Since the mortgage meltdown, the agency has opted to strike deals with banks rather than sue — and promised not to tell.
Three years ago, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. collected $54 million from Deutsche Bank in a settlement over unsound loans that contributed to a spectacular California bank failure.
The deal might have made big headlines, given that the bad loans contributed to the largest payout in FDIC history, $13 billion. But the government cut a deal with the bank’s lawyers to keep it quiet: a “no press release" clause that required the FDIC never to mention the deal “except in response to a specific inquiry."
The FDIC has handled scores of settlements the same way since the mortgage meltdown, a major policy shift from previous crises, when the FDIC trumpeted punitive actions against banks as a deterrent to others.
Since 2007, 471 U.S. banks have failed, nearly depleting the FDIC deposit-insurance fund with $92.5 billion in losses. Rather than sue, the agency has typically preferred to settle for a fraction of the losses while helping the banks avoid bad press.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Los Angeles Times obtained more than 1,600 pages of FDIC settlements, made from 2007 through this year with former bank insiders and others accused of wrongdoing. The agreements constitute a catalog of fraud and negligence: reckless loans to homeowners and builders; falsified documents; inflated appraisals; lender refusals to buy back bad loans.
Defendants benefit by settling because they can avoid admitting guilt and limit the damages they might face in court. The FDIC benefits by collecting money without the hassle and expense of litigation. The no-press-release arrangements help close those deals.
FDIC spokesman David Barr said the agency always tries to settle failed-bank cases before filing lawsuits and that it announces settlements only when damage payments are large and media interest intense. He declined to discuss the legal strategy behind the Deutsche Bank deal and other no-press-release agreements.