Just over five years since the financial crisis hit, we are beginning to see some meaningful enforcement action taken. A jury found Bank of America (BofA) and Countrywide senior executive, Rebecca Mairone, liable for intentionally making bad loans and removing underwriting standards during the 2000’s real estate bubble.
It was confirmed at trial that Countrywide management approved and encouraged a mortgage fraud scheme internally known as “the Hustle.” The name derives from the acronym, “HSSL” or “high-speed-swim-lane.”
“The Hustle” confirms the top down approval of the sub-prime mortgage abuse that resulted in the 2008 financial crisis. The program awarded bonuses to Countrywide employees based on how quickly they could originate loans. Countrywide “treated quality control and underwriting as a joke,” said lead prosecutor on the case, Preet Bahrara.
What is most remarkable about the verdict is that a senior executive was held personally responsible for the mortgage abuses. Until now, there have only been high profile settlements in which lenders avoid admitting wrongdoing.
This precedent may open the door to a spate of class action lawsuits against BofA and Ms. Mairone. BofA has been struggling to prove its worth to its shareholders ever since it acquired Countrywide in 2008. Perhaps a jury verdict against the big bank will create more of a financial penalty than any settlement amount imaginable.