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May 18, 2011

CEO of Amazon thinks tryingto tax Amazon is unconstitutional

Sales tax is for lesser companies, I guess. ThinkProgress -- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Claims It’s Unconstitutional For States To End Company’s Multimillion Dollar Tax Dodging
One way states are looking to raise revenues is to close what has become known as the “Amazon Loophole.” Currently, online retailers like Amazon.com set up subsidiary corporations in states and then argue that the subsidiary corporation doesn’t obligate the parent company to collect sales taxes in that state. Lawmakers in numerous states, like South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, and others are tackling this loophole by mandating that Amazon customers in their states pay sales taxes, which would both provide revenue for their states and deny Amazon and other online retailers an unfair advantage over local retailers whose customers do have to pay sales taxes. Responding to these legislators, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remarkably claimed today that state efforts to close the loophole and have Amazon behave like any other retailer are actually unconstitutional:

Matt Taibbi: Is the hammer finally coming down on the banks?

If this holds, it's delicious. A New Wall Street Investigation: Is the Hammer Finally Coming Down? | Rolling Stone Politics | Taibblog | Matt Taibbi on Politics and the Economy
Morgenson reported that Schneiderman is focused on at least three companies: Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and old friend Goldman, Sachs. This investigation has the potential to be a Mother of All Nightmares situation for the banks for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the decision to go after the securitization process is a total prosecutorial bullseye. This is the ugly heart of the wide-scale fraud scheme of the bubble era. Again, the business model during this time was a giant bait-and-switch scam. Sleazy lenders like Countrywide and New Century first created huge masses of bad loans, committing every conceivable kind of fraud to get people into loans (from doctoring income statements with white-out to phonying FICO scores to engineering fake appraisals). They then moved the bad loans quickly to the big banks, which pooled them and chopped them up (this is the “securitization” process), sprinkled hocus-pocus math on them, and them sold them to suckers around the world as AAA-rated securities. The questions Schneiderman will seek to answer are these: did the banks securitize loans they knew were fraudulent, throwing the rotten mortgages into the stew before serving them to customers? Did they also commit insurance fraud by duping the bond insurers (known as “monocline” insurers) into thinking the mortgages were not as risky as they really were? And did they participate in the fraud scheme on a more basic level by lending huge amounts of money to the Countrywides of the world, knowing that they in turn would immediately use that money to create the bad loans? In other words, did the banks finance the fraud in addition to brokering it? The reason this is such a potentially deadly investigation for the banks is that they seemed to be so close to getting away scot free. There is another investigation into the banks’ mortgage abuses by the states’ Attorneys General, led by Iowa AG Tom Miller, that was rumored to be headed toward a settlement, despite the fact that nothing like a complete investigation has been done. The expectation for some time has been that the banks would eventually have to pay a significant, but eminently survivable, settlement for abuses during the bubble era. Although the Miller probe was focused on practices like robo-signing and other such documentation abuses, it could theoretically have covered securitization as well. . . .

May 17, 2011

HUD accuses major mortgage lenders of defrauding taxpayers, swindling people

HUD Concludes Five Largest Mortgage Servicers Defrauding Taxpayers after Two Month Investigation. | Rortybomb
A set of confidential federal audits accuse the nation’s five largest mortgage companies of defrauding taxpayers in their handling of foreclosures on homes purchased with government-backed loans, four officials briefed on the findings told The Huffington Post. The five separate investigations were conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general and examined Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial, the sources said. The audits accuse the five major lenders of violating the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era law crafted as a weapon against firms that swindle the government. The audits were completed between February and March, the sources said. The internal watchdog office at HUD referred its findings to the Department of Justice, which must now decide whether to file charges…. The resulting reports read like veritable indictments of major lenders, the sources said. State officials are now wielding the documents as leverage in their ongoing talks with mortgage companies aimed at forcing the firms to agree to pay fines to resolve allegations of routine violations in their handling of foreclosures. The audits conclude that the banks effectively cheated taxpayers by presenting the Federal Housing Administration with false claims: They filed for federal reimbursement on foreclosed homes that sold for less than the outstanding loan balance using defective and faulty documents.