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Feb 28, 2008

Ken Lewis
Bank of America’s purchase of Countrywide looked risky at the time. Now it’s looking worse. Read More
Sen. Chris Dodd
A rogues gallery of Countrywide "V.I.P." loan recipients. See All Video & Multimedia
Angelo Mozilo
Countrywide chief Angelo Mozilo's V.I.P. club included the not-so-important as well the likes of Senators Dodd and Conrad. Read More
Angelo Mozilo
Last Trade:1.29Change:-0.05-3.88%
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Herb M. Allison, Jr.,
Summary:
The Company provides funds to mortgage lenders through purchases of mortgage assets and issuing & guaranteeing mortgage-related … View More
Last Trade:1.42Change:-0.07-4.93%
Industry:
Real Estate
Primary executive:
David M. Moffett,
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A stockholder-owned corporation chartered by Congress to create a flow of funds to mortgage lenders. It provides a vital link View More
Last Trade:18.03Change:-0.95-5.27%
Industry:
Construction
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Jeffrey T. Mezger,
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The Company is engaged in the homebuilding business. It constructs and sells homes through its operating divisions across … View More
Last Trade:5.28Change:-0.42-7.95%
Industry:
Telecomm
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Daniel R. Hesse,
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A global communications company which offers a range of wireless and wireline communications products and services that are … View More
In January 2004, Richard Aldrich, a California state appeals court judge, decided to refinance his 8,200-square-foot house next to a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at the Sherwood Country Club in Westlake Village. He turned to a prominent Sherwood member: Countrywide Financial chief executive Angelo Mozilo.

Aldrich’s application was assigned to a loan officer named Robert Feinberg; the judge was seeking a $1 million loan and a $900,000 line of credit. By email, Feinberg alerted Mozilo that the credit line was “above what guidelines allow.” Mozilo responded, “Go ahead and approve the loan, and close it as soon as possible. Don’t worry about this deal, it’s golden.” Countrywide further waived half a point, or $5,000 on the million-dollar loan. (Homebuyers can reduce their interest rates by paying points, which are equal to 1 percent of the value of a loan.)

That wasn’t Aldrich’s only contact with Countrywide. At the time he refinanced, a class action lawsuit against Countrywide was pending before the appellate court, brought by borrowers contending that the company offered an inadequate payment to settle allegations that it charged excessive fees for credit reports. That August, Aldrich was part of a three-judge panel that unanimously rejected the borrowers’ appeal. (View a slideshow featuring "V.I.P." loan recipients.)

According to a person familiar with the case, Aldrich did not disclose his relationship with Countrywide to the plaintiffs or offer to recuse himself. California’s judicial code of ethics states that judges cannot accept gifts or favors from donors “whose interests have come or are reasonably likely” to come before them, nor can they take out a loan at better terms than are available to other borrowers. Reached by phone, Aldrich denied receiving a below-market loan and hung up.

Countrywide’s generosity to Aldrich reflected a broader strategy. Through a program that provided loans on favorable terms to V.I.P. borrowers, the nation’s largest mortgage lender curried favor with politicians, government officials, and business partners who were in a position to influence policy, profits, or public opinion. While some may not have been fully aware of the special terms, many took the bait. Some, including Aldrich, appear to have skirted or violated conflict-of-interest rules or ethics policies.

Feinberg, who served as gatekeeper for the V.I.P. program from 2000 to 2004, wrote hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of loans—as much as $400 million in 2003 alone—for customers whom his superiors had singled out for special treatment. After he filled out the applications, they were processed by a V.I.P.-loan underwriting unit, which had its own branch number in Countrywide’s recordkeeping system.

The vigor with which Countrywide chased V.I.P.’s was matched only by the aggressiveness with which it marketed loans to risky borrowers. In the past year, Countrywide morphed into the Chernobyl of the mortgage meltdown, with the F.B.I. investigating its lending practices, its stock plummeting, and Bank of America buying the company at a fire-sale price. Much as the high­fliers of the internet bubble crashed overnight, the company that symbolized the housing market’s boom has quickly come to define its collapse.

In June, Condé Nast Portfolio disclosed the names of five V.I.P.-loan recipients: Senators Christopher Dodd and Kent Conrad, former cabinet members Alphonso Jackson and Donna Shalala, and former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. The Wall Street Journal reported that James Johnson and Franklin Raines, both former C.E.O.’s of government-sponsored mortgage buyer Fannie Mae, received favorable rates.

But many other V.I.P. borrowers haven’t been named until now, including former Countrywide director Henry Cisneros, who served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration; former White House staffer Paul Begala, now a commentator on CNN; and Postmaster General John Potter. Countrywide also offered special discounts to Congressional staffers involved in housing issues.

Current or prospective business partners who received special treatment include former C.E.O.’s William Esrey of Sprint, which teamed up with Countrywide to provide property information to homebuyers on their cell phones, and Bruce Karatz of KB Home, a leading homebuilder that refers customers to Countrywide for mortgages. The biggest subset of V.I.P.’s included Mozilo’s network of friends, business associates, and people he wanted to ingratiate himself and his company with; they were known in company emails and memos by the initials F.O.A.—Friends of Angelo.

A Countrywide spokesperson declined to comment for this article and turned down Condé Nast Portfolio’s request for an interview with Mozilo. Feinberg, the V.I.P.-loan officer, eventually grew disillusioned with the loan program. He left Countrywide in 2007 and agreed to be interviewed.

