Rebecca Steele Cleared With Prejudice in 2008 Financial Crisis


In October 2013, Rebecca Steele became the only person found liable for their part in the 2008 financial crisis. This verdict was the result of a 2012 civil lawsuit filed by the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara against Steele and Bank of America Corp., which alleged that Countrywide Financial Corp.—now owned by Bank of America Corp.—misrepresented the quality of loans it sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in its 2007 “Hustle” program.

With a now questioned reputation and a $1 million fine from U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, Steele, at that time the only woman in senior management at Countrywide, began her turbulent journey to clear her name.

The process of proving her innocence has been plagued with difficulty, taking a significant toll on Steele’s life both personally and professionally.

On May 23, 2016, after years of fighting to prove her innocence and millions of dollars in litigation, a three-judge panel within the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found Bank of America’s Countrywide not liable for defrauding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with substandard loans, and overturned the $1.27 billion penalty sought by the federal government.

The ruling signified justice and vindication for Steele, who was found innocent and released from her $1 million fine. It was a victory, the victory, that despite its cost—time, money, health, reputation, career—allowed Steele to begin the next chapter of her life, having proven her innocence and made her voice heard.

Upon this development, NAWRB issued a press release detailing the new ruling and its meaning. The verdict was a triumph for Steele, almost four year of grit and hard work to prove her innocence. Stress, lack of sleep, the sacrifice of wellbeing and time spent with her family to clear her name.

The question isn’t only why her, but also why the press addressed her in a negligent manner, and what motivated the majority of the media’s prevailing silence when she was found innocent? Steele, and those observing the case, had the opportunity to ask these questions now that she had emerged victorious.

This was the case until August 4, 2016 when the Justice Department, in an attempt to keep the case against Bank of America Corp. and Steele afloat, filed an appeal with a federal appeals court asking it to reconsider the May 23 ruling. In the filing, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan asserted that the court had, “overlooked a wealth of evidence” in the mortgage fraud case against Bank of America Corp. and Steele.

This appeal was a setback and blow to Steele, who, just over two months before, had been successful in the mission to clear her name. The appeal carried with it the potential of further litigation fees, court procedures and above all, the inability for Steele to move on.

On August 22, miraculously just 18 days after the Justice Department’s appeal, an appellate court declined to reconsider the May 23 ruling that found Bank of America Corp. and Steele not liable for mortgage fraud. Judges for the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York stated that they considered the Justice Department’s appeal and had decided to deny it. No further elaboration was provided.

Following the ruling, Rebecca Steele stated, “I am relieved to receive a fair and winning decision, after a long and arduous battle. Along the way, I learned many lessons including a tremendous amount of patience. In deeply challenging situations, your integrity and honesty cannot and should not be sacrificed. You must dig deep for internal strength and leadership even with truth on your side! Moving forward, I am excited to create leadership and mentoring programs to lead positive and innovative changes for our industry.”

What’s next? For the government, it’s the decision of whether or not to ask the Supreme Court to consider the case.

Now, we again ponder why Rebecca Steele was forced to endure this appeal. At the case’s start, the government issued 57 million dollars to a former Countrywide employee as a whistleblower. That’s a lot of money to account for.

“NAWRB is incredibly honored to have Rebecca Steele, Chair our Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council (NDILC) to help clear the path for women,” stated Desiree Patno, CEO and President.

Rebecca Steele has sacrificed a great deal to prove her innocence. Nothing this process has cost her is easily replaceable, and some things, like her time, she will never get back.

What does the future hold for Steele? Hopefully the freedom to finally move on, leaving the case and its accusations behind.

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