Quicken Loans takes on Justice

Seventy-seven years ago, Detroit’s Brown Bomber, Joe Louis, went toe to toe against the Nazis’ Max Schmeling.  Symbolically, it was freedom and liberty against fascism.  Now another Detroiter has strapped on Louis’s old gloves, but his fight is against his own government.

Quicken Loans’ street-tough owner Dan Gilbert is pitted against the Obama administration’s Justice Department.  Detroit News columnist Nolan Findley describes a Justice Department that’s run like the Chicago mob.

First, the Obama administration whips up a blame-the-banks fervor after the financial collapse. Then, armed with federal fraud statutes adopted after the savings and loan meltdown in the 1980s, it scours the transactions of lenders to find hints of irregularities. It extrapolates from the skimpiest evidence a pattern of widespread abuse, and if needed, frightens insiders into coughing up creative accusations against their employers.

With its "proof" in hand, Justice presents institutions with a choice — pay a large and painful fine to make the investigation go away, or try their luck at a jury trial in an environment in which the words "bankers" and "baby killers" register about the same revulsion.

The nation's six largest banks have all crumbled, choosing to pay $136 billion in fines and admit their "wrongdoing" rather than get their legs broken.

Quicken, owned by Dan Gilbert, has decided not to cower, at least for the moment. Instead of paying protection money, it filed a lawsuit to stop a three-year investigation. Thursday, the government responded by filing charges against Quicken, accusing it of submitting ineligible mortgages for FHA insurance.

In its complaint, Quicken says Justice demanded a multi-billion dollar settlement based on a sampling of just 55 of the 246,000 loans issued. Defects, according to the lawsuit, include miscalculating a borrower's income by $17 and lending another $26 too much. In those meager mistakes, Justice sees systemic fraud.

Quicken's lawsuit accuses the government of "investigating and pressuring large, high-profile lenders into paying nine- and 10-figure sums and publicly admitting wrongdoing, including conceding that the lenders had made false claims." That's an excellent summary of Justice's racket.

Joe Louis lost his first fight against Schmeling.  But he won the second fight with a first-round knockout.  In his 1976 biography, Louis wrote that he had to “get Schmeling good.”  And that “the whole damned country was depending on me.” 

Let’s hope Mr. Gilbert feels the same.