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Citigroup to pay $7 billion to settle mortgage securities investigation


Photo: Jarrod Trost

The Justice Department, along with federal and state partners, announced a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup Monday that resolves federal and state claims related to Citigroup’s packaging and selling of residential mortgage-backed securities or RMBS.

As part of the settlement, Citigroup, one of the nation's largest banks, acknowledged it made serious misrepresentations to the public – including the investing public – about its RMBS.

The agreement requires Citigroup to provide $2.5 billion in consumer relief to underwater homeowners, distressed borrowers, and affected communities through actions such as financing affordable rental housing for low-income families in high-cost areas.

The settlement also requires Citi to provide funding to support legal services and housing counseling agencies that provide no cost help to struggling homeowners.

In addition, Citigroup will pay a $4 billion penalty to the Department of Justice – the largest penalty to date under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act.

“This historic penalty is appropriate given the strength of the evidence of the wrongdoing committed by Citi,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. “The bank's activities contributed mightily to the financial crisis that devastated our economy in 2008. Taken together, we believe the size and scope of this resolution goes beyond what could be considered the mere cost of doing business.”

Holder said Citigroup or its employees could still face possible criminal charges.

In addition, Citigroup will pay the following to settle claims: $208.25 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; $102.7 million to California; $92 million to New York; $44 million to Illinois; $45.7 million to Massachusetts, and $7.35 million to Delaware.

The settlement was negotiated by the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, a joint state and federal group formed in 2012 to continue investigating wrongdoing in the RMBS market before to the financial crisis.

Citigroup made representations to RMBS investors about the quality of the mortgage loans it pooled and sold to investors, according to the settlement. Despite those representations, Citigroup knew the underlying mortgage loans had defects. On a number of occasions, Citigroup employees learned that significant percentages of the mortgage loans reviewed had defects.

In one case, a Citigroup trader stated in an internal email that he “went through the Diligence Reports and think[s] [they] should start praying . . . [he] would not be surprised if half of these loans went down. . . It’s amazing that some of these loans were closed at all.”

Citigroup turned the loan pools into securities containing defective loans and sold the RMBS to investors for billions of dollars, according to the settlement.

Compliance with the settlement will be overseen by a federal monitor who will be responsible for ensuring that targets under the settlement are met and that quarterly reporting requirements, which will measure how relief is being allocated at a Census Tract level, are made available to the public, Holder said.

In April, Citigroup, in a separate action, agreed to pay $1.13 billion to settle claims by investors asking that the bank buy back billions of dollars in RBMS, according to an ABC News article.

A similar agreement between the Justice Department and JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest bank, was signed last year after months of negotiations, the article said. The bank agreed to pay $13 billion following an investigation of toxic RBMS.

Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and many of the other largest banks in America also have paid billions in fines and payments to consumers to settle charges of misconduct in how mortgages were handled leading up to and following the Great Recession of 2008.

Copyright 2014, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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