Alayne Fleischmann is back in her native Vancouver, looking for work with a résumé that includes an uncomfortable stint in the spotlight at the crux of one of the world’s most devastating financial collapses.
Experience as a whistle-blower, it seems, is not a qualification many employers in her industry are looking for.
It “shuts a lot of doors,” Ms. Fleischmann said in an interview last week, a conversation she agreed to after her story was published in a feature in Rolling Stone magazine last month.
Ms. Fleischmann, who grew up in Terrace, B.C., and studied at the University of British Columbia, worked as a transaction manager for JPMorgan Chase & Co. from 2006 to 2008.
She was the key witness in the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into the bank’s dubious mortgage deals, which resulted in a landmark $13-billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase, announced on Nov. 19, 2013.
A confidentiality agreement with JPMorgan Chase made her keep quiet for years – not even her closest family and friends knew the information she possessed and had given to U.S. authorities. Ms. Fleischmann said in an interview last week she was “utterly shocked” by the settlement, but hoped criminal charges would eventually be laid against the bank’s executives, since the Department of Justice had asked her to keep time aside in December that year to meet with criminal investigators.
“These are awful crimes; they’re not clean, sterile white-collar crimes,” she said.
The months passed with no follow-up, and when she came across a video last May of U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder explaining the complexities of filing a criminal charge against a bank, she doubted whether she would ever be called to testify in a criminal case.
“I just stopped believing and actually almost started getting sick,” she said. “If they do close this off and the facts never come out I’m going to be living with this massive secret for the rest of my life, feeling like I never did anything, when maybe I could’ve possibly made a difference.”
So she approached investigative journalist Matt Taibbi, and her story was published in a feature article in Rolling Stone.
“The difficulty is you just don’t want to tangle legally as an individual with an institution like JPMorgan, but certainly the argument is that I’m coming forward about criminal activity which wouldn’t be covered [by the confidentiality agreement].”
Ms. Fleischmann majored in philosophy at UBC and studied international law at Cornell University. She trained as a securities lawyer and began working at JPMorgan Chase in 2006. As a transaction manager, she was responsible for ensuring the home loans the bank bought – from third-party originators such as mortgage brokers – met certain standards before being repackaged and sold to investors as mortgage securities.
By early 2007 she had witnessed enough incidents of toxic loans being approved for sale as reliable investments that she decided to write a letter to a superior. The deal she used as a specific example in the letter was a set of home loans worth $900-million from the mortgage company GreenPoint.
These were shoddy loans – they had been rejected or returned by other banks, and 40 per cent of the home loans had overstated incomes. On one home loan a manicurist had stated her income was $117,000 (U.S.), a figure five times larger than what the diligence managers estimated for that profession.
But the diligence managers Ms. Fleischmann worked with had been under pressure to push these loans through.
“This diligence supervisor just started yelling at them and berating them and insulting them and making them to do the reports over and over again,” she said. “He was just going to keep doing that until they cleared these loans.”
Before writing the letter, Ms. Fleischmann approached an executive director and a managing director in December, 2006, to warn them against labelling these loans as a higher quality than what they were.
A few weeks later she submitted her letter to another managing director outlining the breakdowns in the diligence process and the consequences of selling these faulty loans to unknowing investors.
There was no response to her letter, and she was let go in a round of layoffs in 2008.
In the 11-page statement of facts that accompanied JPMorgan Chase’s $13-billion settlement, the bank admitted this conversation took place and the letter was received – although the directors weren’t named and Ms. Fleischmann was simply referred to as a “JPMorgan employee.”
Several investors, including community banks, credit unions and retirement funds, have since filed civil suits claiming they suffered massive losses from buying these substandard mortgage-backed securities from JPMorgan Chase.
JPMorgan Chase declined to comment for this article.
Ms. Fleischmann was contacted again by the U.S. government in August. She’s now providing information for civil cases against JPMorgan Chase and she recently met with lawyers in the Fort Worth Employees’ Retirement Fund’s case against the bank. This week, she is meeting with lawyers representing the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Meanwhile, finding work in Vancouver remains tough.
“It’s a sign of what’s really wrong with these settlements, that you an have a situation where the whistle-blower is actually finding themselves stamped as a criminal,” she said.
“I had moved back to Vancouver in mid-September  and started interviewing for a job as a lawyer and then literally less than two weeks into that was when the news broke all over the media that there’s been this massive fraud at JPMorgan. And of course my résumé has the exact time, transaction manager, all mortgage-backed securities. So anything I had going just evaporated.”
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