Sunday, March 25, 2012

Who is Sheldon Adelson and Why Should You Care?

If the United States of America goes to war with Iran, or becomes embroiled in a war with Iran started by Israel, a man named Sheldon Adelson will have played a significant role in making it happen.
Sheldon Adelson built the world's most expensive hotel-casino, the Marina Bay Sands. With its indoor canal, opulent art, dazzling casino, outdoor plaza, convention centre, theatre, crystal pavilion, lotus flower-shaped museum, and 150-meter long infinity pool at the top of the complex 55 stories up, the Marina Bay Sands is the world’s most expensive paean to indulgence.

Adelson is the Chief Executive Officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns and operates the Venetian and Palazzo hotel-casinos in Las Vegas, the Sands Casino-Resort Bethlehem, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, several properties in Macao, including the Macao Sands, and the Mariana Bay Sands in Singapore. Adelson has been listed as anywhere from the 3rd richest to the 16th richest man in America and has been called the “world’s richest Jew” by the Jewish Virtual Library, and at times, by himself.

Adelson’s American success story makes the Horatio Alger fictional success story look meager by comparison. Whereas Alger’s “Ragged Dick” made the climb from poverty to middle-class success through hard work and grit, Adelson worked harder, smarter, and some have claimed fraudulently (he was sued by his adopted sons in 1997 over the COMDEX deal), to rise from abject poverty to astronomical wealth. As his wealth has increased, so has his involvement in and influence over American and world foreign policy. And with the 2010 US Supreme Court Citizen’s United decision, Adelson’s money has become a dominant factor in American and Israeli politics, as well as a factor in China’s exploding capitalism.

Shelley Berkley, who once worked for Adelson, and is now a Democratic congresswoman for Nevada, said, “I have unique personal knowledge of how Mr. Adelson seeks to dominate politics and public policy through the raw power of money.

Most Americans who are paying any attention at all to Republican campaigns for their party's presidential nominee know by now that Sheldon Adelson is to Newt Gingrich as Newt Gingrich is to Tiffany's.

Federal records show that since 1999, Adelson and his wife have made disclosed political contributions of $21.6 million, and 82 percent of it has been for the benefit of Gingrich. Gingrich told NBC News in January 2012 that Adelson, "Knows I'm very pro-Israel, and that's the central value of his life."

The bond between Adelson and Gingrich goes back to the 1990s, when Gingrich was speaker of the House. Adelson wanted Congress to require that the U.S. Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem. Gingrich not only spearheaded the effort; he's campaigning on it now."As president, on my first day in office, I will issue an executive order directing the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem as provided for in the legislation I introduced in Congress in 1995," Gingrich said in a December speech in Beverly Hills, California.

But the key thing to know about Sheldon Adelson is that he is an ultra-conservative, right-wing supporter of all things Israel. Talk to Action (TTA) reports that the Institute for Policy Studies' Right Web has said that Adelson "is an important financial backer of right-wing `pro-Israel' groups in the United States and elsewhere in the world, as well as a prominent supporter of key Likud Party officials," prominently, Netanyahu.

According to The Daily Beast's Aram Roston, Adelson is "a staunch supporter of groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and other such groups, which believe Palestinians have no valid claims. Adelson sponsored a seminar in 2008 provocatively titled the `Islamic Jihad in America: What You Need to Know about Radical Muslim Infiltration of American Culture, Finance, Education, and Life,'" and in November of last year, "Adelson appeared on the stage of the Zionist Organization of America to present ... Glenn Beck with a `Defender of Israel' Award.

Adelson supports a number of ultra-conservative Jewish lobbying groups; groups who are now pushing for "retaliation" against Iran for that nation's refusal to back down on their pursuit of nuclear capabilities that may include nuclear weapons development. These are the same groups that promoted war with Iraq, and managed to seed the Bush Administration with men like Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and David Wurmser. Their mission was described in a policy paper -- A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm -- authored primarily by Wurmser, that advocated pre-emptive strikes against Iran and Syria, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, and the abandonment of traditional "land for peace" negotiations with Palestinians.

It isn't much of stretch to say that Sheldon Adelson is responsible as much as anyone for Benjamin Netanyahu regaining the office of Prime Minister of Israel.

In his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington DC on March 6, 2012, Netanyahu made it clear that he is perfectly comfortable with and capable of attacking Iran, with or without Washington’s approval. He said, “We are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; we leave all options on the table; and containment is definitely not an option.

Netanyahu went on to say, “The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction to possess the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped.”

In case anyone had any doubts that Netanyahu was ready to go it alone, he elaborated, saying that, “Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We've waited for diplomacy to work. We've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer.”
Sheldon Adelson

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Four Whistleblowers Who Sounded the Alarm on Banks' Mortgage Shenanigans

by Cora Currier ProPublica,   March 15, 2012, 4:46 p.m.
Buried in the sweeping mortgage settlement with banks, for which final documents were filed this week, are five whistleblower cases that shed light on the litany of foreclosure abuses by the banks.

