This investigation has the potential to be a Mother of All Nightmares situation for the banks for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the decision to go after the securitization process is a total prosecutorial bullseye. This is the ugly heart of the wide-scale fraud scheme of the bubble era. Again, the business model during this time was a giant bait-and-switch scam. Sleazy lenders like Countrywide and New Century first created huge masses of bad loans, committing every conceivable kind of fraud to get people into loans (from doctoring income statements with white-out to phonying FICO scores to engineering fake appraisals). They then moved the bad loans quickly to the big banks, which pooled them and chopped them up (this is the “securitization” process), sprinkled hocus-pocus math on them, and them sold them to suckers around the world as AAA-rated securities.
The reason this is such a potentially deadly investigation for the banks is that they seemed to be so close to getting away scot free. There is another investigation into the banks’ mortgage abuses by the states’ Attorneys General, led by Iowa AG Tom Miller, that was rumored to be headed toward a settlement, despite the fact that nothing like a complete investigation has been done.... But if the AGs were to sign off on a friendly global settlement for mortgage abuses prematurely, it would be like a DA offering a millionaire murderer a 2-year plea bargain before the cops even had a chance to interview all the eyewitnesses. It would be a blatantly political arrangement.
Schneiderman’s investigation throws a monkey wrench into all of this. The banks cannot enter into a settlement with 49 states. They need all 50 at the table. But if Schneiderman breaks ranks and goes off on an end-run investigation that plunges right into the rotten core of the fraud era, then the whole pipe dream of an easy settlement vanishes in an instant. This is particularly true since Schneiderman is the most important AG, being from the state of New York, where most of the crime was probably committed.
Everything I’ve heard so far indicates that Schneiderman’s investigation is not a publicity stunt and is an in-earnest attempt to get to the bottom of things.