When an outside analysis uncovered serious flaws with thousands of home loans, JPMorgan Chase executives found an easy fix.
Rather than disclosing the full extent of problems like fraudulent home appraisals and overextended borrowers, the bank adjusted the critical reviews,according to documents filed early Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan. As a result, the mortgages, which JPMorgan bundled into complex securities, appeared healthier, making the deals more appealing to investors.
The trove of internal e-mails and employee interviews, filed as part of a lawsuit by one of the investors in the securities, offers a fresh glimpse into Wall Street's mortgage machine, which churned out billions of dollars of securities that later imploded. The documents reveal that JPMorgan, as well as two firms the bank acquired during the credit crisis, Washington Mutual and Bear Stearns, flouted quality controls and ignored problems, sometimes hiding them entirely, in a quest for profit.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Dexia, a Belgian-French bank, is being closely watched on Wall Street. After suffering significant losses, Dexia sued JPMorgan and its affiliates in 2012, claiming it had been duped into buying $1.6 billion of troubled mortgage-backed securities. The latest documents could provide a window into a $200 billion case that looms over the entire industry.In that lawsuit, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has accused 17 banks of selling dubious mortgage securities to the two housing giants. At least 20 of the securities are also highlighted in the Dexia case, according to an analysis of court records.
In court filings, JPMorgan has strongly denied wrongdoing and is contesting both cases in federal court. The bank declined to comment.
Dexia's lawsuit is part of a broad assault on Wall Street for its role in the 2008 financial crisis, as prosecutors, regulators and private investors take aim at mortgage-related securities. New York's attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, sued JPMorgan last year over investments created by Bear Stearns between 2005 and 2007.
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan's chief executive, has criticized prosecutors for attacking JPMorgan because of what Bear Stearns did. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in October, Mr. Dimon said the bank did the federal government "a favor" by rescuing the flailing firm in 2008.
The legal onslaught has been costly. In November, JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank, agreed to pay $296.9 million to settle claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission that Bear Stearns had misled mortgage investors by hiding some delinquent loans. JPMorgan did not admit or deny wrongdoing.
"The true price tag for the ongoing costs of the litigation is terrifying," said Christopher Whalen, a senior managing director at Tangent Capital Partners.
The Dexia lawsuit centers on complex securities created by JPMorgan, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual during the housing boom. As profits soared, the Wall Street firms scrambled to pump out more investments, even as questions emerged about their quality.
With a seemingly insatiable appetite, JP Morgan scooped up mortgages from lenders with troubled records, according to the court documents. In an internal "due diligence scorecard," JP Morgan ranked large mortgage originators, assigning Washington Mutual and American Home Mortgage the lowest grade of "poor" for their documentation, the court filings show.