Civil rights complaint filed over subprime credit ratings

[JURIST] The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) [advocacy website] has filed [complaint, PDF; press release] a federal civil rights complaint with the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity (FHEO) [official websites] claiming that two leading credit rating agencies, Moody's Investor Services and Fitch Inc. [corporate websites], caused significant damage to African-American and Latino communities during the current foreclosure crisis. The complaint alleges the two agencies facilitated, encouraged, and profited from discriminatory lending by making public misrepresentations about the soundness and reliability of subprime securities’ ratings. John Taylor, president and CEO of NCRC, said in a statement:

The complaint alleges that Moody’s and Fitch issued false and inflated ratings for securities backed by problematic high-cost loans. Reckless and irresponsible lending has restricted housing opportunity for countless African-American and Latino families who have already lost their home or are now in jeopardy of foreclosure... The rating agencies put their highest rating on hundreds of billions of dollars of securities backed by subprime mortgages. The Emperor had no clothes, and yet the rating agencies continued to say he was dressed in his Sunday’s finest.
The NCRC seeks a declaratory judgment, permanent injunctive relief, and damages against the two agencies for the "direct disproportionate adverse injury" to African American and Latino communities across the country. The NCRC also said it will consider federal litigation if HUD does not address the complaint. The Washington Post has more.

In September, the Federal Bureau of Investigation [official website] was reported to be investigating Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG [corporate websites] along with 22 other financial institutions for possible mortgage fraud [FBI backgrounder]. In June, the FBI announced that more than 400 people had been indicted [press release; JURIST report] in connection to what has been termed the US "sub-prime mortgage collapse." The vast majority of the indictments involved fraud related to individual mortgages, with the FBI focusing on lending fraud, foreclosure rescue scams and mortgage-related bankruptcy schemes, which account for more than $1 billion in losses.

 

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