Goldman settlement sends shiver through banking world

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Goldman Sachs & Company’s agreement to pay up to $60 million to settle a Massachusetts investigation of subprime lending sends a sobering message to banks that have backed subprime lenders.

The amount is a pittance for a company that earned a $1.8 billion profit in the first three months of the year. But the settlement, announced Monday, breaks new ground by reaching past the originators of subprime loans to the underwriters. Opponents of predatory lending have long advocated that the financial backers of predatory lenders be held accountable for abuses by those lenders.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said at a press conference that “many of these loans were unfair” and were “destined to fail at the inception.”

The settlement provides $10 million to the state of Massachusetts and $50 million in mortgage relief to homeowners. The state was investigating whether Goldman and others had done enough to ensure the loans they were buying for securitization were sound. Investigators also looked into whether the banks were breaking state lending laws by financing “unfair” loans.

Coakley’s office did not release the names of the lenders and calls from the Center seeking that information were not returned.

Massachusetts has investigated two subprime originators in the past that are in the Center’s top 25 — Option One Mortgage Corp.,(No. 6), owned by H&R Block Inc., and Fremont Investment & Loan (No. 7). Both were California lenders that are now closed.

Option One wrote at least $64.7 billion in subprime loans from 2005 through 2007, according to the Center’s survey. Last November, a Massachusetts judge ordered the company to halt foreclosures on thousands of homes because the company had a “reckless disregard” for the risk of foreclosure.

Fremont Investment & Loan wrote at least $61.7 billion in subprime loans during the 2005-2007 time period. In July 2007, Fremont agreed to postpone foreclosure on a number of Massachusetts homeowners not long after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. ordered it to stop making subprime loans.

SEC filings show Fremont maintained a line of credit of at least $500 million with Goldman Sachs. Goldman also packaged securities using Option One loans.

Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally told reporters Monday that “Goldman Sachs is pleased to have resolved this matter.”

The bank has supplied funding to a number of other subprime lenders, according to the Center’s research, including New Century Financial Corp. (No. 3); First Franklin Corp. (No. 4); Long Beach Mortgage Corp. (No. 5) and Accredited Home Lenders (No. 13).

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