bloomberg.com / By Jonathan Weil / Oct 26, 2012 2:53 PM ET
Prosecutors are suing under a statute called the False Claims Act, which imposes liability on those who defraud the federal government. Curiously, the suit is seeking damages for acts that Countrywide Financial Corp. committed before Fannie and Freddie were seized by the government — back when U.S. officials were adamant that Fannie and Freddie didn’t have any implicit government guarantee. (Bank of America bought Countrywide in July 2008.)
Perhaps the Justice Department has a sound case on the merits anyway; the lawsuit alleges violations of a different federal law as well. Still, I can’t help but wonder if this is how the False Claims Act was intended to be used.
The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that from 2007 through 2009 –- pay close attention to those years — Countrywide implemented a new mortgage-origination process it called the “Hustle.” The complaint says the program generated thousands of fraudulent loans that were sold to Fannie and Freddie and later defaulted, causing the companies more than $1 billion in losses.
Fannie and Freddie were placed into government conservatorship in September 2008. Until then, the government’s position was that Fannie and Freddie were for-profit, private-sector, shareholder-owned corporations -– and most definitely not part of the government.