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$3 billion fraud sparked bank collapse, caused loss of thousands of jobs
A jury on Tuesday convicted the majority owner of what had been one of the nation’s largest mortgage companies on all 14 counts in a $3 billion fraud trial that officials have said is one of the most significant prosecutions to arise from the nation’s financial crisis.
Prosecutors said Lee Farkas led a fraud scheme of staggering proportions as chairman of Florida-based Taylor Bean & Whitaker. The fraud not only caused the company’s 2009 collapse and the loss of jobs for its 2,000 workers, but also contributed to the collapse of Alabama-based Colonial Bank, the sixth-largest bank failure in U.S. history.
The jury returned its verdict late Tuesday after more than a day of deliberations.
Colonial and two other major banks — Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas — were cheated out of nearly $3 billion, prosecutors estimated. Farkas and his cohorts — six of whom entered guilty pleas to related charges and testified against him at the two-week trial in U.S. District Court — also tried to fraudulently obtain more than $500 million in taxpayer-funded relief from the government’s bank bailout program, the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP).
While TARP at one point gave conditional approval to a payment of roughly $550 million, ultimately neither Taylor Bean nor Colonial received any TARP money, and investigators from that office, along with the FBI and other agencies, helped uncover the fraud.
Farkas testified in his own defense at the trial and claimed he did nothing wrong. He claimed he was unfamiliar with details or knowledge of many aspects of the various fraud schemes.
In closing arguments, Farkas‘ lawyer Bruce Rogow, said the six executives at Colonial and Taylor Bean who struck plea deals skewed their testimony to bolster the government’s case in the hope of receiving lighter prison sentences for their cooperation. Mr. Rogow said Farkas and everyone else at Taylor Bean was working honestly and ethically to get control of its finances and perhaps could have done the job if the government hadn’t essentially shut the company down when it raided company headquarters in 2009.
But prosecutors said the evidence against Farkas was overwhelming. They said the fraud began in 2002, when Taylor Bean overdrew its main account with Colonial by several million dollars. Midlevel executives at Colonial agreed to transfer money into Taylor Bean’s accounts at the end of each day to avoid generating overdraft notices, a process known as “sweeping.”
As the hole grew to well over $100 million, Taylor Bean and a handful of Colonial executives concocted a scheme in which Taylor Bean sold hundreds of millions in worthless mortgages to Colonial — mortgages that had already been sold to other investors. More than $1 billion in such phony mortgages were eventually sold to Colonial, which listed them on its books and on its quarterly reports as legitimate assets, prosecutors alleged.
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