Bank of America loses Justice Department civil fraud suit

NEW YORK -- Bank of America has lost a major civil fraud case brought by the Justice Department, a major victory for the federal government as it continues to pursue cases stemming from the financial crisis.

A federal jury in Manhattan found BofA liable for faulty loans its unit Countrywide Financial Corp. sold to mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The jury also found former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone liable, a spokeswoman for U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara said.

Countrywide, a mortgage lending powerhouse based in Calabasas, was acquired by BofA during the height of the housing crisis in 2008.

In a statement, Bharara said: “In a rush to feed at the trough of easy mortgage money on the eve of the financial crisis, Bank of America purchased Countrywide, thinking it had gobbled up a cash cow.  That profit, however, was built on fraud, as the jury unanimously found.”

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The courtroom victory could strengthen the federal government's hand as it confronts other major Wall Street banks for conduct that contributed to the financial crisis.

The Justice Department and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have been hammering out a $13-billion settlement that would resolve a raft of federal and state probes stemming from faulty mortgage investments that fueled the financial crisis.

“That’s a very significant win for the government," said Thomas Gorman, a partner at the law firm Dorsey Whitney in Washington. “This kind of verdict will only strengthen government's negotiating position and probably make other major banks reevaluate what their position is."

Bharara's office filed the suit against BofA a year ago this week. The suit seeks $1 billion and accused Countrywide of saddling the U.S. government with faulty loans. The suit highlighted a program called "The Hustle" aimed at getting employees to churn out mortgages as fast as possible just as the housing market was failing.

"The fraudulent conduct alleged in today's complaint was spectacularly brazen," Bharara said at the time. "Countrywide and Bank of America made disastrously bad loans and stuck taxpayers with the bill."


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