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COMPENSATION
Mozilo defends cashing in Countrywide stock
Angelo Mozilo
Mark Wilson / Getty Images
Angelo Mozilo, founder and chief executive of Countrywide Financial, is sworn today during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on executive pay.
The unloading of $141 million in options was in preparation for retirement, the Countrywide founder asserts, denying that he was trying to shield himself from the sub-prime meltdown.
By Jonathan Peterson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 8, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Countrywide Financial Corp. founder Angelo R. Mozilo defended his fortuitous stock trades before a congressional panel Friday, denying that he had manipulated his trading plan to unload about $141 million in stock options before the company collapsed.

"You had good timing," needled Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

By making changes to his stock trading plan, Mozilo was able to vastly increase his stock sales before Countrywide shares plummeted during last year's mortgage meltdown.

Mozilo, 69, maintained that the sales, which have drawn the scrutiny of federal investigators, were prompted by deadlines he faced to exercise stock options as well as the desire to diversify his assets in preparation for his retirement.

"The goal was to reduce my holdings because of my retirement . . . almost all my net worth was in Countrywide," he said.

Mozilo also said that the timing of his stock sales was unrelated to a stock buyback program Countrywide had at the time. Such programs are sometimes used to shore up a company's stock value, but Mozilo insisted that there "was absolutely no relationship between the buyback of stock and my sale of options."

Mozilo's remarks were made at a congressional hearing on the lofty compensation levels enjoyed by certain chief executives even as their companies were hammered by losses in the sub-prime mortgage market. He was joined at the witness table by Stanley O'Neal, former head of Merrill Lynch & Co., and Charles Prince, former head of Citigroup Inc., along with members of their boards.

O'Neal and Prince were pushed out after their firms suffered billions of dollars in losses tied to ill-fated mortgage securities. Mozilo remains at the helm of Countywide, the company he founded, although he is expected to leave after Bank of America Corp. completes its acquisition of the Calabasas-based lender this year.

The hearing was meant to showcase a chief complaint of corporate critics -- that financial rewards for top executives often seem disconnected to the performance of their companies, with the current mortgage crisis offering a particularly stark case study.

Countrywide sold many of the sub-prime loans that are now going under, leading to increasing losses and its eventual agreement to be taken over by Bank of America. Merrill Lynch and Citigroup lost billions of dollars in their own dealings with mortgage-related securities that proved far riskier than advertised.

"The obvious question is this: How can a few executives do so well when their companies do so poorly?" Waxman asked. "Are the extraordinary compensation packages these CEOs received reasonable compensation? Or does the hundreds of millions of dollars they were given represent a complete disconnect with reality?"

Little was resolved Friday. The executives and board members politely defended the pay arrangements; Republicans on the panel argued that the mortgage crisis is rooted in problems more broad based than executive compensation.

"Punishing individual corporate executives with public floggings like this may be a politically satisfying ritual, like an island tribe sacrificing a virgin to a grumbling volcano," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, the panel's senior Republican. "But in the end it won't answer the questions that need to be answered about corporate responsibility and economic stability."

Reports that O'Neal received $161 million after being pushed out of Merrill Lynch at a time of record-breaking losses attracted attention as well as stout defense. John Finnegan, chairman of Merrill Lynch's compensation committee, explained that the $161 million was not intended as payment for the company's troubles during 2007 but instead reflected benefits O'Neal had built up in the past, including stock and stock options, some dating to 2000 and earlier.

"All were amounts to which Mr. O'Neal was entitled," Finnegan said.

Said O'Neal: "I received no bonus for 2007, no severance pay, no golden parachute."

Lawmakers also questioned the $10-million bonus paid to Charles Prince, the former Citigroup leader who was pushed out after the firm also was hammered by losses related to the sub-prime debacle.

The bonus amount "was less than half the bonus he got in his previous year," said Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner Inc. and chairman of Citigroup's compensation committee.

"I'm proud of my accomplishments," said Prince, while also conceding he was "ultimately responsible" for the company's actions, which included a misunderstanding of the risks of mortgage-backed securities.

But attention repeatedly returned to Mozilo, a self-made magnate who helped shape the modern mortgage business. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) pressed him on a recent committee disclosure that Countrywide had boosted his pay deal after a new consultant hired by the board sought to maximize what Mozilo could receive.

"None of this makes sense to me," said Norton, alluding to e-mails on the matter that were obtained by the committee. "I want to know how it makes sense to you."

Harley W. Snyder, the chairman of Countrywide's compensation committee, said he disagreed with Norton's interpretation of events, although he did not offer a detailed rebuttal.

During the hearing, Mozilo expressed regret for angry language he had used after being disappointed by a 2006 pay proposal, complaining in an e-mail that year about the "left wing anti business press and the envious leaders of unions."

The pay proposal was "sharply different than what I expected," Mozilo said Friday. "I regret the words I used. I tend to be an emotional individual."

After four hours of give and take, legislators remained deeply divided on whether the executives and their pay packages helped cause the mortgage problems that now threaten the U.S. economy.

