NEW YORK • A US federal judge on Monday said PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) must pay US$625.3 million (S$854 million) in damages to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) for failing to uncover fraud that led to one of the largest bank failures of the global financial crisis.
US District Judge Barbara Rothstein found it more likely than not that PwC's negligence was the proximate cause of FDIC damages from the August 2009 demise of Montgomery, Alabama's Colonial BancGroup, once among the 25 largest United States banks.
The judge said PwC failed to uncover a multi-year fraud between Colonial, its former client, and Ocala, Florida-based Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, once the nation's 12th largest mortgage lender and a major Colonial customer.
The FDIC sued in its role as receiver for Colonial Bank, which once had more than US$25 billion of assets and 340 branches.
Taylor Bean also failed in August 2009. Its former chairman, Lee Farkas, is serving a 30-year prison term for his 2011 conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges.
Judge Rothstein had found PwC liable for negligence in December, after a non-jury trial, and tried the damages issue in March, also without a jury.
PwC had argued that the FDIC could recover US$306.7 million at most, and that no damages were justified because numerous Colonial employees had interfered with its audits. "We intend to pursue an appeal of this matter at the earliest opportunity," its lawyer Phil Beck said in a statement provided by PwC.
The FDIC said it does not discuss pending litigation. It previously settled with Colonial's internal auditor Crowe Horwath.
On Feb 28, Taylor Bean's former auditor Deloitte & Touche agreed to pay US$149.5 million to settle US government claims that it also missed the fraud.
According to FDIC, the fraud began in 2002, when Taylor Bean began overdrawing its accounts and Colonial, at Farkas' urging, began manipulating those accounts to conceal it.
This allegedly included the sale by Taylor Bean to Colonial of mortgages that had already been sold to other investors, and Colonial receiving stakes in mortgages that had no collateral or were in default.
By the time the fraud was discovered, Colonial's balance sheet included US$1.47 billion of mortgage trades that were "fake or otherwise impaired", Judge Rothstein wrote.
The US$625.3 million award covers PwC's audits of Colonial from 2003 to 2005 and in 2008.
A trial for the 2006 and 2007 audits has not been scheduled because the FDIC did not waive its right to a jury trial.