Critics are gearing up for a confirmation fight today over Steven Mnuchin — Donald Trump’s pick for treasury secretary — who previously ran a bank that has faced criticism over its foreclosure record.
Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs veteran and former Hollywood producer, and a group of investors bought up the remains of the failed IndyMac Bank in 2009, renaming it OneWest Bank, during the financial crisis.
Although he rebuilt the bank into a thriving operation, Mnuchin’s bank has been accused by housing advocates of seeking to kick people out of their homes quickly and discriminating against minorities.
Senate Democrats who oppose his nomination have been soliciting personal stories from people who say they were victimized by OneWest’s practices ahead of Mnuchin’s hearing.
Allegations Made Against Mnuchin and OneWest
California-based IndyMac Federal Bank, which was a leading subprime lender, failed in July 2008 and control was transferred to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Mnuchin led a group of investors and bought most of the bank’s assets at an auction held by the FDIC for about $1.3 billion in cash. The FDIC agreed to cover almost all the loan losses from soured mortgages and the lender was renamed OneWest, which soon became profitable again.
Since the FDIC, which supervises banks, agreed to absorb the costs on the majority of the losses on the bad loans, some have questioned whether Mnuchin made money off the housing calamity, which devastated many communities, including in California.
During Mnuchin’s time overseeing OneWest, the bank carried out 36,000 foreclosures in California, according to the California Reinvestment Coalition, an advocacy group.
The CRC based its information on data collected by PropertyRadar, a company which specializes in foreclosure data, and analysis from the Urban Strategies Council, an Oakland-based activist group.
The CRC also claims, based on analysis from a freedom of information request to the FDIC, that the bank had completed enough foreclosures as of 2014 to garner some $1 billion in loss share payments from the FDIC, relating to losses concerning IndyMac and another bank it had partially aquired.
“Mr. Mnuchin’s nomination and his track record… make[s] it clear, the fox has been nominated to guard the henhouse,” said Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition.
The California Reinvestment Coalition, along with another advocacy group called Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, filed a federal discrimination complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development against OneWest in mid-November, more than a week and a half before Mnuchin was announced as Trump’s Treasury pick.
The complaint alleges that OneWest violated the Fair Housing Act by allegedly failing to open branches near communities of color and offering few mortgage loans to minority applicants. The complaint cites instances of alleged violations as early as 2011 but the investigation that prompted the debate started in April 2014 and carried through 2016. No bank officials — including Mnuchin — are specifically named in the complaint but he did not sell the bank until August 2015 so the issues would have allegedly taken place partially during his tenure.
Sean Coffey, the communications manager for the CRC, told ABC News that they have not yet heard if HUD has accepted the complaint.
When a spokesman for CIT Group, which now owns OneWest, was asked to comment on the allegations made by the CRC and on the status of the complaint, he responded with the following statement.
“CIT completed the acquisition of OneWest Bank in August 2015. Since that time, CIT has and continues to remain committed to meeting the credit and banking needs of borrowers in our communities,” Matt Klein, director of communications and government relations, said in a statement emailed to ABC News.
Prepping for a Contentious Hearing
Senate Democrats who oppose Mnuchin’s nomination have been public in their preparation for Mnuchin’s hearing, as they want to hear from people who claim they were hurt by OneWest.
A website was set up by these Senate Democrats soliciting stories from Americans who, as these Democrats say, were “impacted by the ‘Foreclosure King’ Steve Mnuchin.”
The site says that the repossession of “tens of thousands” of homes between 2009 and 2015 “only intensified the economic pain of the Great Recession.”
Specifically the site highlights what it calls “robo-signing,” a practice of “falsifying key documents” which the site alleges OneWest did. The spokesman from CIT, which now owns OneWest, would not answer specific questions.
Hearing from Mnuchin
Mnuchin has been largely silent since he released a statement accepting his nomination from Trump, and is scheduled to air his views at the hearing today.
He did release a statement Tuesday, however, after receiving a letter of support from Faith Schwartz, the former executive director of Hope Now, an alliance of mortgage companies, regulators, investors and counseling agencies that work to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
Schwartz’s letter, which Trump’s transition team announced in a statement, was sent to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. In the letter, Schwartz wrote that while she does not know Mnuchin personally, she knows that under his leadership OneWest “took an active and leading role in rolling out homeowner assistance programs to its borrowers.”
Mnuchin said in that Tuesday statement that he is “immensely grateful for the support of Faith Schwartz, a leading voice for homeowners during the housing crisis,” Mnuchin said.
“If confirmed, I look forward to listening to the concerns of the American people and working to make sure families never face another crisis like they did in 2008.”
And on Wednesday, the Trump transition team released remarks that Mnuchin is slated to deliver to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee.
“Since I was first nominated to serve as Treasury Secretary, I have been maligned as taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to earn a buck. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mnuchin will say, according to the preview of his remarks. “During the summer of 2008, I saw the devastation that was caused by the housing crisis when I watched people line up to get their life savings out of IndyMac Bank. It was the middle of the financial crisis and despite the global panic, I saw a way to save the bank.”
His remarks continue, “Our bid was almost $1 billion dollars higher than the next best bid. We were willing to invest $1.6B into the costliest bank failure ever to the FDIC. We did this because we believed in our ability to rebuild and create a successful regional bank. We believed in recovery for the American economy.”
Mnuchin is also expected to promise, “If confirmed as Treasury Secretary, I will work diligently and compassionately for the American people, so that we never endure anything like the meltdown of 2008 again.”