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Report: Countrywide Won Influence With Discounts

Thursday, July 05, 2012
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WASHINGTON -- The former Countrywide Financial Corp., whose subprime loans
helped start the nation's foreclosure crisis, made hundreds of discount
loans to buy influence with members of Congress, congressional staff, top
government officials and executives of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae,
according to a House report.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press, said the discounts - from
January 1996 to June 2008 - were not only aimed at gaining influence for the
company but to help Fannie Mae. Countrywide's business depended largely on
Fannie, which at the time was trying to fend off more government regulation
but eventually had to come under government control.

Fannie Mae was responsible for purchasing a large volume of Countrywide's
subprime mortgages. Countrywide was taken over by Bank of America in January
2008, relieving the financial services industry and regulators from the
messy task of cleaning up the bankruptcy of a company that was servicing 9
million U.S. home loans worth $1.5 trillion at a time when the nation faced
a widening credit crisis, massive foreclosures and an economic downturn.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also named six current
and former members of Congress who received discount loans, but all of their
names had surfaced previously. Other previously mentioned names included
former top executive branch officials and three chief executives of Fannie

"Documents and testimony obtained by the committee show the VIP loan program
was a tool used by Countrywide to build goodwill with lawmakers and other
individuals positioned to benefit the company," the report said. "In the
years that led up to the 2007 housing market decline, Countrywide VIPs were
positioned to affect dozens of pieces of legislation that would have
reformed Fannie" and its rival Freddie Mac, the committee said.

Some of the discounts were ordered personally by former Countrywide chief
executive Angelo Mozilo. Those recipients were known as "Friends of Angelo."
"The Committee's investigation found Countrywide lobbyists and CEO Angelo
Mozilo used discounted loans as a tool to ingratiate itself with
policymakers in an effort to benefit the company's business interests," said
Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican who heads the committee. "This
preferential treatment -- that varied depending on the influence of the
borrower -- was not routinely offered to the public."

Issa said that while Mozilo mocked Fannie Mae and top executives for its
crony capitalism business model, he would nonetheless personally intercede
to ensure executives had access to discounted Countrywide loans. "These
relationships helped Mozilo increase his own company's profits while dumping
the risk of bad loans on taxpayers," the report said.

The Justice Department has not prosecuted any Countrywide official, but the
House committee's report said documents and testimony show that Mozilo and
company lobbyists "may have skirted the federal bribery statute by keeping
conversations about discounts and other forms of preferential treatment
internal. Rather than making quid pro quo arrangements with lawmakers and
staff, Countrywide used the VIP loan program to cast a wide net of

The Securities and Exchange Commission in October 2010 slapped Mozilo with a
$22.5 million penalty to settle charges that he and two other former
Countrywide executives misled investors as the subprime mortgage crisis
began. Mozilo also was banned from ever again serving as an officer or
director of a publicly traded company.

He also agreed to pay another $45 million to settle other violations for a
total settlement of $67.5 million that was to be returned to investors who
were harmed.

The report said that until the housing market became swamped with
foreclosures, "Countrywide's effort to build goodwill on Capitol Hill

The company became a trusted adviser in Congress and was consulted when the
House Financial Services Committee and Senate Banking Committee considered
reform of Fannie and Freddie and unfair lending practices.

"If Countrywide's lobbyists, and Mozilo himself, were more strictly
prohibited from arranging preferential treatment for members of Congress and
congressional staff, it is possible that efforts to reform (Fannie and
Freddie) would have been met with less resistance," the report said.

The report said Fannie Mae assigned as many as 70 lobbyists to the Financial
Services Committee while it considered legislation to overhaul the company
from 2000 to 2005. Four reform bills were introduced in the House during the
period, and none made it out of the committee.

Hit with staggering losses, Fannie and Freddie came under government control
in September 2008. As of Dec. 31, 2011, the Treasury Department had
committed more than $183 billion to support the two companies - and there's
no end in sight.

Among those who received loan discounts from Countrywide, the report said,
Former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Mary Jane Collipriest, who was communications director for former Sen.
Robert Bennett, R-Utah, then a member of the Banking Committee. The report
said Dodd referred Collipriest to Countrywide's VIP unit. Dodd, when
commenting on his own loans, has said he was unaware of the discount
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services
Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., former chairman of the Oversight Committee.
Towns issued the first subpoena to Bank of America for Countrywide
documents, and current Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., subpoenaed more
documents. The committee said that in responding to the Towns subpoena, Bank
of America left out documents related to Towns' loan.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif.
Top staff members of the House Financial Services Committee.
A staff member of Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, a member of the Financial
Services Committee.
Former Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Calif.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretaries Alphonso Jackson and Henry
Cisneros; and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. The
VIP unit processed Cisneros' loan after he joined Fannie's board of
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, was an exception. He told the VIP unit not to
give him a discount, and he did not receive one.
Former Fannie Mae heads James Johnson, Daniel Mudd and Franklin Raines.
Countrywide took a loss on Mudd's loan. Fannie employees were the most
frequent recipients of VIP loans. Johnson received a discount after Mozilo
waived problems with his credit rating.

The report said Mozilo "ordered the loan approved, and gave Johnson a break.
He instructed the VIP unit: `Charge him 1/2 under prime. Don't worry about
(the credit score). He is constantly on the road and therefore pays his
bills on an irregular basis but he ultimately pays them."'

Johnson in 2008 resigned as a leader of then-candidate Barack Obama's vice
presidential search committee after The Wall Street Journal reported he had
received $7 million in Countrywide discounted loans.

The report said those who received the discounts knew the loans were handled
by a special VIP unit.

"The documents produced by the bank show that VIP borrowers received
paperwork from Countrywide that clearly identified the VIP unit as the point
of contact," the committee said.

The standard discount was 0.5 waived points. Countrywide also waived junk
fees that usually ranged from $350 to $400.