"This is a mess," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), referring to executives "with golden parachutes drifting off into the golf field" at the same time that people "are losing their homes."
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Lillian B. (42)
Friday February 29, 2008, 1:53 pm
Former AHM manager sentenced in mortgage fraud
BY DANIEL WAGNER | daniel.wagner@newsday.com August 29, 2007
A former American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. branch manager in Alaska, hired at the now-bankrupt company after an FBI probe caused him to be fired from Countrywide Financial, was sentenced Monday to serve more than two years in prison.

Kourosh Partow also was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and $190,000 in restitution for wire fraud after he falsified documentation to secure "stated income" mortgage loans from Melville-based American Home and Countrywide.

In a document submitted before sentencing, Partow's lawyer, Kevin Fitzgerald, argued that the two companies had competitive cultures that encouraged "a blind-eye mentality."
Judge H. Russel Holland heard the case at U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

Partow was fired from Countrywide in June 2006 after FBI scrutiny of his loans provoked an internal audit. American Home immediately hired him to be a loan officer and branch manager of its Anchorage office, court records show.

After federal authorities executed a search warrant on his office in October 2006, Partow withdrew the equity from his house and sent it overseas, then fled to France and Iran.

But he returned to the United States, and on April 20 he pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one at each bank, in exchange for other wire fraud charges being dropped.

In the American Home case, Partow, 41, of Chugiak, helped a client refinance his home in 2006. Even though the client provided accurate information about his income, Partow listed the income as $20,000 per month - "an amount that significantly overstated [the client's] true income," according to Partow's plea agreement.

In the Countrywide case, he admitted to knowingly overstating an applicant's income to qualify for a loan in 2004.

Stated income mortgages, a type Alt-A loan, allow loan officers to list borrowers' incomes on mortgage applications but do not require documentary verification of those figures. By misstating applicants' financial statuses, Partow enabled them to qualify for loans they might not otherwise have gotten.

The indictment against Partow listed 14 loans or fraudulent applications and charged him with eight counts of wire fraud related to $2.2 million in American Home loans and a $156,000 loan from Countrywide.

In addition to overstating borrowers' incomes, the indictment alleged that Partow engaged in a scheme to generate paperwork showing falsely that borrowers had made 20 percent down payments on their properties by engaging in "an unwritten side agreement to have the seller repay the borrower the alleged down payment amount."

Such tactics often involve the complicity of an appraiser who overstates the value of the property, mortgage experts said.

Fitzgerald's sentencing memorandum said Partow was compensated "most importantly" by commissions based on branch profitability, and that he "had authority ... to accept loans otherwise not strictly complying with the loan criteria."

The document said he was one of "a fair number" of employees hired by American Home after Countrywide fired them in connection with the FBI probe.

An attached November 2006 e-mail, purportedly from an American Home senior vice president, reads, "At AHM we pride ourselves on having a loan for virtually any borrower, regardless of whether or not they have the ability to verify their Income, Assets or Employment history."

Another purported company e-mail, from October 2006, instructs loan officers to "play around with the loan all they want ... as long as it has NOT been released to processing."

There were no court papers available indicating that American Home took any action against Partow. A company spokesman would not comment on the case. A Countrywide spokesman said that company was a victim of Partow's operation.

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Lillian B. (42)
Friday February 29, 2008, 5:40 pm
Class Action Suit Against Countrywide Financial Expands
Posted on Friday, 25 of January , 2008 at 9:54 pm
ALBANY—The consolidated class action lawsuit filed against Countrywide Financial Corporation and other defendants has been expended by the state and New York City comptroller’s offices. The expanded suit will include 26 different financial services companies that underwrote Countrywide stock and bond offerings, two global accounting firms, and additional Countrywide officers and directors who signed SEC filings that contained false and misleading information about Countrywide’s business and finances.

“Countrywide’s underwriters had a duty to investigate whether Countrywide was acting honestly,” state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. “Instead, the underwriters and accountants enabled Countrywide to release false statements. Investors lost millions, and New Yorkers lost their homes. We can’t sit idly by; we need to recover the pension fund’s losses and find a way to help all those families. This class action suit is the first step.”

“The actions of Countrywide and its underwriters created a situation in which, when the company’s stock and bond prices fell, it was investors, and not the company’s executives, that sustained heavy losses,” NYS comptroller William Thompson Jr. said. “As borrowers lost their homes and investors held onto artificially inflated securities, Countrywide executives cashed out to the tune of almost $700 million. We will pursue every avenue to ensure that those who defrauded investors are held accountable for their actions.”

Countrywide Financial Corp., based in Calabasas, California, is one of the nation’s largest home mortgage lenders. The class action alleges that Countrywide’s material misstatements and omissions regarding its lending practices, and other aspects of its business and finances, artificially inflated the price of the company’s securities. When the truth was revealed, stock and bond prices plummeted and investors lost money. The class action also alleges that Countrywide issued stock and bonds based on SEC filings that contained false information.

By expanding the suit, the plaintiffs seek to ensure that the underwriters and accounting firms who participated in the marketing of Countrywide securities to the public are held accountable for their actions. The suit also seeks to hold Countrywide officers and directors who signed false and misleading SEC filings accountable.

DiNapoli and Thompson believe that the New York State Common Retirement Fund and the New York City Pension Funds lost millions of dollars as a result of misleading statements and factual misrepresentations by Countrywide. On Nov. 28, U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer of the United States District Court for the Central District of California named DiNapoli and the New York City Pension Funds as co-lead plaintiffs in the class action suit.

