The Justice Department on Monday announced a roughly $5 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs over the sale of mortgage-backed securities leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, with the government accusing the bank of misleading investors about the quality of its loans. The $5.06 billion deal resolves state and federal probes into the sale of shoddy mortgages in the run-up to the housing bubble and subsequent economic meltdown. It requires the bank to pay a $2.39 billion civil penalty and an additional $1.8 billion in relief to underwater homeowners and distressed borrowers, along with $875 million in other claims.
"This resolution holds Goldman Sachs accountable for its serious misconduct in falsely assuring investors that securities it sold were backed by sound mortgages, when it knew that they were full of mortgages that were likely to fail," Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery said in a statement.
The agreement, smaller than deals reached with several of Goldman's Wall Street counterparts, is the latest in a series of multi-billion-dollar civil settlements arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure or found themselves jobless. Other banks that settled in the last two years include Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The banks collectively came under scrutiny for the sale of securities that, while promoted as relatively safe, contained residential mortgages from borrowers who were unlikely to be able to repay their loans. The poor quality of the loans led to huge losses for investors and a slew of foreclosures, kicking off the recession that began in late 2007 as the housing market collapsed and investors suffered billions in losses.
The sums paid by some of the largest U.S. banks, intended to offer financial relief to some homeowners, aren't nearly enough to reverse the damage of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And the deal, which includes no criminal sanctions or penalties, is likely to stir additional criticism about the department's inability to hold bank executives personally responsible.
"The worst thing about all of this is, once again, not one single individual is being held accountable," said Dennis Kelleher, CEO of Better Markets, a consumer advocacy group. "Banks don't commit crimes-bankers do. And until bankers are punished individually and significantly, the crime wave on Wall Street is going to continue."
Another advocacy group, Public Citizen, said there's "not even the illusion of accountability" in the settlement. Mindful of those concerns, Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates issued department-wide guidance last year aimed at encouraging more criminal prosecutions of individuals for corporate wrongdoing. It's unclear how many additional prosecutions will be brought as a result of the guidelines, which among other things direct civil and criminal lawyers to work together on investigations from the outset and to focus on individuals early on as potential targets.
Though Goldman had disclosed the settlement in January, federal officials laid out additional allegations Monday in a statement of facts that accused the bank of making serious misrepresentations about the quality of mortgage-backed securities it sold. The bank admitted that it did not share with investors troubling information that it had received about the business practices of some loan originators, and that it falsely told investors that the loans had been checked to ensure that they met quality standards. In reality, Goldman knew that significant percentages of the loans failed those standards, leaving investors likely to lose money on defaults, the Justice Department said.