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Weak Laws and Lenient Enforcement Plague Missouri’s Oversight of Dangerous Doctors

Understanding the Faulty Oversight of Dangerous Doctors?

By Karen Weise
ProPublica, Dec. 13th, 2010, 11:36 am

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Patients in Missouri face a double whammy of the state’s faulty oversight of dangerous doctors — Missouri law limits the state medical board’s authority to disciple them, and the board doesn’t fully exercise the rights it does have.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Series

These are latest [1] findings in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s series looking at the lack of information available to patients [2] about the doctors and hospitals that treat them. “Leniency and secrecy are the rule when it comes to policing Missouri’s 22,000 doctors,” the paper wrote.

The state’s Board of Registration for the Healing Arts makes public little information on doctors [3]. The board doesn’t release information on its own warning letters, on malpractice cases, on restrictions by hospitals or even where a doctor went to medical school. It seldom researches cases that challenge the quality of care, and it never uses its power to immediately suspend doctors, the paper found.

State laws also hamper the board’s oversight. It’s hard to discipline a doctor for one negligent incident, and unlike in most states, Missouri law does not give the board absolute authority over discipline. Instead, it must reach a settlement with a doctor or bring the case before commission in a litigious process that can drag on for years. Meanwhile, doctors continue to practice. Because the process is so long, the board often settles, the paper said.

A Longstanding Problem

This isn’t a new problem for Missouri. The paper wrote: A Post-Dispatch investigation 30 years ago found Missouri was lax in its policing of doctors. Soon after, the legislature changed the board’s makeup to include one non-physician — a “public” member — to represent patients’ interests. For a time, the board became more stringent, but the trend seems to have reversed, and the board is among the least active in the nation.

Assessment

No board members would comment to the Post-Dispatch, though board staff told the paper that it hands were generally tied by the state’s laws. The problematic oversight of doctors echoes much of what ProPublica found in our series looking at the lack of discipline of nurses [4] around the country.

Link: http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/weak-laws-and-lenient-enforcement-plague-missouris-oversight-of-dangerous-d

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Mortgage Investors Join Outcry Against Banks

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Coordinated Strategies Emerging

[By Karen Weise ProPublica: Oct. 18, 2010, 1:18 p.m.]

Homeowners, and at times the government, have long complained that banks and other companies that service mortgages aren’t good at their job of collecting monthly payments, modifying loans and processing foreclosures. Now, a new cast of characters are piling on the criticism: the servicer’s own clients, the investors that actually own the mortgages.

The Servicers

Servicers handle the day-to-day of working with homeowners on behalf of the investors, who bought bundled mortgages from Wall Street. But investors are now threatening servicers with legal action. Just like homeowners, investors are frustrated by the poor job in modifying loans that servicers have been doing. They also say servicers are looking out for themselves, not investors’ interests as their contracts typically require.

For example, Investor Bill Frey, who runs the securities firm Greenwich Financial Services, says servicers view investors as “a Thanksgiving turkey to be carved up and shared among them-selves.” Investors can range from foreign governments and hedge funds to college endowments and pension funds. During the housing bubble, they gobbled up AAA-rated bonds created by pools of mortgages. Now that defaults and foreclosure are mounting, investors argue that flaws in how loans are serviced are costing them billions of dollars.

They say servicers have often dragged out foreclosures to rack up fees and refused to reduce second mortgages to make modifications sustainable. Investors often prefer modifications to foreclosures. But for modifications that won’t ultimately prevent a homeowner from defaulting, investors still prefer quick foreclosures so they can recoup their money and move on.

Of Terminal In-Decision

“Terminal indecision is not good,” says Frey. “If it can be fixed, fix it. If it can’t, nix it.”

Servicers have been slow [1] to modify mortgages—something we’ve written [1] about many times [2] — and when they do modify loans, homeowners are still saddled with other debt from second mortgages and home equity lines. Even after modifications under the government’s program, homeowners typically still must spend almost two-thirds of their income to pay off their mortgage and other loans, like credit cards or second mortgages.

Emerging Paperwork Scandal

The current mortgage paperwork scandal [3] adds more fuel [4] to the fire as major servicers have halted foreclosures because of potential paperwork irregularities around the country. Concerns are also growing that banks may not have properly transferred loans into the mortgage pools in the first place. “This deficient approach undermines the integrity and the operational framework of the housing finance and mortgage system as it exists today,” the Association of Mortgage Investors wrote [5] in a press release.

(For more on the growing scandal, check out our recent explanation of the main players involved.)

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents most major servicers, did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment.

Legal Strategies

Investors from across the country have been coordinating legal strategies for over a year ago, with the effort ramping up in early spring, according to Frey. Since then, more and more investors have formed a loose consortium, gaining momentum “like a snowball going downhill,” he says. In the last month alone, the group added other investors that own an additional $100 billion in mortgage bonds.

They have not filed any suits yet, Frey says, because the group is first trying to grow even more. Also, since each investor group has different, nonmortgage business with the banks, some investors have conflicting interests in how to proceed, he says. The consortium now represents investors that own more than $600 billion in mortgage securities, which is around a third of the entire mortgage securitization market. The group includes 65 major mortgage investors; Bloomberg reported that large investment companies including Black Rock, PIMCO and Fortress are part of the effort, as are the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Banks, which both own private securitized loans.

