A spate of threats over the indirect financing of so-called predatory mortgage loans is the latest volley in a two-decade-long legal war that has put the financial community increasingly on the defensive.

By brandishing Truth-in-Lending, fair-housing and anti-racketeering laws as hammers against large financial companies that buy, securitize, or help finance abusive loans, trial lawyers are applying a strategy many experts trace back to a 1980 law that made banks potentially liable for clients' environmental cleanup costs.

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