This is a three part series that will analyze the legislation that sets the foundation for the bailout and provides the means for private litigants to come forward and provide an in-depth assessment setting forth the statutory provisions, processes and procedures that whistleblowers must comply with when disclosing information regarding the misuse of TARP and other stimulus funds. The second part analyzes the legislation setting up the TARP programs, the authority given to the Treasury, some of the specific requirements of imposed on TARP recipients, and finally addresses some of the most common types of TARP fraud.
Since the crash of 2008, words like “bailout” and “stimulus” have swirled around the financial and housing markets across the country. You may even be more familiar with specific programs like TARP or CAP. The bailout and stimulus programs were extraordinary acts of Congress enacted swiftly to react to the dire circumstances facing the nation at the end of 2008. But the bottom line is that the federal government pumped huge sums of money into the markets very rapidly in an effort to stabilize the marketplace. Of course in doing so, the Government opened itself up to potential fraudsters. As such, qui tam whistleblowers, acting under the Federal False Claims Act, are playing a critical role exposing fraud in the government programs created under these Bills.
The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008: Creating The Troubled Asset Relief Program
After the collapse of Bear Stearns and subsequent bank failures, Congress quickly enacted the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (“EESA”), more commonly known as the “Bailout Bill.” The purpose of EESA was “to immediately provide authority and facilities that the Secretary of Treasury can use to restore liquidity and stability to the financial system of the United States.” See Pub. L. No. 110-343, 122 Stat. § 3765 (2008), codified at 12 U.S.C. § 5201, et seq.
Under this authority, the Government established the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”). Congress delegated authority under TARP to the Secretary of Treasury and the newly created Financial Stability Oversight Board. Pursuant to this authority, the Secretary of Treasury was authorized “to purchase, and make and fund commitments to purchase, troubled assets from any financial institution.” 12 U.S.C. § 5211(a)(1). It should also be noted that EESA created the $200 billion credit pool for the financial industry through the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (“TALF”).
According to the new authority delegated to it, the Secretary of Treasury, together with several other executive agencies and departments, setup the Capital Purchase Program (“CPP”) and its successor, the Capital Assistance Program (“CAP”). Both programs operated under TARP to provide a mechanism for additional taxpayer support to stabilize the financial and banking systems whereby the Department of Treasury invested in preferred equity securities or warrants of qualified financial institutions. See GAO Report, GAO-09-161, published December 2, 2008. However, in providing relief under TARP authority, the Secretary of Treasury was required to “take such steps as may be necessary to prevent unjust enrichment of financial institutions participating in a program established under this section.” 12 U.S.C. § 5211(e).
Executive Compensation & Corporate Governance Requirements
After receipt of federal funds, TARP recipients became subject to certain standards for executive compensation and corporate governance. These standards became hotly contested prompting the Treasury to promulgate “TARP Standards for Compensation and Corporate Governance.” 31 C.F.R Part 30 (2009). These new standards require recipients to:
• include a provision allowing the Government to recover “any bonus, retention award, or incentive compensation paid to a senior executive officer...based on statements of earnings, revenues, gains, or other criteria that are later found to be materially inaccurate.” 12 U.S.C. § 5221(b)(3)(B);
• place “limits on compensation that excludes incentives for senior executive officers of the TARP recipient to take unnecessary and excessive risks that threaten the value of such recipients during the period in which any obligation arising from financial assistance provided under the TARP remains outstanding.” 12 U.S.C. § 5221(b)(3)(A); and
• “have in place a company-wide policy regarding excessive or luxury expenditures...which may include excessive expenditures on—(1) entertainment or events; (2) office and facility renovations; (3) aviation or other transportation services; or (4) other activities or events that are not reasonable expenditures for staff development, reasonable performance incentives, or other similar measures conducted in the normal course of the business operations of the TARP recipient.” 12 U.S.C. § 5221(d).
In order in ensure compliance, certain senior executive officers, usually the CEO and CFO, are required to certify annually that the recipient corporation adhered to 12 U.S.C. § 5221, including submittal of an attesting statement verifying that a compensation committee or board of directors performed a semi-annual review of the TARP recipient’s luxury expenditure policy and executive compensation plan. Moreover, a recipient must also report loan volumes to the Department of Treasury on a monthly basis and prepare a quarterly report for the Office of the Comptroller of Currency describing any changes in management, use of TARP funds, and forward planning.
Most Common Types of Fraud Under TARP
The corporate governance and executive compensation standards laid out in TARP are, not surprisingly, a source of TARP fraud. Some of the most common types of fraud under TARP include the false certification of eligibility for funding; conflicts of interest for private parties managing recipient funds; collusion among participants to use Federal funds for personal financial gain; and failure to comply with these standards. Another prevalent type of fraud is known as Mortgage Modification Program Fraud, which is the falsification of residence, income and mortgage values in order to receive FHA and TARP monies. Additionally, the massive distributions of cash into the markets gave rise to money laundering illicit funds through disbursements.
EESA sets forth a detailed and complex program for received Federal funds. TARP alone encapsulates twelve different federally-funded programs to create liquidity and stability in the banking and financial markets. Navigating these complex programs is difficult and requires the skill of an experienced attorney.