Coordinating investors is no easy task, since the mortgage bonds were sliced and diced to be sold off to investors around the world. To assert legal rights, investors must coordinate to prove that they collectively represent a certain percentage of each mortgage pool, or in some cases, a certain percentage of each slice of each mortgage pool. (The Wall Street Journal [6] and Bloomberg [7] both describe how Texas-based attorney Talcott Franklin is coordinating a clearinghouse to keep track of the various investments.)

Once investors have standing in each pool, they have the legal right to pressure servicers and trustees to improve or face litigation. The group says they have the legal authority to act in over 2,300 deals.

Investors say servicers must reduce or cancel second mortgages entirely before adjusting the primary loan, since that follows the legal pecking order of how loans should be paid off. But investors say servicers have are dragging their feet in reducing second mortgages to protect their own books, since the largest servicers — Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — also own almost 60 percent of the $1 trillion second lien market.

Bank

Congressional Oversight Panel

A Congressional Oversight Panel concluded in April that there is “tension” between Treasury’s goal of supporting reductions to second mortgages and Treasury’s interest in ensuring that writing down second liens doesn’t severely weaken banks’ balance sheets. The panel wrote than when a servicer owns the second lien, the “inexorable conflict of interest” will more likely lead to modifications on the first loan, “as it benefits the bank at the expense of the mortgage-backed security investors.”

We’ve previously reported [8] that mortgages servicers frequently tell homeowners that investors are the roadblock to loan modifications, even though few mortgage deals actually restrict modifications.

Servicers are also supposed to act like watchdogs and report back to investors when they identify loans they suspect didn’t meet the lending standards promised when the bonds were initially sold to investors. If the banks did misrepresent the quality of the loans initially, the banks would have to buy back the invalid mortgages from the investors. But in many cases, the servicers are subsidiaries of the banks that sold the bonds, which investors say helps explain why servicers have been dragging their feet. Bloomberg noted [7] an analyst’s report that said mortgage repurchases could total over $179 billion.

Original Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/investors-join-outcry-against-mortgage-servicers

Assessment

According to an investor letter cited [6] in the Wall Street Journal, in some mortgage pools that have high default rates, the banks have not repurchased any loans when the servicers are subsidiaries of the banks that sold the bonds. Investors say this is all no small matter. Since the country’s mortgage market is heavily dependent on government support right now, they insist servicers make good on their contracts before start buying loans and supporting the mortgage market again.

Related Articles:

  1. http://www.propublica.org/article/mod-program-falling-short-of-govts-vague-goals
  2. http://www.propublica.org/article/loan-mod-profiles-runaround
  3. http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/biggest-banks-ensnared-as-foreclosure-paperwork-problem-broadens
  4. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-10-13/document-flaws-may-lead-investors-to-fight-mbs-deals.html
  5. http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/association-of-mortgage-investors-press-release-oct.-1-2010
  6. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704814204575508143329644732.html
  7. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-23/mortgage-investors-target-banks-using-texas-lawyer-s-novel-clearing-house.html
  8. http://www.propublica.org/article/when-denying-loan-mods-loan-servicers-often-blame-investors-wrongly

Conclusion

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Identifying Suspicious Short Selling

But Not Who’s Behind the Trades

By Karen Weise
ProPublica, July 8, 2010

Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal highlighted new academic research [1] showing that investors may be trading on insider information after companies approach hedge funds for loans.

Researchers found that on average, in the five days before companies announce a loan from a hedge fund, the volume of short sales increases by 75 percent as compared with the 60 days before a deal is announced. There was no comparable uptick in betting against companies that borrowed money from commercial banks instead.

Short Selling

With short selling, hedge funds and other investors make money by wagering that a stock’s price will fall. Borrowing from hedge funds rather than commercial banks can be seen as a sign of distress, as hedge funds tend to charge higher interest rates.

One of the researchers, Debarshi Nandy of the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto, told ProPublica that the findings pose an important question of whether hedge funds are using insider information inappropriately.

Working Draft

Here’s a PDF of a working draft of the paper [2]; the final version is not yet published. When companies ask hedge funds to consider giving them a loan, they typically require that the funds sign nondisclosure agreements. That’s because the borrowers divulge confidential financial information in the process of trying to get a loan — information that can provide insight into a company’s future performance. That, in turn, can be valuable to investors.

Examining Changes

In looking at instances when companies made changes to existing loans, researchers found that the short sales on companies amending loans from hedge funds were profitable, whereas similar short sales on companies amending loans from banks resulted in losses. But, the researchers stop short of saying that hedge funds definitely make insider trades. It’s all a little bit hazy because there is little disclosure required for hedge funds and short selling. While the paper identifies “abnormal” shorting activity, the identity of the investors making the trades is a mystery. “If it is truly insider trading by the fund or a ‘tip-ee’ of the fund, it would really be good to get some further data on who is actually doing the trading,” said Anita Krug, an expert in the laws governing hedge funds.

Assessment

Investors are required to notify the  Securities and Exchange Commission when taking large long positions, but there is no equivalent requirement for short bets. During the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall of 2008, the SEC issued a temporary order [3] requiring investors to report large short positions, but it did not renew that requirement last summer when the order lapsed [4]. The pending financial reform bill also would not require disclosure.

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Conclusion

Short sellers say more regulations would discourage their trading, which they argue helps moderate market bubbles and contributes to market efficiency, says Mark Perlow, an attorney at K&L Gates who represents hedge funds.

Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/identifying-suspicious-short-selling-but-not-whos-behind-the-trades

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