JP Morgan Chase ugly secrets revealed
American Banker has released an excellent and disturbing exposé of J.P. Morgan Chase’s credit card services division, relying on multiple current and former Chase employees.
Late in 2009, Chase’s credit card services division sold a parcel of nearly $200 million worth of credit card judgments to a debt collector at a discount. This common practice in the credit-card industry is a little like a bookie selling the outstanding debts of his delinquent gamblers to a leg-breaker for 25 cents on the dollar. If the leg-breaker gets half the delinquents to pay, the deal works out for both sides — the bookie gets 25 percent of money he wasn’t going to collect, and the leg-breaker makes a 100 percent profit.
Linda Almonte, now a whistleblower, came to Chase in the summer of 2009 as a mid-level executive in the credit card services division’s offices in San Antonio, and was quickly put in charge of preparing the documentation for this enormous sale of credit card judgments. When Chase regional offices from places like southern California and Illinois began sending in the papers for these “judgments,” Almonte very soon found out that something was seriously wrong.
Nearly a quarter of the files misstated how much the borrower owed. In the “vast majority” of those instances, the actual debt was “lower that what Chase was representing,” her suit stated.
When she brought these concerns to her superiors, what do you think their response was? They told her and others to shut up and just sell the stuff anyway. Think of the consequences of this: because Chase was so anxious to make money off this debt sale, countless credit card borrowers would now have collection agents chasing them for money they did not owe. The debt-buyer, too, was victimized by being sold accounts it could not collect on. It is almost impossible to estimate how many man-hours of pointless court proceedings would be lost because of this decision.
Anyway, when Linda refused to go along with the sale, she was fired. She has been repeatedly harassed and has gone through all sorts of personal hardship as a result of this incident. She filed a whistleblower claim with the SEC as part of the new whistleblower program created by Dodd-Frank, but so far there’s been no progress there.
The financial crash wouldn’t have happened if even a slim plurality of financial executives had done what Linda Almonte did, i.e. simply refuse to sign off on a bogus transaction. If companies had merely upheld their own stated policies and stayed within the ballpark of the law, none of these messes could have accumulated.