NEW YORK, N.Y. – A former Fannie Mae top executive didn’t mislead investors about the mortgage giant’s exposure to subprime mortgages just before the housing bubble burst and should not face a civil trial in Manhattan, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Attorney John Keker asked U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty to dismiss civil fraud charges brought four years ago against ex-Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd. Crotty did not immediately rule.
Keker said the Securities and Exchange Commission was “trying to find fraud by hindsight” when it made its accusations against Mudd. He said no evidence supported charges that Mudd understated the level of high-risk subprime mortgages that Fannie Mae held.
“The SEC has nothing except lawyer comment and expert hand waving on its side,” Keker said. “This is the time for hard evidence and there is none.”
Mudd, 57, led Fannie Mae in 2007, when home prices began to collapse. The SEC accused Mudd of misleading Congress and investors in reports, speeches and testimony.
The charges came after federal authorities faced widespread criticism for not holding top executives accountable for the recklessness that preceded the 2008 crisis. Fannie Mae and fellow mortgage giant Freddie Mac were not charged after the government took them over in 2008 as they verged on collapse.
Fannie told investors in 2007 that it had roughly $4.8 billion worth of subprime loans on its books, or just 0.2 per cent of its portfolio. That same year, Mudd told two congressional panels that Fannie’s subprime loans didn’t exceed 2.5 per cent of its business.
The SEC said Fannie actually had about $43 billion worth of products targeted to borrowers with weak credit, or 11 per cent of its holdings.
SEC attorney Richard Hong said the agency would prove its case through Mudd’s public statements, including congressional testimony and media interviews.
“There is enough here, more than enough,” Hong said after Crotty asked him to be specific about what evidence he would introduce to a jury.
The judge seemed unimpressed, noting that some Fannie Mae public filings that the SEC maintained conflicted with Mudd’s public statements were available to average investors.
“Anything else?” Crotty asked.
Hong said the SEC would show a jury that Mudd was a hands-on executive who was aware that risky mortgages made up well over 2 per cent of Fannie Mae’s business.
“The fraud is that Mr. Mudd knew exactly what their products were. He knew these were risky products,” Hong said.
Keker called Hong’s argument absurd.
“It is impossible to believe that any investor, analyst, was confused by statements he made a week before he was fired,” Keker said.