Labaton Sucharow LLP, a firm with extensive experience in large securities fraud cases, is lead counsel.

The expanded suit includes the following companies:

ABN AMRO Incorporated

A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc.

Banc of America Securities LLC

Barclays Capital Inc.

BNP Paribas Securities Corporation

BNY Capital Markets, Inc.

Citigroup Global Markets Inc.

Countrywide Securities Corporation

Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Securities Inc.

Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Greenwich Capital Markets, Inc.

HSBC Securities (USA) Inc.

J.P. Morgan Securities Inc.

Lehman Brothers Inc.

Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc.

Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated

RBC Capital Markets Corp.

RBC Dominion Securities Inc.

RBC Dain Rauscher Inc.

Scotia Capital Inc.

SG Americas Securities

TD Securities Inc.

UBS Securities LLC

Wachovia Capital Markets LLC

Wachovia Securities, Inc.

Grant Thornton LLP

KPMG LLP

The $154.5 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund is the third largest public pension plan in the United States with more than one million members, retirees and beneficiaries from state and local governments. Comptroller DiNapoli is the sole trustee of the fund and manages a diversified portfolio of public and private equities, fixed income, real estate and alternative instruments.

The five New York City Pension Funds - which collectively hold more than $110 billion in assets - are the: New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System for the City of New York, New York Fire Department Pension Fund, New York City Police Pension Fund and the Board of Education Retirement System. Thompson serves as investment advisor to the funds. 1-25-08

http://www.northcountrygazette.org/news/2008/01/25/countrywide_suit_expands



Lillian B. (42)
Friday February 29, 2008, 5:43 pm
Associated Press
Countrywide's Mozilo Forgoing $37.5M
By ALEX VEIGA 01.28.08, 12:02 AM ET

LOS ANGELES - Countrywide Financial Corp. CEO Angelo Mozilo, under fire over the size of his potential payout from the proposed sale of his troubled mortgage company, says he is forfeiting some $37.5 million in severance pay, fees and perks he was scheduled to receive upon his retirement.

Mozilo, however, will still retain retirement benefits and deferred compensation that he has already earned, Countrywide said in a statement being released Monday.

In addition to cash severance payments, Mozilo also walked away from $400,000 per year he was to be paid under an agreement to serve as a consultant to the company following his retirement, and perks including the use of a private airplane, the company said.

"I believe this decision is the right thing to do as Countrywide works toward the successful completion of the merger with Bank of America (nyse: BAC - news - people )," Mozilo said in the prepared statement.

Calabasas-based Countrywide agreed earlier this month be acquired by Bank of America Corp. for $4.1 billion in stock.

Mozilo is not slated to receive any cash payments tied to the completion of the acquisition, the company noted.

The chief executive has come under criticism since the deal was announced and media reports suggested he stood to receive a multimillion-dollar payout when he leaves the company.

Mozilo had been in line to receive a package, including his retirement pay and stock holdings, of nearly $66 million, according to estimates by The Hay Group, a compensation consulting company. Other estimates have suggested Mozilo's payout could exceed $110 million.

Now, he'll leave with a pension plan and supplemental executive retirement plan that totaled $23.8 million as of December 2006, according to the most recent proxy statement the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mozilo also accrued about $20.6 million in deferred compensation, according to the filing.

The executive has sold shares of the company's stock since last year but still has shares worth around $5.8 million.

Mozilo's decision to give up some of his pay comes amid increasing scrutiny over the size of pay packages for CEOs at some of the nation's largest financial institutions, many of which have sustained heavy losses during the mortgage market's downfall.

He is among several banking industry executives who have been asked to appear next month before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for a hearing to examine whether their compensation and severance packages are justified.

Mozilo's stock trades have also drawn negative attention.

He's been criticized for cashing in company stock options by switching his trading plans as the mortgage industry's woes multiplied last year. Some shareholders have called for his removal.

The SEC launched an informal inquiry last fall into his sales of Countrywide stock.

Mozilo has denied making any trading decisions based on material nonpublic information.

Countrywide rose to become the nation's largest mortgage lender but has been struggling since last year amid rising mortgage defaults, particularly subprime loans to borrowers with questionable credit histories.

The company, which posted a $1.2 billion loss in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, is due to report fourth-quarter and 2007 financial results Tuesday.

Countrywide shares fell 9 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $6.02 Friday.


Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

Lillian B. (42)
Friday February 29, 2008, 5:49 pm
Banks sued over sub-prime

January 26, 2008

GOLDMAN Sachs Group, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and 23 more underwriters of Countrywide Financial are being sued by three New York agencies for allegedly helping the battered US home lender defraud investors.

New York's city and state comptrollers and their pension funds added the securities firms, two accounting firms and Countrywide officers and directors as defendants to the lawsuit.

"Investors lost millions and New Yorkers lost their homes," said New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli."We need to recover the pension fund's losses and find a way to help all those families."

The state and city pension funds' combined losses due to Countrywide's declining stock price were up to $US100 million ($A113 million).

The world's biggest financial companies have posted at least $US133 billion in credit losses and writedowns tied to declining values of subprime mortgages. Australia's Big Four banks provided emergency loans in August to Countrywide Financial, with exposures of between $100 million and $300 million.

