Joel Sucher, American Banker

While shareholders queue up for a seat at the annual Bank of America extravaganza on Wednesday and the forces of Occupy get ready to mount major protests, a small group of lawyers plots its own campaign to take on what they call the “predatory mortgage banking cartel.”

They are pained at the lack of real regulatory enforcement actions in the wake of the financial meltdown, and angry about how easy it’s been for the megabanks – B of A, in particular – to “get over” on the American public, continuing a pattern of foreclosure behavior despite tongue-lashings by the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

So, how do they spell relief for this fraud-induced indigestion? R-I-C-O.

Yes, RICO, that iconic legal strategy developed in the 1970s – one with teeth – that spelled calamity for the bosses of the Genovese and Gambino crime families, restored some semblance of order to mob-run Teamster Local 560 in New Jersey, and sent the immensely popular mayor of Providence Rhode Island, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, to the can for running his office as a financially self-serving criminal enterprise. But the case that took it beyond the boundaries of common thugdom was RICO’s successful prosecution of Wall Street junk bond peddler, Michael Milken. While controversial, the case emphasized the expansive nature of the statute in pursuing corporate crime, and the fact that RICO provides for both criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for financial damages, has this group of attorneys intrigued.

So, how might B of A qualify as a likely target? It’s definitely an “enterprise,” one of the criteria of a RICO prosecution. According to several lawyers, there’s a pattern of activities, mainly surrounding B of A’s 2008 acquisition of Angelo Mozilo’s Frankenstein, a/k/a Countrywide Financial, that provide potential prosecutorial fodder insofar as securities fraud and consumer protection violations are concerned.

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