, the Equity Exotics Desk began analyzing which hedge funds to reduce exposure to, including by directing the Desk’s due diligence analyst (the “Equity Exotics Analyst”) to scrutinize investments in various hedge funds, including the Madoff feeder funds. The Equity Exotics Analyst conducted this due diligence by, among other things, analyzing the reported strategy and returns of Madoff Securities, speaking to personnel at Madoff feeder funds and financial institutions administering Madoff feeder funds, and unsuccessfully seeking from the feeder funds and administrators documentary proof of the assets of Madoff Securities.

On October 16, 2008, the Equity Exotics Analyst wrote a lengthy e-mail to the head of the Equity Exotics Desk and others summarizing his conclusions (the “October 16 Memo”), The October 16 Memo described the inability of JPMC or the feeder funds to validate Madoff s trading activity or custody of assets. The October 16 Memo noted that the feeder funds were audited by major accounting firms, which had issued unqualified opinions for 2007, but questioned Madoff s “odd choice” of a small, unknown accounting firm. The October 16, 2008 Memo reported that personnel from one of the feeder funds “said they were reassured by the claim that FINRA and the SEC performed occasional audits of Madoff,” but that they “appear not to have seen any evidence of the reviews or findings,” The October 16 Memo also questioned the reliability of information provided by the feeder funds and the willingness of the feeder funds to obtain verifying information from Madoff. For example, the memo reported that personnel at one feeder fund “seem[ed] very defensive and almost scared of Madoff. They seem unwilling to ask him any difficult questions and seem to be considering his ‘interests’ before those of the investors. It’s almost a cult he seems to have fostered.” The Equity Exotics Analyst further wrote that there was both a “lack of transparency” into Madoff Securities and “a resistance on the part of Madoff to provide meaningful disclosure.”

The October 16 Memo ended with the observation that: “[t]here are various elements in the story that could make us nervous,” including the fund managers “apparent fear of Madoff, where no one dares to ask any serious questions as long as the performance is good.” The October 16 Memo concluded: “I could go on but we seem to be relying on Madoff s integrity (or the [feeder funds’] belief in Madoff s integrity) and the quality of the due diligence work (initial and ongoing) done by the custodians . . . to ensure that the assets actually exist and are properly custodied, If some[thing] were to happen with the funds, our recourse would be to the custodians and whether they had been negligent or grossly negligent.”

The Head of Due Diligence responded by complimenting the Equity Exotics Analyst on the October 16 Memo, making reference to other long-running fraud schemes, and suggesting in a joking manner that they should visit the Madoff Securities accountant’s office in New City, New York to make sure it was not a “car wash.”

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JPMC’s Redemptions From Madoff Feeder Funds

On October 16, 2008 — the day of the October 16 Memo — an Equity Exotics employee requested by e-mail a “list of all external trades and the exact counterparty trade” for each of the Madoff-related feeder funds, noting that “[t]le list needs to be exhaustive as we may be terminating all of these trades and we cannot afford missing any.” The Equity Exotics Desk, which had already placed redemption orders for approximately $78 million from the Madoff feeder funds between October 1 and October 15, thereafter sought to redeem almost all of its remaining money in the Madoff feeder funds.

In addition to redeeming its positions in the Madoff feeder funds, JPMC sought, with the assistance of legal counsel, to cancel or otherwise unwind certain of the structured products issued related to the performance of the Madoff feeder funds. In an attempt to unwind these transactions, JPMC told the distributors of the Madoff notes that it was invoking a provision of the derivatives contract that enabled it to de-link the notes from the performance of the Madoff feeder funds if JPMC could not obtain satisfactory information about its investment. For example, in a letter dated October 27, 2008,JPMC warned that it would declare a “Lock-In Event” under the terms of the contract unless the recipient — a distributor that the Equity Exotics Analyst had spoken to as part of his due diligence underlying the October 16 Memo — could provide the identity of all of Madoff Securities’ options counterparties by 5:00 PM the following day.

In the Fall of 2008, the amount of JPMC’s position in Madoff feeder funds fell from approximately $369 million at the beginning of October 2008 (which was down slightly from its high-water mark of $379 million, in July 2008) to approximately $81 million at the time of Madoff s arrest, on December 11, 2008 — a reduction of approximately $288 million, or approximately 80% of JPMC’s proprietary capital invested as a hedge in Madoff feeder funds. During the same period, JPMC spent approximately $19 million buying back Madoff-linked notes and approximately $55 million to unwind a swap transaction with a Madoff feeder fund that eliminated JPMC’s contractual obligation with respect to those structured products. When Madoff was arrested, JIPMC booked a loss of approximately $40 million, substantially less than the approximately $250 million it would have lost but for these transactions.

At the same time, the Equity Exotics Desk also held through the time of Madoff s arrest a gap note providing JPMC with $5 million in protection if the value of a Madoff feeder fund collapsed completely. In a November 28, 2008 e-mail, an Equity Exotics banker declined a third party’s request to buy this protective gap note from JPMC, and described the gap note as being “as of today. . . very valuable” to JPMC.

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