General Electric (GE) will pay a civil penalty of $1.5 billion under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) settling claims involving subprime residential mortgage loans originated by WMC Mortgage (WMC), a GE subsidiary. The government said that WMC, GE, and their affiliates misrepresented the quality of WMC’s loans and the extent of WMC’s internal quality and fraud controls in connection with the marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). FIRREA authorizes the federal government to seek civil penalties for violations of various predicate criminal offenses, including wire and mail fraud where the violation affects a federally insured financial institution.

General Electric Capital Corporation (GECC), then the financial services unit of GE, acquired WMC, a subprime residential mortgage loan originator, in 2004. WMC originated more than $65 billion dollars in mortgage loans between 2005 and 2007. WMC sold the vast majority of its loans to investment banks, which, in turn, issued and sold RMBS backed by WMC loans to investors. The United States alleged that a majority of the mortgage loans WMC originated and sold for inclusion in RMBS in 2005-2007 did not comply with WMC’s representations about the loans, and that certain of WMC’s representations were reviewed by, approved by, or made with the knowledge of personnel from GE or GECC. Investors, including federally insured financial institutions, suffered billions of dollars in losses as a result of WMC’s fraudulent origination and sale of loans for inclusion in RMBS.

The United States said that in 2005-2007, WMC attempted to increase its profits and meet profit goals by increasing originations. WMC loan analysts responsible for underwriting mortgage loans were encouraged to approve loans in order to meet volume targets, even where the loan applications did not meet the criteria outlined in WMC’s published underwriting guidelines, and received additional compensation based on the number of mortgages they approved. At the same time, there were significant deficiencies with respect to WMC’s quality control, which was viewed by some as an impediment to volume. In 2005, a WMC quality control manager described his department as a “toothless tiger” with inadequate resources and no authority to prevent the approval or sale of loans his department had determined were fraudulent or otherwise defective. By late third quarter 2006, managers responsible for quality control and risk management at WMC and GECC had expressed concerns that WMC’s quality and fraud controls were so lax that WMC received more mortgage applications containing fraud or other defects than its competitors. As a member of GE’s Corporate Audit Staff (CAS) involved in audits of WMC observed in April 2007, WMC “jacked up volume without controls.”