The subprime loans are given to people with the weakest credit. Overdue payments rose to a 10-year record in the third quarter.

Bank of America, the US's second-largest bank after Citigroup, agreed to buy Countrywide earlier this month for stock then valued at $US4 billion.

Meanwhile, Citigroup, which last week posted a record loss, gave new chief executive Vikram Pandit $US26.7 million in stock and said executive committee chairman Robert Rubin chose to forgo a stock bonus.

The US-based bank said last week it was cutting about 4200 jobs and curbing year-end bonuses for top executives.

BLOOMBERG


Lillian B. (42)
Friday February 29, 2008, 5:50 pm
Associated Press
Ill., Calif. Investigating Countrywide
By ALEX VEIGA 12.14.07, 7:40 AM ET
LOS ANGELES - Attorneys general in California and Illinois are investigating the lending practices of Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender..

The Illinois attorney general launched a probe into the lender's business practices and may expand the investigation to examine how homeowners were approved for mortgages with payments they were unable to afford.

"We're looking at why people who appear to us to not be able to afford the loans they're in are in these loans and how Countrywide contributed to that," said Deborah Hagan, chief of the attorney general's consumer protection division, on Thursday.

A California probe is also under way, a state official familiar with the attorney general's investigation into mortgage lending practices said late Thursday on condition of anonymity, citing the confidential nature of the investigation.

In a statement, the Calabasas-based company said it was cooperating with Illinois' investigation and declined further comment. A spokesman didn't immediately return an after-hours call inquiring about the California probe.

The company told the Los Angeles Times it had received subpoenas from both states' attorneys general and that it was cooperating with the investigations.

Countrywide, like many in the mortgage industry, has suffered under the weight of the subprime fallout as thousands of customers default on home loans.

Defaults and subsequent foreclosures have been most pronounced on adjustable-rate mortgages made to borrowers with past credit problems.

The subprime loans typically require a lower monthly payment in the first two or three years before resetting to far higher amounts.

Meanwhile, Countrywide on Thursday disclosed details of how its mortgage lending business fared in November.

The lender said its home loan production increased last month by 5 percent from October but dropped 40 percent from the same month last year.

The increase from the previous month came despite ongoing turmoil in the mortgage industry caused by falling home prices, rising loan defaults and a chill in demand by Wall Street for mortgage-backed securities.

The company generated $23 billion in mortgage loans last month.

It continued to scale back subprime mortgages to people with shaky credit histories. It funded just $17 million in such loans last month, down from $3.06 billion in November 2006.

It also originated fewer adjustable-rate mortgages last month. Funding for those loans totaled $3.3 billion, down from $14.3 billion in the year-ago period.

In all, the lender originated 125,431 mortgage loans in November, compared with 199,929 in the same month last year.

Countrywide said some 6.34 percent of the loans in its servicing portfolio were delinquent last month, up from 4.57 percent in the year-ago period.

Shares of Countrywide fell 45 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $10.08 Thursday.






Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed


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Lillian B. (42)
Saturday March 1, 2008, 3:07 am
Associated Press
Ill., Calif. Investigating Countrywide
By ALEX VEIGA 12.14.07, 7:40 AM ET
LOS ANGELES - Attorneys general in California and Illinois are investigating the lending practices of Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender..

The Illinois attorney general launched a probe into the lender's business practices and may expand the investigation to examine how homeowners were approved for mortgages with payments they were unable to afford.

"We're looking at why people who appear to us to not be able to afford the loans they're in are in these loans and how Countrywide contributed to that," said Deborah Hagan, chief of the attorney general's consumer protection division, on Thursday.

A California probe is also under way, a state official familiar with the attorney general's investigation into mortgage lending practices said late Thursday on condition of anonymity, citing the confidential nature of the investigation.

In a statement, the Calabasas-based company said it was cooperating with Illinois' investigation and declined further comment. A spokesman didn't immediately return an after-hours call inquiring about the California probe.

The company told the Los Angeles Times it had received subpoenas from both states' attorneys general and that it was cooperating with the investigations.

Countrywide, like many in the mortgage industry, has suffered under the weight of the subprime fallout as thousands of customers default on home loans.

Defaults and subsequent foreclosures have been most pronounced on adjustable-rate mortgages made to borrowers with past credit problems.

The subprime loans typically require a lower monthly payment in the first two or three years before resetting to far higher amounts.

Meanwhile, Countrywide on Thursday disclosed details of how its mortgage lending business fared in November.

The lender said its home loan production increased last month by 5 percent from October but dropped 40 percent from the same month last year.

The increase from the previous month came despite ongoing turmoil in the mortgage industry caused by falling home prices, rising loan defaults and a chill in demand by Wall Street for mortgage-backed securities.

The company generated $23 billion in mortgage loans last month.

It continued to scale back subprime mortgages to people with shaky credit histories. It funded just $17 million in such loans last month, down from $3.06 billion in November 2006.

It also originated fewer adjustable-rate mortgages last month. Funding for those loans totaled $3.3 billion, down from $14.3 billion in the year-ago period.

In all, the lender originated 125,431 mortgage loans in November, compared with 199,929 in the same month last year.

Countrywide said some 6.34 percent of the loans in its servicing portfolio were delinquent last month, up from 4.57 percent in the year-ago period.

Shares of Countrywide fell 45 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $10.08 Thursday.


Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed


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Lillian B. (42)
Saturday March 1, 2008, 3:08 am
Union Calls for Countrywide Bank Boycott
By Associated Press December 3, 2007
0 Recommendations

A national labor union launched a campaign Monday against Countrywide Financial Corp., calling on members and other consumers to boycott the mortgage lender's banking subsidiary until it guarantees it won't foreclose on borrowers who have fallen behind on adjustable rate loans.

UNITE HERE, which represents more than 450,000 workers in the apparel manufacturing, hotel, restaurant and retail industries, asked consumers not to make deposits at Countrywide Bank and to send e-mails to the company demanding assurances it won't foreclose on borrowers with mortgages that reset last year and this year.

Calabasas-based Countrywide and other lenders have been under intense pressure from lawmakers, consumer groups and others to do more to help stem a sharp increase in foreclosures.

Defaults and foreclosures have been most pronounced on adjustable-rate mortgages made to borrowers with past credit problems. The subprime loans typically require a lower initial monthly payment in the first two or three years before resetting to far higher amounts.

In October, Countrywide announced it would offer refinancing or modifications on $16 billion in loans with interest rates set to adjust by the end of 2008.

The company has also said it is trying to work out payment plans with thousands of other borrowers and has already helped more than 55,000 customers avoid foreclosure this year.

The union worries that Countrywide's loan modification efforts will focus on borrowers who have yet to see their home loans reset, ignoring thousands of others who fell behind beginning last year, said Zakia Henderson-Brown, a research analyst for the union.

"It's a niche group of borrowers we're asking them to consider," Henderson-Brown said.

A call to Countrywide was not immediately returned.

UNITE HERE's campaign comes amid negotiations between mortgage lenders and U.S. Treasury officials aimed at reaching a deal to temporarily freeze interest rates on mortgages.

The initiative, however, is aimed to help homeowners who have managed to make their mortgage payments but wouldn't be able to afford an increase when their loans resets.

By targeting Countrywide Bank, the labor union hopes to hurt the lender's ability to generate the funds needed to make new home loans.

Countrywide began relying on its banking arm to fund loans in the wake of the liquidity crisis that rattled financial markets following the spike in home loan defaults this summer.

It has been aggressively courting new deposits and expanding its bank branches.

Shares of Countrywide fell 14 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $10.68 on Monday

On the Net:

UNITE HERE's Countrywide Bank boycott site: http://www.dontdepositatcountrywide.info/

Countrywide Financial Corp: http://my.countrywide.com

http://www.fool.com/news/associated-press/2007/12/03/union-calls-for-countrywide-bank-boycott.aspx?source=iflfollnk0000001



Lillian B. (42)
Saturday March 15, 2008, 10:31 am
Loan Data Focus of Probe
By Glenn R. Simpson
Word Count: 992 | Companies Featured in This Article: Bank of America
WASHINGTON -- Federal investigators probing the business practices of Countrywide Financial Corp. are trying to figure out what Countrywide knew -- or in some cases didn't know -- about the incomes and assets of thousands of its borrowers.

The investigators are finding that Countrywide's loan documents often were marked by dubious or erroneous information about its mortgage clients, according to people involved in the matter. The company packaged many of those mortgages into securities and sold them to investors, raising the additional question of whether Countrywide understated the risks such investments carried.

Countrywide, long the No. 1 mortgage company in ...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120519470504525747.html?mod=googlenews_wsj


Lillian B. (42)
Saturday March 15, 2008, 10:32 am
Bank of America Plans to Proceed With Countrywide Bid (Update3)

By David Mildenberg


March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Bank of America Corp., the largest U.S. bank by market value, plans to press ahead with its $4 billion takeover of Countrywide Financial Corp., the mortgage lender under FBI investigation for possible securities fraud.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, based in Washington, is scrutinizing whether Countrywide officials misrepresented the company's financial position and the quality of its mortgage loans in regulatory filings, said a person with knowledge of the probe on March 8. Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri said the acquisition of Calabasas, California-based Countrywide remains on track.

``Nothing I've seen suggests that Bank of America is backing off,'' says Tom Atteberry, a partner at Los Angeles- based First Pacific Advisors LLC, which oversees $2 billion. ``It's in everyone's best interest that Countrywide avoid bankruptcy and it's hard to believe that there isn't some kind of agreement to help Bank of America avoid some of these legal problems.''

Countrywide, the biggest U.S. mortgage lender, has fallen 31 percent in New York trading since Bank of America offered to buy the company on Jan. 11 in a stock swap. Investors are speculating the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank may seek a lower price or walk away because the housing slump has deepened, with record foreclosures and falling home prices.

Countrywide fell 71 cents, or 14 percent, to $4.36 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Bank of America dropped $1.43, or 3.9 percent, to $35.31.

Widening Probe

The FBI's examination is at a preliminary stage, said the person, who declined to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak about the matter. Officials at Bank of America declined to comment about the probe on March 8, the day it was disclosed in the Wall Street Journal. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko also declined to comment. Countrywide's Jumana Bauwens said the company wasn't aware of the investigation.

Countrywide is among at least 14 companies the FBI is checking for possible violations tied to the subprime lending crisis, including mortgage lenders, developers and Wall Street firms that packaged loans into securities. The FBI disclosed the review in January without naming any companies.