According to one suit, Bank of America allegedly passed on bad loans to the Federal Housing Authority. In another, the bank allegedly denied qualified homeowners access to HAMP, the government's loan modification program.

The suits were all settled as part of the overall $25 billion mortgage deal. They were filed under the False Claims Act, which provides incentives for whistleblowers to come forward in cases where someone has defrauded the government. Whistleblowers can net up to 25 percent of the total settlement from False Claims suits, and in some of these cases, the reward is in the millions.

Details are available for four of the cases; documents in a fifth, against JP Morgan Chase, have not yet been filed in Massachusetts. While the cases were settled as part of the overarching agreement, they still have to be accepted by the courts in which they were originally filed. In reaching the settlements, none of the banks admit or deny the lawsuits' allegations.

We've laid out the details of each case.

Countrywide Defrauded the FHA
Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo
Kyle Lagow worked at LandSafe, a contractor of Countrywide, which Bank of America bought in 2008. He brought a suit in 2009 alleging that the company systematically undermined the appraisals process for home loans in order to approve as many as possible.

The result was bad loans passed on to the FHA for insurance, while Countrywide was later able to file millions in claims from the FHA. (Read the complaint, which has plenty of juicy details.)

Lagow alleges that much of the appraisal staff were not properly trained, and that in many cases, the appraisal was being done by a developer, KB Homes, which had a stake in making sure the loans closed.

Countrywide pressured LandSafe to blacklist appraisers with whom KB Homes "had too many issues." (KB Homes did not respond to requests for comment.)

Lagow's complaints were ignored or challenged.

He also says that he was fired for bringing the issue to Countrywide executives. Lagow's suit was settled for $75 million, and was a component of the Federal Housing Authority's $1 billion settlement with Bank of America over FHA insurance. Documents detailing his cut of the $75 million haven't yet been filed. Bank of America did not respond to requests for comment.

Rampant Robosigning at Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan and Citi
Lynn Szymoniak, a lawyer, was facing foreclosure in 2008 when she received what she believed were fake documents from her bank. She began an investigation and eventually filed another false claim suit against the country's four largest mortgage servicers.

Szymoniak's suit is still sealed, but she told 60 Minutes last year about a mystery woman, "Linda Green," who appeared to be the vice president of 20 different banks and whose signature varied on the thousands of mortgage documents she had supposedly signed. Szymoniak also discovered what she called a "sweatshop" company, Docx, which forged signatures on thousands of mortgage documents (The banks Szymoniak names told 60 Minutes that Docx was hired by subcontractors. The company has since been shut down).

Her suit settled for $95 million, and she will receive $18 million. JP Morgan Chase declined to comment, and Wells Fargo and Bank of America did not respond to our inquiries. A spokesman for Citi declined to respond to the specific allegations, but said that Citi "is making every effort to ensure that no foreclosure goes forward based on an inaccurate or defective affidavit."

JP Morgan Chase Hid Fees from Veterans Program
James "Jamie" Dimon, chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase
Two employees at a Georgia mortgage broker alleged in a suit filed last summer that JP Morgan, along with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup, scammed a program that is supposed to make it easier for veterans to get loans. The banks hid fees that would have disqualified loans from the program, lumping them in with other items on the clients' bill, and then submitted fraudulent documents to the government for reimbursement under the veterans program:  Read their full complaint.

JP Morgan settled for $45 million dollars. The two whistleblowers, Victor Bibby and Brian Donnelly, told Reuters that they would together receive $11 million. They also said they would continue their case against the other banks. JP Morgan declined to comment.

Bank of America Cut Qualified Homeowners Out of HAMP
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan
Gregory Mackler worked at Urban Lending, a company contracted by Bank of America to handle HAMP requests. His suit, filed last summer, alleges that Bank of America actively sought to reduce the number of people who qualified for the government's loan modification program, HAMP, pushing instead the bank's (often less affordable) proprietary loan modifications. This approach saved Bank of America money, but cost homeowners. (Read the complaint.)

Mackler's complaint describes many ways that Bank of America, through Urban Lending, allegedly disqualified homeowners for HAMP.

Payments were intentionally processed incorrectly so that they would be deemed late.

Houses that were owner-occupied were declared not so by "drive-by" inspections.

In some instances, Countrywide started foreclosure proceedings on homeowners who had been told they were "under review" for HAMP modifications. (ProPublica has also detailed many similar instances.) And the customer advocates assigned to HAMP customers didn't have access to the information that they needed.

When Mackler raised concerns with Bank of America executives, the suit alleges, he was ignored or told that Bank of America was "not of course interested."

According to the suit, Mackler was fired "in retaliation" in March 2011. Bank of America also did not respond to our requests for comment.

The suit settled for $6.5 million, and Mackler's cut is not yet finalized.

Click to have a look at Bank of America's historical stock price.