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US sues biggest banks over risky mortgages

Government lawsuit claims 17 banks, including Bank of America, Citigroup, and JP Morgan, misrepresented the value of $196 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities when it sold them to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

By Pallavi GogoiAP Business Writer / September 2, 2011

Bank of America's headquarters are shown in Charlotte, N.C., in this file photo from last year. Bank of America is one of the 17 financial institutions the government has sued, along with a handful of executives. The suit says they violated federal and state laws by misrepresenting the value of home mortgage-backed securities they sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Chuck Burton/AP/File

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NEW YORK

In a sweeping move, the government on Friday sued 17 financial firms, including the largest U.S. banks, for selling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities that turned toxic when the housing market collapsed.

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Among the 17 targeted by the lawsuits were Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JP Morgan Chase & Co., and Goldman Sachs.

The lawsuits were filed Friday by the Federal Housing Finance Agency which oversees Fannie and Freddie, the two agencies that buy mortgages loans and mortgage securities issued by the lenders.

The total price tag for the securities bought by Fannie and Freddie affected by the lawsuits: $196 billion.

The government didn't provide a dollar amount of how much it seeks in damages. It said that it wants to have the purchases of the securities canceled, be compensated for lost principal and interest payments as well as attorney fees and costs. The lawsuits allege the financial firms broke federal and state laws with the sales.

Home mortgage-backed securities were risky investments that collapsed after the real-estate bust and helped fuel the financial crisis in late 2008.

In the lawsuits that were filed in federal or state court in New York and the federal court in Connecticut, the government said the securities were sold with registration statements and prospectuses that "contained materially false or misleading statements and omissions."

The Federal agency said the banks and mortgage lenders also falsely represented that the mortgage loans in the securities complied with underwriting guidelines and standards. They also included representations "that significantly overstated the ability of the borrower to repay their mortgage loans."

The 17 institutions are Ally Financial Inc., formerly known GMAC LLC, Bank of America Corp., Barclays Bank PLC, Citigroup Inc., Countrywide Financial Corp., Credit Suisse Holdings Inc., Deutsche Bank AG, First Horizon National Corp., General Electric Co., Goldman Sachs & Co., HSBC North America Holdings Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Merrill Lynch & Co. and its unit First Franklin Financial Corp., Morgan Stanley, Nomura Holding America Inc., The Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, and Societe Generale.