Lenders are facing increased scrutiny from regulators as record defaults displace homeowners, roil credit markets and threaten to tip the U.S. into recession.

``It's not uncommon for the FBI to investigate matters that have created such controversy,'' said Gary Townsend, co-founder of Chevy Chase, Maryland-based money management firm Hill- Townsend Capital. ``This is just one more thing for Bank of America to watch as they move forward on this deal.''

`Conflicting Views'

Analysts including Paul Miller of Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Virginia, criticized Bank of America for paying too much for Countrywide, citing the increase in overdue payments. Shareholders including Bill Miller of Baltimore-based Legg Mason Capital Management, which held about a 9 percent stake at the end of December, and the SRM Global Fund, with 5 percent, said Countrywide sold for too little.

``There are conflicting views within the Bank of America board on whether this is a good deal,'' said David Lykken, founder of Austin, Texas-based industry consulting firm Mortgage Banking Solutions. ``Ultimately, the economics will prevail and it will get done.''

Lykken said officials from the FBI have contacted him in recent months with general questions about the industry. While Lykken doesn't know specifics about any probe, investigators may be focused on income and credit information disclosed by borrowers and presented by lenders, he said.

Doubts Persist

``There's a whole lot of excitement and hullabaloo, but proving criminal conduct is likely to be difficult,'' Lykken said. ``A lot of people were caught up in the atmosphere when the housing market was booming.''

Edward Jones & Co. downgraded the stock to ``sell'' from ``hold'' today. The FBI investigation ``may give Bank of America reason to request the previous deal be restructured in the bank's favor or walk away from the deal completely,'' Edward Jones analyst Patrick Schumann wrote in a report today.

``The only reason the stock isn't trading lower is the perception of heavy regulator support or coercion on this deal,'' said Brian Horey, a general partner of New York-based Aurelian Management LP, which has made bets against mortgage insurers including Countrywide. ``I don't think the deal closes without a more explicit bailout of Countrywide by the government.''

To contact the reporter on this story: David Mildenberg in Charlotte at dmildenberg@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: March 10, 2008 17:04 EDT

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Lillian B. (42)
Tuesday October 7, 2008, 5:15 am
Audio
Andrew Adams reporting



Utahns could be at risk in Countrywide ID theft
September 11th, 2008 @ 6:02pm
By Andrew Adams and Sandra Yi
The personal information of 2 million loan applicants may have been stolen. There are likely many victims in Utah. They just don't know about it.

It involves people who applied for mortgages with Countrywide. It's suspected that many people in Utah could be affected because Countrywide does a lot of business here.

Countrywide Financial is sending out warning letters. But it may be too late for a man in West Jordan. Russell Tate says Countrywide employees told him there were only several potential customers whose data was stolen. But the FBI says that number is at least 2 million.

After applying for a car loan this summer, Tate has been getting letters noting excessive inquiries on his credit file and excessive revolving credit use.

He's seen his credit recently go down the tubes.

"When I bought this house, I got my credit score up to almost 700, that's almost perfect. I took out loans, I paid them off, I did what I thought was the right thing. And now it's destroyed," he said.

He couldn't explain it. Another letter denied credit too. "Garnishment: I've never had my wages garnished," he said. "Attachment: I've never had anything attached." Nor has he had anything repossessed.

Then on Monday, Tate got a letter from Countrywide which could explain it all. In June, Tate wanted to refinance his home loan and provided all his personal information.

"They took every piece of information I had, to include any kind of retirements I have," he said.

The letter from Countrywide says his information may have been compromised.

On Aug. 1, the FBI in Los Angeles arrested two men, one of them a former Countrywide employee. Rene Rebollo, who worked in Countrywide's subprime mortgage division, had access to Countrywide computer databases, many of which included client personal information.

Rebollo told agents he gave out customer account information over two years. Another man, Wahid Sidiiqi, was arrested for buying the data.

"Yeah, I'm angry at them," Tate said. "They hurt me, and I'm wondering how many other people out there are going to get hurt."

Tate, who retired from teaching after a stroke several years ago, is trying to sell his home and downsize. Now he doesn't know if that'll happen.

"It's going to be very difficult for me to obtain any kind of credit," he said.

Countrywide e-mailed a statement saying it is closely working with the FBI. The company is notifying customers whose information may have been exposed by the former employee. Those customers can get two years of free credit monitoring from Experian at ConsumerInfo.com. It includes e-mails for any changes. Consumer protection advocates say potential victims also should put a fraud alert on their credit reports.

E-mail: aadams@ksl.com
E-mail: syi@ksl.com

http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=4234352

Lillian B. (42)
Monday October 27, 2008, 12:52 am
Knowledge of debt risk key to loan probe
February 01, 2008: 05:28 PM EST


Feb. 1, 2008 (Thomson Financial delivered by Newstex) --

WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal investigation of potential mortgage-market fraud is likely to examine whether banks duped investors into buying securities marketed as stable that were really backed by risky home loans.

Officials did not give many details at a Tuesday briefing on the criminal probe of 14 companies being conducted by the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission. But accounting experts and lawyers who have studied the mortgage crisis say investigators are probably sifting through reams of records to figure out how much investment banks knew -- and disclosed -- about the risks of mortgage securities backed by subprime loans.

The key issue for investigators is whether they can prove banks knowingly deceived investors.

