Regulators to Schumer: We’ve got a Whole Bag of Shhh With Your Name on It

As we head into the July 4th holiday, it’s clear that federal banking regualtors have one thing in common with beleaguered Indymac Bancorp Inc. (IMB) — both wish that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) would keep his trap shut. The leaked letter he sent to regulators last week questioning the financial footing of the Pasadena-based thrift caused a mini-bank run this week, and presented the ideal timing for a consumer group to pile on with claims of predatory lending. The LA Times got its hands on a letter from John M. Reich, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, back to Schumer on the matter, which pretty much told the good Senator to keep his thoughts to himself — or at the very least out of the public limelight. From Reich’s letter: “Dissemination of incomplete or erroneous information can erode public confidence, mislead depositors and investors, and cause unintended consequences, including depositor runs and panic stock trades. Rumors and innuendo cause damage to financial institutions that might not occur otherwise and these concerns drive our strict policy of privacy.” The LA Times also pulls the thoughts of John D. Hawke, the U.S. comptroller of the currency, from an American Banker story published recently, who called the leak “reckless and grossly irresponsible.” Our industry sources have gone so far as to suggest that Schumer was paid off to leak the letter to the press, although it’s unclear if the suggestion is anything more than idle speculation. The conspiracy theory goes like this: IndyMac has been privately negotiating for new capital for at least the last few months, and a Large Investor offered a deal that CEO Michael Perry balked at; Large Investor decided to pay a few bucks to a Senator in New York to force the issue. We’re no conspiracy theorists at HW, but nothing on Capitol Hill would surprise us right about now. For its part, Schumer’s office has held its ground, with a Schumer aide telling the press last week that waging war publicly with regulators was a better alternative to being ignored privately. “The home loan bank system has an obligation to lend responsibly and police its members. But it has not been doing its job,” the LAT quoted Brian Fallon, a Schumer aide, as saying. “We have found the only way to get the home loan bank system to act appropriately and positively is to make public the concerns we’ve already expressed privately.” Disclosure: The author held no positions in IMB when this story was originally published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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