Most people don’t talk about it anymore, but the current economic crisis is rooted in the corruption of the mortgage market, particularly in instruments known as “sub-prime loans” and in the Democrats stonewalling of Republican efforts to force reform on the lending giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The whole business stinks like fish left out too long in the hot sun, not that anything has really been done about it.
Hopefully that may change now that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a new report following the committee’s three year investigation into the activities of Countrywide Financial Corporation—which was acquired by Bank of America in 2008. It’s a frightening account, documenting the company’s use of what the committee called “discounted mortgages to influential Washington policy figures” to win friends and influence people.
“Countrywide used its VIP Program to aid its lobbying efforts as well as to strengthen its relationship with taxpayer backed Fannie Mae. Countrywide partnered with Fannie Mae in a strategic business alliance that also included joint lobbying efforts,” said a committee release.
According to committee chair Darrell Issa, the investigation determined that “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.”
“A former lobbyist for Countrywide testified that Members of Congress, staff, and other government officials were directed to the company’s VIP program as part of an effort to create a favorable impression of the company on Capitol Hill. This preferential treatment—that varied depending on the influence of the borrower—was not routinely offered to the public,” Issa said in a release.
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As previously reported, using a law originally enacted to combat the mafia, a Marina Del Rey-based legal scholar recently took the rare step of suing “Bet Tzedek,” a Los Angeles-based Jewish non-profit entity, under the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law (“RICO”).
Also named as part of the alleged racketeering enterprise were banker Alan Rothenberg, David Pasternak, Sandor Samuels, Ronald George, and his son Eric George (who serves as a member of Bet Tzedek’s Board of Directors).
RICO is a federal law that authorizes a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. RICO focuses specifically on racketeering, and it allows for the leaders of a syndicate to be held civilly liable for the crimes that they ordered others to commit or which they assisted in committing.
The lawsuit alleges that various defendants misused Bet Tzedek as vehicle for the purpose of bribery, embezzlement, money laundering and tax-evasion with the intended outcome of siphoning the money into off-shore accounts. According to sources, the various accounts are located in Switzerland and at the Vatican.
Specifically, and in connection with some of Bet Tzedek’s alleged racketeering activities, the suit maintains that Sandor Samuels — CEO and President of Bet Tzedek and former Chief Trial Counsel at embattled Countywide Financial Services — was appointed President and CEO of Bet Tzedek largely due to his working knowledge of how to operate an enterprise which engages in myriad financial crimes.
The suit also asserts that other individuals engaged in racketeering activities, including David Pasternak — a Los-Angeles based “receiver,” as well as an officer of both Bet Tzedek and the Chancery Club — who allegedly used Bet Tzedek as forum to meet, collude, and otherwise bribe various judges and lawyers for the purpose of further appointing Pasternak as “receiver.”
The complaint also contains allegations that Ronald George — former Chief Justice of the State of California — unlawfully transferred funds from entities that were under his control (such as the California Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”) intended for the CCMS computer system) into various accounts that were specifically maintained in Alan Rothenberg’s bank — 1st Century — a bank which Eric George owns in part. Said funds, as the suit alleges, were later embezzled.
As part of maintaining the scheme, the suit alleges, AOC employees Ronald Overholt and William Vickery were bestowed with various gifts, trips, kickbacks, bribes, excessive salaries, and the like. Similarly, and also as part of guarding the scheme, the suit alleges that defendants, at times, resorted to utilizing the services of Tom Layton — a former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff/Senior State Bar of California investigator — to “illegally gather detrimental dirt” on various individuals who would oppose and/or object to the existence of said arrangements.
According to sources, Layton is part of an ongoing “ambulance chasing” scheme that the Girardi Syndicate operates in San Bernardino County vis-a-vis a satellite office located in San Bernardino and managed by Thomas Girardi’s son-in-law, David Lira.
Additionally, and per the sources, Layton has been previously utilized by the Girardi Syndicate to “assist” Sharon Major Lewis in selecting the names of nominees to be appointed as judges by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and to garner the support of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in endorsing judicial candidate the Girardi Syndicate deemed worthy of such an endorsement.
The suit also alleges that defendant Holly Fujie — an officer of both Bet Tzedek and the Chancery Club — engaged in various acts of misconduct while assisting Ronald and Eric George to transfer funds from both the California Bar Foundation (where she serves as vice-president) and the State Bar of California (where she served as a member of a committee responsible for distribution of funds) to Bet Tzedek totaling hundreds of thousand of dollars.
Bet Tzedek is based in Los Angeles, California. It was founded in 1974, and is an affiliated agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Bet Tzedek is the exclusive provider of free legal services to low-income seniors through contracts with the City and County of Los Angeles.