It is the job of rating agencies like Standard Poor's, Moody's and Fitch to provide investors with reliable, accurate and unbiased information. "It is my opinion, and we have many experts who agree with us," says Burg, "that it was the rating agencies and the conspiracy between them and the banks that caused this $7 trillion collapse of the world economy."
Other People's Money
BurgSimpson, a highly regarded national firm with offices across the US, has filed what is believed to be the first of many lawsuits that will be launched against the rating agencies for fraud and misrepresentation of the ratings that investors depend on to make accurate decisions. The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Pursuit Partners, an American hedge fund company that, like many others, was stung by bogus information provided by the agencies.
"We have been in contact with many municipalities and state governments are talking to us about potentially representing them," says Burg. "Each and every state, if you look at their pension funds alone, has lost billions and billions of dollars because of this."
Congressional Hearings Confirm the Worst
Although there was reason to suspect collusion between the banks and the rating agencies that played a role in the economic crisis, Congressional hearings in Washington D.C. last fall confirmed the problem.
"The transcript from the Congressional Hearings in October 2008 confirms that the rating agencies were in essence acting as consultants and being paid hundreds of millions of dollars to put better-than-there-should-have-been ratings on credit default obligations," says Burg. "They knew and the banks knew these were absolutely toxic assets."
Decades and Legions of Litigants
Attorney Burg's firm has a team of financial experts and forensic accounts following the money trail that ended in what he sees as a twisted tale of greed by irresponsible financial institutions and the people who ran them. "The agencies were being paid as consultants. They had a clear conflict of interest," he adds. "The rating agencies were supposed to be independent and investors around the world were relying on them to have honest, independent ratings."
"It is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. It is just uncontrolled greed that caused this," Burg says.
Blaming the American homeowners for overreaching their financial constraints is just not an accurate picture of who is to blame for the economic meltdown. "The fact is," says Burg, "that 85 percent of subprime mortgage holders are still making their payments."
Following the Trail
His firm plans to work together with other firms in the US who are working at pursuing the rating agencies and the individuals responsible. "It is a mess," says Burg. "One of our biggest problems is to try and bring the people who committed the fraud to justice--both from a civil and criminal point of view."
It seems that most of the individuals alleged to have been pulling the levers and distorting the truth about the quality of the bank assets have been wrung out the system--fired for their role in one of the biggest swindles the world has ever seen. But there is a lot of evidence available, like financial documents, and of course the ever-damning emails.
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Nevertheless, Burg sounds like a dog with a bone on this one. He won't be letting go until he is satisfied that he's recovered all there is to recover and justice has been done.
Michael Burg is the founding partner at BurgSimpson. He has tried more than 150 jury trials and recovered more than $50 million for his clients. Burg has been named to the Super Lawyer List and also in 2009 was recognized as one of the Best Lawyers in America for Mass Tort Litigation. The Simpson in BurgSimpson is well known former US Senator the Honorable Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming.