WASHINGTON — A former top Citigroup Inc. underwriting executive warned company leaders of "extreme risks" and potential large losses in the company's subprime-mortgage approval process beginning in 2006, according to his testimony before a congressional panel.
The executive, Richard Bowen III, said he objected repeatedly to the company's approval of billions of dollars worth of mortgages that failed to meet various underwriting criteria. In November 2007, he sent an email to Citigroup executives including former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. In it, he warned of "breakdowns of internal controls and resulting significant but possibly unrecognized financial losses existing within our organization."
He said in the email that his repeated warnings had gone unheeded. Bowen's testified Wednesday afternoon before the congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.
"I have been agonizing for some time over these issues, and in all good conscience feel I must now communicate these concerns" outside his consumer lending group, he wrote in the email.
Responding to these comments, Citigroup spokeswoman Shannon Bell said, "The issues raised by Mr. Bowen were promptly and carefully reviewed when he raised them and corrective actions were taken."
Bowen told the panel Wednesday that he never heard back directly from Rubin but instead eventually spoke with a Citigroup general counsel.
"[The counsel] said that they had received my email, they took it seriously, they were doing a background investigation and they really didn't need to talk to me at that point in time," Bowen said.
Bowen said that he eventually provided background information about his email in interviews with the company, but that the interviews occurred many months later after he repeatedly followed up on his original email with the general counsel.
The email said that Citigroup was purchasing about $50 billion annually of mortgage loans from mortgage companies that Citigroup represented as satisfying its own lending criteria. But at least half, and in some periods 80%, of the loans actually didn't meet the criteria, the email says.
Bowen's testimony says that on March 10, 2010, Citigroup disclosed a charge of $493 million related to its representations on mortgages it sold on to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.