Video: What led to the financial fiasco?

By Chris Hansen Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 3/20/2009 9:13:49 PM ET 2009-03-21T01:13:49

Almost a year ago when we started talking about a major Dateline story on the financial fiasco that led to America’s economic crisis, we didn’t know exactly where the trail would lead. We certainly didn’t realize how bad things would get by the time we would finish our investigation. Looking back, there were signs along the way. Whispers from Wall Street dads at lacrosse games about investments that may soon prove to be “toxic,” warnings from a few respected Wall Street analysts who said “Beware,” and even some mortgage company executives who wanted to do the right thing, but couldn’t.

During our reporting, we talked to some people who had a front-row seat to the mortgage meltdown. We found borrowers who took out loans they ultimately couldn’t afford, mortgage company insiders who witnessed fraud and Wall Street executives who say looking back, they would have made different choices. Who’s to blame? Some take a little responsibility, but all see themselves as victims too.

Take the case of Delores Parker-Jackson. Despite the fact the she had previously filed for bankruptcy and one year reported negative income of $6,813, she was able to get six mortgages for four condominiums, totaling nearly $1.3 million. Given her financial history, it may not surprise you that she faced foreclosure on all four condominiums. No matter how many times or how many ways I asked, Delores refused to take personal responsibility for her situation. She said she believed she was a victim. Remember, loans like Delores’ are the same kind that were sold to Wall Street, bundled into securities and sold to investors. As you’ll see our in our investigation, Delores is far from alone.

To get a firsthand account of what it was like working for Countrywide Financial, one of the nation’s biggest sub-prime lenders, producer Richard Greenberg trekked to Alaska to talk to a man named Kourosh Partow. Partow ran Countrywide’s operations there. Greenberg convinced Partow to speak to me on camera. As you’ll see in our story, Partow told us about so called “liar loans” and how in his days at Countrywide, “If you had a pulse, we give you a loan. If you fog the mirror, we give you a loan.” Partow served 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud for processing liar loans for a real estate speculator. Countrywide executive have called him a rogue, but Partow insists the practice of faking loan applications was rampant and everyone in the business knew it.

The trail also led us to Wall Street and a man who at one time was in charge of rating some of the most complex investments, called CDOs. Some have claimed that these ratings companies disregarded risks to please the very same Wall Street firms that paid them to rate those complex investments. Richard Gugliada, who worked for Standard and Poor’s, said the company did the best job possible with the information it had at the time, but now says looking back, he would not have given some of the investments the top AAA rating.

This is truly one of the stories of our times and I think after you watch it and hear from some of the people we tracked down and interviewed and see some of the information we gathered, you’ll come away with a pretty good understanding of how we got into this economic crisis. Because only by understanding exactly how we got here can we start figuring out ways to get out of this mess.

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