WASHINGTON -- Congressional investigators said Monday that four House members received VIP discounted loans from the former Countrywide Financial Corp., the lender whose subprime mortgages was largely responsible for the nation's foreclosure crisis.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, declined to name the four but wrote the House Ethics Committee that it should investigate the lawmakers.
Issa, in a letter dated Friday and released Monday, said there could be additional lawmakers who received discounted loans.
The most favored customers of Countrywide were known as "Friends of Angelo," who were given discounts in a VIP section under control of the company's CEO Angelo Mozilo. However, Issa said his investigators discovered that other sections of Countrywide also processed VIP loans to public officials and others in position to help the company.
Countrywide was taken over by Bank of America, which has given Issa's committee 100,000 documents in response to subpoenas.
Issa's letter to ethics Chairman Jo Bonner of Alabama and ranking Democrat Linda Sanchez of California said: "Testimony and documents show that Countrywide used the VIP program to build relationships with government officials and others positioned to advance Countrywide's business interests.
"Between January 1996 and June 2008, Countrywide's VIP unit gave discounted loans to employees of the federal government, including the U.S. Congress."
He added, "My staff is also aware of the possibility that loans with VIP benefits were conferred to other members and serviced by a separate loan processing branch."
The ethics committee determines whether House members violated standards of conduct, including a virtual ban on gifts. The committee also can refer cases to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.
It was previously revealed that Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Chris Dodd, (D-Conn.), while still a senator, had received VIP loans from Countrywide. Both said they did not know they were getting unique deals and Dodd maintained that he received no preferential treatment.
Others named as recipients of the VIP program were James Johnson, former head of Fannie Mae who later stepped down as an adviser to Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, and Franklin Raines, who also headed Fannie Mae. Still other "friends" included retired athletes, a judge, a congressional aide and a newspaper executive.
The Senate's ethics committee looked at the Dodd and Conrad cases and cleared them of wrongdoing, but warned that they should have exercised better judgment.
The committee said the senators should have questioned why they were in the VIP program, because it should have raised red flags.
The Securities and Exchange Commission in October 2010 said that Mozilo would pay a $22.5 million penalty to settle charges that he and two other former Countrywide executives misled investors as the subprime mortgage crisis began. Mozilo also was banned from ever again serving as an officer or director of a publicly traded company.
He also agreed to pay another $45 million to settle other violations for a total settlement of $67.5 million that was to be returned to investors who were harmed.
Pushing the Limit: High-End Homes for 3.5% Down
Lawmakers Took Sweetheart Deals From Countrywide, Inquiry Finds
FHA Conforming Loan Limit: $729,750
Sq. Ft.: 1,250
As you might expect in the country's most expensive city, New York residential real estate has the highest conforming loan limit allowed under law, $729,750. While in the chicer parts of Manhattan that'll get you beans, if you're willing to live a little south of the action, you can snatch up an apartment like this three-bedroom -- for only 3.5 percent down.
The country's second biggest -- and notoriously traffic-plagued -- city is also just about as expensive as it gets. Awesome views of Beverly Hills, Wilshire Blvd. and the mountains beyond are the highlight of this classy apartment.
This apartment's building is set on a 3.5 acre lot that offers a pool, tennis court and fitness center. There's also valet parking and a concierge. But if you have pets... well, that's OK! The listing boasts of the building's "rare pet friendly environment."
Chicago's conforming loan limit is substantially lower than those of Los Angeles or New York. At $409,000 this duplex flirts with its FHA-loan ceiling. The apartment's kitchen has a cherry-stained inlay floor with a breakfast bar.
Our country's fifth largest city doesn't have property values as high as you might think. The relatively low median sale price of $305,000 pulls the FHA conforming loan limit down to $420,000. That delivers one bedroom and one bathroom in the case of this contemporary apartment. Is the stunning skyline looming outside the apartment's floor-to-ceiling windows worth that sum? Your call.
The Loan Star State's real estate comes pretty darn cheap and Houston dirt is no exception. The FHA will only insure your loan up to $271,050. But, considering bang-for-your-buck value in the state, that means the government will sponsor some pretty comfortable digs. This 2,791-square-foot traditional home offers four bedrooms on its well-landscaped plot. If the place strikes a chord with you, be sure to make the open house this weekend. See the listing for details.
Think back to that stylish Philly apartment. You know, the one-bedroom that cost in the neighborhood of $400,000? Now consider that this home's living room alone probably comes somewhere close to rivaling that apartment in total size. A reminder of just how much location determines value.
Located on a cul-de-sac, this Phoenix home offers four bedrooms. At $345,500 it's priced close to $150,000 above the median sale price, allowing relatively well-heeled borrowers to take out substantial loans for as low as, you guessed it, 3.5 percent down.
While the space may distinguish this home on paper, the home's interior really seems to set it apart. There are stone-arched doorways, exposed-beam ceilings and black hardwood floors. All of it potentially attainable for just 3.5 percent.
Ravaged by the foreclosure crisis, Jacksonville real estate values have plummeted over the last few years, allowing deals like this large single family. Priced at $379,900, the home is just shy of the point where the government steps back and says: "It's 20 percent from here on out."
Who knew you could find a glass-enclosed pool just yards from a pond on a property below $400,000. An amenity like this, plus the home's exquisite, varnished interior should be a reminder that today's market is, undoubtedly, a buyer's one. Worried you're not up to financial snuff? In case you didn't hear, you can buy a lot of homes like this one for just 3.5 percent down.