CommunityThe Bullpen

Harris Sues Fannie and Freddie for Information in Mortgage Investigation

Kamala Harris, the Attorney General of California, sued government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over information on foreclosures in California. Rather than the endpoint of the investigation, this is the beginning of it; Harris wants information out of Fannie and Freddie that they have so far been unwilling to provide.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office filed the lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court, is investigating Freddie Mac’s and Fannie Mae’s involvement in 12,000 foreclosed properties in California where they served as landlords. She also wants to find out what role the companies played in selling or marketing mortgage-backed securities.

The essentially identical lawsuits ask the mortgage firms to respond to 51 investigative subpoenas that call on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to identify all the California homes on which they foreclosed. They also want the mortgage firms to reveal whether they have information on the decreased value of those homes due to drug dealing or prostitution, as well as explosives and weapons found on those vacant properties.

“Foreclosures not only affect the families who lose their homes, but also the safety, health and welfare of the entire community,” the lawsuit said.

Harris also called on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to disclose whether they have complied with civil rights laws protecting minorities and members of the Armed Forces against unlawful convictions and foreclosures.

The lawsuits in foreclosure fraud all have their own specialized nature. Martha Coakley has taken on the big banks for stealing homes. Beau Biden sued MERS. Eric Schneiderman is focusing on securitization. Catherine Cortez Masto charged LPS with systematic document fraud. And now Harris has targeted Fannie and Freddie. This puts her in conflict with the FHFA, an independent agency that has at times acted on its own, suing 17 banks over representations and warranties claims and even sharing information between its inspector general and Schneiderman. An FHFA attorney said the volume of information Harris requested was “staggering” and questioned whether Harris had the ability to issue the subpoenas.

The importance of settling that question is obvious: if states can investigate Fannie and Freddie, even if they are under the auspices of a federal conservator, then they have access to the misdeeds of mortgage giants that currently own or guarantee over half of the market. The SEC did just bring civil fraud charges against former Fannie and Freddie CEOs and other executives on securities fraud, but Harris is looking into specific acts against borrowers in her state. If the subpoenas are upheld here, it could open the floodgates.

Meanwhile, there will be no settlement from Tom Miller and his crew by Christmas, as they miss yet another deadline. In fact, the banks are increasing their demands, essentially wanting immunity from CFPB regulations on past mortgage origination. So to those who say that we need a settlement to provide immediate aid to borrowers, well, there isn’t going to be any settlement, because the banks don’t want to give up more than a pittance and they want release from practically all liability. So relying on those AGs willing to do their job happens to be mandatory at this point. And successful lawsuits against the banks will beget pressure on other AGs to do more.

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David Dayen

David Dayen