In March 2011, more than two years after Citigroup took $45 billion in bailouts from the U.S. government and billions more from the Federal Reserve — more in total than any other U.S. bank — Jeffery Polkinghorne, an O’Fallon executive in charge of loan quality, asked Hunt and a colleague to stay in a conference room after a meeting.
The encounter with Polkinghorne was brief and tense, Hunt says. The number of loans classified as defective would have to fall, he told them, or it would be “your asses on the line.”
Hunt says it was clear what Polkinghorne was asking — and she wanted no part of it.
“All a dishonest person had to do was change the reports to make things look better than they were,” Hunt says. “I wouldn’t play along.”
Instead, she took her employer to court — and won. In August 2011, five months after the meeting with Polkinghorne, Hunt sued Citigroup in Manhattan federal court, accusing its home-loan division of systematically violating U.S. mortgage regulations.
The U.S. Justice Department decided to join her suit in January. Citigroup didn’t dispute any of Hunt’s facts; it didn’t mount a defense in public or in court. On Feb. 15, 2012, the bank agreed to pay $158.3 million to the U.S. government to settle the case.
Citigroup behaving badly as late as 2012 shows how a big bank hasn’t yet absorbed the lessons of the credit crisis despite billions of dollars in bailouts, says Neil Barofsky, former special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“This case demonstrates that the notion that the bailed-out banks have somehow found God and have reformed their ways in the aftermath of the financial crisis is pure myth,” he says.