By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: November 27, 2017
Since its financial meltdown in 2008 and unprecedented bailout by the U.S. taxpayer, Citigroup (parent of Citibank) has been repeatedly charged by its Federal regulators with odious crimes against its pooled mortgage investors, credit card and banking customers, student loan borrowers, and for its foreclosure frauds. It has paid billions of dollars in fines for its past misdeeds while new charges pile up. In 2015, it became an admitted felon for participating in rigging foreign exchange markets. In short, Citigroup is a lawbreaking recidivist. If it were a mere human, it would be serving a long prison term. Instead, its fines for charges of egregious acts are getting smaller, not larger.
Last Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which typically has a good track record of holding the big Wall Street banks accountable for their misdeeds, imposed an unusually feeble fine against Citibank for a litany of abuses against student loan borrowers. The CFPB ordered Citi to pay $3.75 million in restitution and to pay a $2.75 million fine. When combined with the fact that the CFPB did not make Citibank admit to the charges, this amounts to a slap on the wrist to a serial lawbreaker. (See Citigroup/Citibank’s history of misconduct below.)
Adding further insult to the American public, the Board of Directors of Citigroup has kept the same CEO in place for more than five years as these serial abuses of the public trust piled up. Michael Corbat has been CEO of Citigroup since October 2012.
The CFPB’s latest action against Citibank, where it was charged with abusing vulnerable and unsuspecting college students, brought to mind a Harper’s article by Andrew Cockburn in April 2015. Cockburn had traced the history of how Sandy Weill had parlayed Commercial Credit into the too-big-to-fail Citigroup, which continues to own the commercial bank, Citibank. Cockburn wrote:
“Weill had recently been eased out from Shearson Lehman/American Express [in 1985], a financial conglomerate he had helped to build. Eager to get back in the game, he bought a Baltimore firm called Commercial Credit. In the view of Weill and his protégé, Jamie Dimon [now CEO at JPMorgan Chase], their new acquisition was in the beneficent business of supplying ‘consumer finance’ to ‘Main Street America.’ Their office receptionist, Alison Falls, thought otherwise. Overhearing their conversation at work one day, she called out, ‘Hey, guys, this is the loan-sharking business. Consumer finance is just a nice way to describe it.’
“Falls had it right. Commercial Credit made loans to poor people at predatory interest rates. Strapped to pay off their loans, borrowers were encouraged to refinance, with added fees each time. Gail Kubiniec, who was then an assistant sales manager at the company’s branch office in Tonawanda, New York, remembers that the basic aim was to lend money to ‘people uneducated about credit. You could take a five-hundred-dollar loan and pack it with extra items like life insurance—that was very lucrative. Then you could roll it over with more extra items, then reroll the new loan, and the borrower would go on paying and paying and paying.’ ”
This is what the CFPB charged Weill’s progeny, Citibank, with last Tuesday:
“Citibank misled borrowers into believing that they were not eligible for a valuable tax deduction on interest paid on certain student loans. The company also incorrectly charged late fees and added interest to the student loan balances of borrowers who were still in school and eligible to defer their loan payments. Citibank also misled consumers about how much they had to pay in their monthly bills and failed to disclose required information after denying borrowers’ requests to release loan cosigners.”
When will the U.S. Justice Department begin to take serial lawbreakers on Wall Street as seriously as it takes petty criminals on Main Street?
The following is just a sampling of charges brought against Citigroup and its affiliates since December 2008:
December 11, 2008: SEC forces Citigroup and UBS to buy back $30 billion in auction rate securities that were improperly sold to investors through misleading information.
July 29, 2010: SEC settles with Citigroup for $75 million over its misleading statements to investors that it had reduced its exposure to subprime mortgages to $13 billion when in fact the exposure was over $50 billion.
October 19, 2011: SEC agrees to settle with Citigroup for $285 million over claims it misled investors in a $1 billion financial product. Citigroup had selected approximately half the assets and was betting they would decline in value.
February 9, 2012: Citigroup agrees to pay $2.2 billion as its portion of the nationwide settlement of bank foreclosure fraud.
August 29, 2012: Citigroup agrees to settle a class action lawsuit for $590 million over claims it withheld from shareholders’ knowledge that it had far greater exposure to subprime debt than it was reporting.
July 1, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Fannie Mae $968 million for selling it toxic mortgage loans.
September 25, 2013: Citigroup agrees to pay Freddie Mac $395 million to settle claims it sold it toxic mortgages.
December 4, 2013: Citigroup admits to participating in the Yen Libor financial derivatives cartel to the European Commission and accepts a fine of $95 million.
July 14, 2014: The U.S. Department of Justice announces a $7 billion settlement with Citigroup for selling toxic mortgages to investors. Attorney General Eric Holder called the bank’s conduct “egregious,” adding, “As a result of their assurances that toxic financial products were sound, Citigroup was able to expand its market share and increase profits.”
November 2014: Citigroup pays more than $1 billion to settle civil allegations with regulators that it manipulated foreign currency markets. Other global banks settled at the same time.
May 20, 2015: Citicorp, a unit of Citigroup becomes an admitted felon by pleading guilty to a felony charge in the matter of rigging foreign currency trading, paying a fine of $925 million to the Justice Department and $342 million to the Federal Reserve for a total of $1.267 billion. The prior November it paid U.S. and U.K. regulators an additional $1.02 billion.
May 25, 2016: Citigroup agrees to pay $425 million to resolve claims brought by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that it had rigged interest-rate benchmarks, including ISDAfix, from 2007 to 2012.
July 12, 2016: The Securities and Exchange Commission fined Citigroup Global Markets Inc. $7 million for failure to provide accurate trading records over a period of 15 years. According to the SEC: “CGMI failed to produce records for 26,810 securities transactions comprising over 291 million shares of stock and options in response to 2,382 EBS requests made by Commission staff, between May 1999 and April 2014, due to an error in the computer code for CGMI’s EBS response software. Despite discovering the error in late April 2014, CGMI did not report the issue to Commission staff or take steps to produce the omitted data until nine months later on January 27, 2015. CGMI’s failure to discover the coding error and to produce the missing data for many years potentially impacted numerous Commission investigations.”