'The question is: Did they have enough knowledge to cause the marketing of the bonds themselves to be a fraudulent act?' said Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who has been investigating the industry. 'What we're finding ...the deeper we dig into this, is that they knew a lot.'
Before last year's collapse of lending to borrowers with weak credit, the field boomed from $160 billion in new mortgages in 2001 to a peak of $625 billion in 2005, according to trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance. Money flowed from around the world, as bonds backed by high-priced U.S. mortgages paid healthy yields. The makers and packagers of those loans reaped hefty fees.

Kathleen Engel, a professor at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law who has written about predatory practices, said investigators probably will examine financial firms that profited by betting against the subprime mortgage market. That would suggest they 'knew something that other people didn't know and they weren't sharing it,' she said.

Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) , Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE:GS) and Bear Stearns Cos. (NYSE:BSC) all disclosed in regulatory filings Tuesday that they are cooperating with requests for information from unspecified regulatory and government agencies. Representatives of Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) , Bear Stearns, Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C) and Morgan Stanley declined to comment. Representatives of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (NYSE:LEH) and Goldman Sachs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

It's going to be difficult to prove that Wall Street firms or subprime lenders intended to commit fraud, Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, said in an e-mail message. But, he said, 'it shouldn't be too difficult to get these companies to pay some hefty amounts to settle the charges in order to avoid the stigma associated with a federal prosecution.'
Some say the subprime mortgage industry long showed signs of questionable accounting practices, both in how loans were made to borrowers, and in how the value of mortgage investments were calculated. While lenders typically sold mortgage-backed securities to investors, they often retained an interest in those investments.

'In many cases there was a very very high risk that (home loans) wouldn't pay off, but yet it wasn't reflected in their accounting,' said Donn Vickrey, co-founder of Scottsdale, Ariz., research firm Gradient Analytics.

Several state officials including those in New York, Connecticut and Illinois are pursuing their own investigations. Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin on Friday filed civil charges against Merrill Lynch (OOTC:MERIZ) & Co., alleging that the investment bank sold shaky mortgage securities to the city of Springfield, Mass. even though it knew the investments were risky.

'We are puzzled by this suit,' Merrill Lynch spokesman Mark Herr said in an e-mail. 'We have been cooperating with (Galvin's office) in its inquiry.'
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said Thursday that he is investigating the nation's No. 1 mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial Corp. (NYSE:CFC) , for possible unfair and deceptive business practices. Countrywide said it will cooperate with the Florida investigation.

Sorting through the mess is bound to be an extraordinary task for investigators. 'It certainly has the potential to become a massive investigation that could involve many high-profile institutions,' said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey and head of law firm McCarter & English LLP's white collar defense practice.


Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/newstex/AFX-0013-22722125.htm


Lillian B. (42)
Sunday November 2, 2008, 2:10 am
BofA Settles Countrywide Lawsuits with $8.4B Loan Modification Program
Carrie Bay | 10.06.08
Bank of America today announced the creation of a home retention program to modify troubled mortgages for nearly 400,000 Countrywide customers nationwide. The program, which represents one of the largest predatory lending settlements in the United States, will provide up to $8.4 billion in interest rate and principal reductions for Countrywide borrowers who financed their homes with subprime or pay option adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs).

Since Bank of America acquired Countrywide in July of this year, attorneys general from a number of states have filed lawsuits against Countrywide, alleging the bank used abusive and deceptive mortgage lending practices. Bank of America developed the Countrywide loan modification program with attorneys general in California, Illinois, and nine other states as part of a blanket settlement. In addition, the bank said states that have not yet become participants in this program will be given an opportunity to do so.

“We are confident that together with the Attorneys General we have developed a comprehensive program that provides more solutions than ever before to assist troubled borrowers and put them back on the path to sustained homeownership,” said Barbara Desoer, president, Bank of America Mortgage, Home Equity and Insurance Services.

The new program applies to Countrywide mortgages originated prior to December 31, 2007, and is slated to begin by December of this year. At that time, Bank of America said its mortgage servicing team will begin proactive outreach to eligible customers. Until then, foreclosure sales will not be initiated or advanced for borrowers likely to qualify for the program, the bank said in a press statement.

Bank of America said it expects the initiative “to achieve affordable and sustainable mortgage payments for borrowers” who are “seriously delinquent or are likely to become seriously delinquent as a result of loan features, such as rate resets or payment recasts.”

In addition to loan modifications that include principal and interest rate reductions, as well as refinancing through the Federal Housing Authority under the HOPE for Homeowners program, Bank of America said it would give $150 million to Countrywide servicing customers who have already fallen victim to foreclosure and another $70 million in financial assistance to those now facing imminent foreclosure.

Commenting on the program, Joe Price, Bank of America's CFO, said, “By taking projected foreclosure losses and instead directing those funds into these proactive foreclosure prevention efforts, we create a solution in the best interests of both our customers and the investors whose loans and securities we service. Of the eligible loans, about 12 percent are now held by Bank of America. The cost of restructuring these loans is within the range of losses we estimated when we acquired Countrywide.”

The Wall Street Journal reported the program will be shared by Bank of America and investors who own securities composed of mortgages originated by Countrywide or by third parties who sold those loans to Countrywide.

To learn more about Bank of America's loan modification initiative, click here.
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