He masterminded one of the GFC's biggest mortgage scams – and he's leaving prison 2 decades early

by Ryan Smith18 Sep 2020

The mastermind of one of the largest mortgage frauds of the Great Financial Crisis has been released from prison after serving just nine years of a 30-year sentence.

On Tuesday, a US District Court judge ordered the release of Lee Farkas, former chairman and majority owner of the collapsed mortgage company Taylor, Bean and Whitaker. Farkas was released because of his susceptibility to the coronavirus.

US District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema cited Farkas’ age, health, and an outbreak of COVID-19 at the prison where he was confined as reasons for his release.

In 2011, Farkas was sentenced to 30 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $38.5 million for his role in a nearly $3 billion scam that led to the collapse of both Taylor Bean and an Alabama bank. Prior to their collapse, Taylor Bean was one of the largest privately held mortgage lenders in the US, and Colonial was one of the 25 largest banks in the country, according to the Justice Department.

Farkas, together with several co-conspirators, engaged in a scheme that misappropriated more than $1.4 billion from Colonial’s mortgage warehouse lending division and about $1.5 billion from Ocala Funding, a mortgage lending facility controlled by Taylor Bean. The conspirators siphoned the money off partially to cover Taylor Bean’s operating expenses after running overdrafts in the lender’s accounts at Colonial in order to hide cash shortfalls.

They covered up the overdrafts and operating losses by causing Colonial to purchase more than $1.5 billion in worthless mortgage assets from Taylor Bean, including loans the lender had already sold to other investors and fake pools of loans. By August of 2009, when Taylor Bean failed, there were still about $500 million in fake loan pools on Colonial’s books, according to the Justice Department. There were also about $900 million in loans on the banks books that had already been sold to Freddie Mac and other investors.

While most of the stolen money was used to paper over Taylor Bean’s shortfalls, Farkas also personally siphoned off more than $38.5 million to finance his own lifestyle – including purchasing multiple homes, dozens of cars, restaurants and bars, and a jet and seaplane, according to the Justice Department.

The fraud ultimately led to the loss of 2,000 jobs, and the collapse of Colonial was one of the largest bank failures in US history.

The scam also sucked in financial giant PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was sued for $5.5 billion for failing to detect such massive fraud in its audits of Colonial Bank. PwC eventually settled for an undisclosed amount and was fined $625 million by the FDIC. In a bizarre twist, Taylor Bean’s wholly owned subsidiary, Ocala Funding, sued its own auditor for missing the fraud Taylor Bean was committing.

Farkas will live with his sister after completing a14-day quarantine, according to multiple news outlets. Prosecutors opposed his release and asked that he at least be required to serve out his remaining sentence in home confinement, but the judge reduced the sentence to time served.