What Whistle Blower and Former High Level Executive Michael Winston Knows About Bankers Crimes Will Horrify You
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Countrywide claimed that it did an investigation of the air quality and found nothing wrong, when Winston knew it was still taking air samples in his office. Winston confronted his boss over this, and she replied that she lied to “prevent a panic” at the company. That’s when Winston submitted a complaint to California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA).
The retaliation was swift. Winston’s team was assigned elsewhere, his budget was cut, and his responsibilities reduced. Winston stayed out of a sense of loyalty to the team he persuaded to join Countrywide. “Everyone I recruited sold their houses in New York and moved to California,” Winston told Salon. “If not for that, I would have been gone at the first sign of trouble. I felt an obligation to them.”
After months of hardship, the president of Countrywide, Dave Sambol, asked him to come to New York and basically lie to the credit rating agency Moody’s about its corporate governance practices. Countrywide had gone without a president and chief operating officer for five months without informing investors, and had delivered top executives outsize compensation. Countrywide wanted Winston to fabricate a story about these practices and deliver it to Moody’s. Winston refused to lie. Three weeks later, the CEO, Angelo Mozilo, demanded Winston’s termination because he wouldn’t break the law. (The termination would not come until 2008, by Bank of America when it bought the company.)
For the next several years, Winston pursued a series of court cases, first against Countrywide and then against its new corporate parent, Bank of America, over the illegal retaliation. Winston and his lawyer, a former prosecutor at the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, saw so many lies from top Countrywide executives at their trial, that they wanted to get criminal charges instituted. Winston’s lawyer actually wrote to then-DA Steve Cooley, but nothing came of it (the DA’s office claimed it was never sent the material).
To use just one of a hundred examples, Mozilo claimed under oath he was “unimpressed” with Winston, despite a large documentary record of praise. “The assumption when someone raises their right hand, you see a check go off in the head of the jury, now we’ll hear the whole truth,” Winston said. “But no part of it was truthful.” In early 2011, after a month-long trial, the jury found in Winston’s favor, awarding him $3.8 million.
Sadly, the story doesn’t end there. First, Bank of America tried to get a “judgment notwithstanding the verdict” in its favor. When a judge tossed that out, the bank “went shopping for justice,” Winston said. The company would eventually find an appellate court in California to conduct a 29-minute hearing with no transcript made of the proceedings, a highly unusual practice. It didn’t bother to hear from Winston – he was 3,000 miles away at the time of the hearing. The court heard no new information in the case, only the 2-year-old trial record, filled with “perjurious content” from Countrywide executives, in Winston’s view.
Though legal precedent requires appellate courts to not reevaluate evidence heard by a jury, in this case they did, creating new evidence requirements that they said Winston did not meet. According to the Government Accountability Project, which presented an amicus brief to Winston in the case, “respect for the jury’s determinations is the rule in California and the federal system.” Nonetheless, the appellate court reversed the jury verdict, rescinding the $3.8 million award. The court claimed that Bank of America could not be held liable for Winston’s travails, despite clear legal precedent that it assumed those liabilities when it bought Countrywide. “They reversed my verdict and they broke the law to do it,” Winston said.