US seeks $1,077 million from Bank of America after fraud verdict

US seeks $1,077 million from Bank of America after fraud verdict

NEW YORK - The US government urged that Bank of America Corp pay US$863.6 million (S$1,077m) in damages after a federal jury found it liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit.

In a filing late Friday in the US District Court in Manhattan, the government also asked for penalties against Rebecca Mairone, a former midlevel executive at the bank's Countrywide unit who the jury also found liable, "commensurate with her ability to pay."

The government said the penalties were necessary to punish the bank and Mairone "and to send a clear and unambiguous message that mortgage fraud for profit will not be tolerated."

Bank of America and Mairone were each found liable for defrauding government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the sale of shoddy loans purchased from Countrywide in 2007 and 2008.

The case centred on a mortgage lending process at Countrywide, which Bank of America bought in July 2008, known as the "High Speed Swim Lane," or alternatively "HSSL" or "Hustle."

The government said Countrywide's programme emphasised and rewarded employees for the quantity rather than the quality of loans produced, and eliminated checkpoints designed to ensure that loans were sound.

The penalties the government requested are slightly higher than the amount lawyers in the office of Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara had previously indicated they would seek, $848.2 million. The amount is based on the gross loss Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac incurred on the HSSL loans, the government said.

Bank of America, the second-largest US bank, has previously said it is evaluating its options for appeal. It is scheduled to respond to the government's penalty request by November 20.

"We believe the filing overstates the volume of loans and the appropriate measure of damages arising from one narrow Countrywide programme that lasted several months and ended before Bank of America acquired the company," Lawrence Grayson, a spokesman for the bank, said Saturday.

In its filing, the government did not said it was holding off on recommending an amount to penalize Mairone until after it analysed a financial disclosure form she provided Friday. The government also raised the question of whether Bank of America may indemnify her for the penalty.

Mairone joined JPMorgan Chase & Co after leaving the bank. She has denied wrongdoing.

"We intend, in our filing, to argue against the imposition of any penalty," Marc Mukasey, Mairone's lawyer, said in an email Saturday.

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