AMY GOODMAN: Today, in her first televised interview, Alayne Fleischmann joins us here on Democracy Now!, along with Matt Taibbi, who has closely covered the financial crisis for years. His latest book, Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, has just come out in paperback.
And we welcome you both to Democracy Now! for the hour.
MATT TAIBBI: Thanks for having us on.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Alayne Fleischmann, start at the beginning. Why did you decide to come forward? And how did you end up at Chase?
ALAYNE FLEISCHMANN: Sure. For a long time, I was expecting it to come out. I’ve been talking to the government for two-and-a-half years now. And first it went through the SEC. Then it went through the Civil Division of the DOJ. And at some stage after watching all of these major banks have deals that actually the facts get wiped away, I started to feel that if I don’t come forward, there’s a real chance of that happening here, too.
In terms of JPMorgan Chase, I started there in March 2006 at sort of the height of the boom. When I started, everything seemed normal. I didn’t really realize some of the things that were happening in the background. And then things started to change in about May, a couple months after I had been there.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what—when you went to work there, what specifically was your job? And if you could walk us through how you began to realize the huge problem that the bank was a part of?
ALAYNE FLEISCHMANN: Sure. I started as what they call a deal manager. Basically, we coordinate between all these different groups when we’re bringing in these loans, that are then going to be sold to investors. I first noticed that there was a problem when they brought in a new person to do our diligence, which is just the review of the loans themselves to make sure they’re of good quality. As soon as he came in, we suddenly—this wall sort of came down between myself and the group that was doing this review, and you couldn’t get information that you would normally get. On top of that, there was immediately a sort of a no-email policy. He wouldn’t send emails, and we weren’t allowed to send him emails. He would actually come out and yell at you if you sent him an email.
AMY GOODMAN: What was the reason?
ALAYNE FLEISCHMANN: It was never given, which was extremely worrisome, because normally the reason why you have a compliance and diligence department is to actually have written policies about what you’re doing, to be able to explain to people how you’re making your decisions. So it’s exactly the opposite of what you would normally expect.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you say to review the quality of the loans, if you could—
ALAYNE FLEISCHMANN: Sure, yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —for people who are not aware—you were, in essence, certifying that these individual loans could be packaged into a group of securities to then be sold to investors in a huge package, right? But you had to go through every individual loan? Was that—
ALAYNE FLEISCHMANN: Yeah, that’s pretty much what happens. It’s really that you’re taking the actual loan files, that was done between the lender and the borrower, and looking at them to make sure everything looks right. Does this person have enough money to pay off their loan? Do they have the sort of history where we think that they’re going to pay this loan? And if we find that they don’t, then we’re actually not supposed to purchase the loans, and certainly shouldn’t be selling them to other investors without at least telling them there’s something wrong with them.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what was the smoking gun for you?
ALAYNE FLEISCHMANN: Everything about—what really started happening—in particular, it became apparent in October—was that sometimes we had deals coming in where even though I wasn’t even the person looking at the loans, you could tell from where I was that something was wrong with them. The GreenPoint deal, which is what Matt talks about in his article, even when the loans came in, they were very, very old, which usually you try to actually pull these loans and sell them within two to three months—these loans were going back to close to the beginning of the year. If you work in the industry, you know immediately what that means, is either they couldn’t sell them, because the buyers were telling them they weren’t any good, or, even worse, they’d been sold and then had missed a bunch of payments, so they had actually been sold back to the originator. Any of those loans you wouldn’t normally sell to investors as regular loans.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Matt, you’ve referred in your article to these loans as basically selling old, beat-up used cars—
MATT TAIBBI: Right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —as if they were new. Could you explain that?
MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, that’s exactly what Alayne is talking about. Essentially, what the bank was doing was they—you know, there are companies out there, these mortgage lenders, like a company that might be familiar to people is, like, Countrywide—in this case, it was an originator called GreenPoint—they would go out into neighborhoods, and during this boom period, they were giving mortgages to anybody and everybody with a pulse, essentially. They were especially low-income neighborhoods. They were offering these very advantageous loans to people, whether they could afford the houses or not. They were buying huge masses of these loans. And then they were—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: They were called like “liar’s loans,” or stated income where no one even checked whether the person had the income to actually pay it off.
MATT TAIBBI: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. That was the verbiage, “liar’s loans.” The FBI warned that there was going to be an epidemic of these liar’s loans way back in 2004. The industry ignored these warnings. The government ignored these warnings. And there was this huge influx of these stated income loans, where people could just say that they made an enormous amount of money, and nobody would check.
So the bank buys all these loans, and then what they were doing is essentially throwing them into big pools, making hamburger out of them, and then selling that hamburger to pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds, all kinds of investors. Typically ordinary people were the people on the other end buying this stuff. They were investing in these securities, and often they didn’t even know it.
What Alayne was involved with was making sure that these loans were of good quality, so that pension funds, when they bought these securities, weren’t buying something that was going to blow up on them a year later. And what she found was that they were buying loans that were of very dubious quality, that were extremely risky, and that should not have been made into that hamburger.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, we want to find out what happened when you went to your colleagues, your superiors, and then went outside the company to the U.S. government, right on up to Eric Holder and the Obama administration. Today, a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, Alayne Fleischmann is with us, the JPMorgan Chase whistleblower, speaking for the first time about her experience as deal manager at JPMorgan, where she says she witnessed “massive criminal securities fraud” in the bank’s mortgage operations during the period leading up to the financial crisis. And Matt Taibbi is with us, award-winning journalist, now back with Rolling Stone magazine, his latest piece headlined “The $9 Billion Witness.” Stay with us.
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