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Sex, Lies, and Subprime

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted November 17, 2008





Here’s an unbelievable story from Business Week.

It details the depths of depravity the mortgage industry sunk to in its chase for the almighty dollar. And being an ex-mortgage broker its contents even blew me away.

It is truly disgusting and the subtitle sums it up neatly.

It reads: The sexual favors, whistleblower intimidation, and routine fraud behind the fiasco that has triggered the global financial crisis.

It’s in a story by Mara Der Hovanesian aptly entitled: Sex, Lies, and Subprime Mortgages. 

“It may seem like ancient history now, but not long ago the mortgage industry was turning ordinary people into millionaires. One of them was Sharmen Lane, a high school dropout who, like many other young women during the boom, found her way into an obscure banking job with the clunky title “mortgage wholesaler.” Her experience-and the experiences of other wholesalers like her-offers a glimpse into the recklessness and indulgence that drove the industry to ruin.

The rise of mortgage wholesalers from grunts to rainmakers is one of the more curious developments of the housing bubble. Wholesalers work for banks and other lenders. The wholesaler’s job is to buy loan applications from independent mortgage brokers so that lenders can turn them into loans. Wholesalers are paid on commission: the more loans they generate, the more money they make. During the housing boom, lenders typically approved the loans and then packaged them into securities. That path-from mortgage brokers to wholesalers to lenders to securities-turned out to be a road to disaster.

But as the housing bubble inflated, wholesalers-though hidden from public view-became high-earning superstars. Lane, a manicurist before joining now-defunct subprime lender New Century Mortgage in 1997, says she brought home $1 million in 2002 and $1.2 million in 2003.

Eventually the deal-making turned frenetic. Multiple wholesalers began inundating mortgage brokers with offers for the same applications. Some brokers chose to exercise their power by asking for something extra in exchange for their business: sex.

Dozens of former brokers and wholesalers say the trading of sexual favors was so common that it came to be expected. Lane recalls one visit to a mortgage brokerage near San Jose (Calif.) in which the manager lewdly propositioned her in his office. She says she declined the advance, and he didn’t sell her any applications. But other female wholesalers didn’t have the same qualms about crossing the line. “Women who had sex for loans were known very quickly,” says Lane, who left New Century before it failed in 2007 and now works as a $200-an-hour life coach and motivational speaker in New York. ‘I didn’t want to be a mortgage slut.'”

That’s just the start of the article. The rest of it is no less shocking and well worth the read.

Fraud, easy money, and speculation… just can’t have a bubble without them.

This story, however, takes the cake.