A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment directly about the firm's compensation practices. She instead provided a general statement of the bank's policies: "We work hard to offer the appropriate loan options so that every borrower receives the appropriate loan based on his or her credit characteristics and personal circumstances and our compensation reflects that commitment," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the bank — along with others on Wall Street — packaged its loans into mortgage-backed securities for sale to investors. Loans that met certain standards received a guarantee from government-supported housing agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
FHA loans, however, received a higher premium when packaged into bonds. They receive a guarantee by the Government National Mortgage Assn., the federal agency known as Ginnie Mae. These securities are a notch safer for investors than Fannie or Freddie bonds, and that made them more appealing for big institutional investors like sovereign wealth funds or mutual funds.
Although the federal government has not pursued criminal prosecutions of bankers at the heart of the mortgage operations that collapsed in 2007, it has stepped up civil lawsuits against the largest originators and securitizers of home loans during the boom.
This month's federal suit against Wells Fargo was filed by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, which has brought six mortgage-fraud lawsuits against big banks in the last 18 months. The latest, filed Wednesday, seeks more than $1 billion from Bank of America for allegedly flawed loans that its Countrywide Financial Corp. unit sold to Fannie and Freddie.