Illinois AG sues S&P for alleged ratings fraud
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the parent company of Standard & Poor's Wednesday for allegedly assigning its highest ratings to the mortgage-backed securities issued in the run-up to the crisis. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued the parent company of Standard & Poor's Wednesday for allegedly assigning its highest ratings to the mortgage-backed securities issued in the run-up to the crisis. S&P is a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill Cos. (MHP). The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court. Madigan claims S&P was "doling out" the elevated ratings to risky investments in pursuit of profit and market share. Ratings agencies are paid by the same issuers of the securities being rated. S&P and other firms have been reversing ratings on scores of RMBS transactions as defaults mounted. "Publicly, S&P took every opportunity to proclaim their analyses and ratings as independent, objective and free from its desire for revenue," Madigan said. "Yet privately, S&P abandoned its principles and instead used every trick possible to give deals high ratings in order to retain clients and generate revenue. The mortgage-backed securities that helped our market soar – and ultimately crash – could not have been purchased by most investors without S&P's seal of approval." Madigan submitted internal emails and instant message conversations showing employees misrepresented to investors what they really thought of the securities they were analyzing. In one, an employ said one security "could be structured by cows and we would rate it." In another internal email from May 2004, one employ wrote: "We just lost a huge Mizuho [Bank] RMBS deal to Moody's due to a huge difference in the required credit support level…What we found from the arranger was that our support level was at least 10% higher than Moody's…the only way to compete is to have a paradigm shift in thinking…" Madigan wants to disgorge all revenues, profits and gains S&P took through the alleged and documented unfair acts within the suit. "The case is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously," said S&P spokesman David Wargin. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.