This week we learned SunTrust had to pay around a billion dollars to settle with the government over the mortgage fraud they committed against the GSE’s. News of this investigation detailing how they committed the fraud was first reported by me at finance trade publication Growth Capitalist in November 2012. This means SunTrust knew for over a year they would have to pay a large fine for these actions but instead they kept telling shareholders their legacy mortgage problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were behind them.
Original news report Nov 2012 for Growth Capitalist:
November 5, 2012 by Teri Buhl
SunTrust under SEC Investigation
Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks (STI) is under investigation by regulators for alleged mortgage fraud against Fannie Mae. Whistleblowers who worked in SunTrust’s residential mortgage underwriting group filed a whistleblower suit with the Securities and Exchange Commission this spring. After the Washington, D.C. office of the SEC received the complaint a director of the SEC’s Atlanta office and a forensic accountant were assigned to begin an immediate investigation in the bank. Three people involved in the case told Growth Capital Investor interviews with SunTrust employees who worked in the bank’s mortgage unit started in May, along with an inspection of the methods SunTrust used to qualify prime loans sold to Fannie Mae.
SunTrust saw its stock price fall off a cliff in the financial crisis, and subsequently participated in the federal TARP program aimed at shoring up distressed banks. Investors who held the stock valued at $73 a share in October 2007 watched their investment wiped out when it fell to $7 by February 2009. Distressed investors who bought the stock in the high-teens at the end of 2011 have now witnessed a near 50% rise in the stock as the bank paid off its TARP funds and increased mortgage lending. Analysts started to boast buy ratings on the stock this year and Jefferies currently has a $32 price target on SunTrust.
But as bank executives have worked to clean up the troubled balance sheet created during its go-go lending years, 2005 to early 2008, the prior actions of its mortgage team could still place a dent in future profitability.
SunTrust financials show since 2005 they sold $233 billion of loans, with the bulk being bought by the GSEs (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). SunTrust built a special relationship with Fannie Mae who allowed them to have a custom underwriting system that connected to Fannie’s automated mortgage buying program. The Desktop Underwriter program, or DU, was designed to buy prime residential loans from banks like SunTrust who were heavy volume mortgage originators. The Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General reported in an audit of Fannie’s lending standards that more 1,500 banks originated loans through the DU program in 2010, comprising 71% of all loans bought by the GSE. All SunTrust had to do was meet the right mix of income and personal asset qualifiers, enter them into Fannie’s DU system, and the loan was swiftly bought off the bank’s books, freeing up reserves for new loans. Fannie would then book these loans as ‘lender selected’ prime loans, even though there was little human inspection of the documents that qualified the borrower.
The SunTrust whistleblower complaint says bank executives then taught underwriters how to ‘trip the DU system’ to make it accept loans that were actually less than prime quality. All SunTrust had to do was make sure they were scored right and their custom DU Fannie Mae program even allowed them to re-enter borrower data multiple times until they got the right score. Internal documents from SunTrust management show how to avoid red flags or “beat the Fannie Mae DU system.” One whistleblower explains how they re-entered a borrower’s income ten times until they got the right acceptance score. Snapshots of these repeated DU data runs were turned over to the SEC in the whistleblower complaint along with internal memos that encourage underwriters to “get loans” into the DU systems.
Read more from Teri Buhl. Click here.