WASHINGTON — JPMorgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay $13 billion in a landmark settlement and acknowledged that it misled investors about the quality of risky mortgage-backed securities ahead of the 2008 financial crisis.
The settlement, announced Tuesday with the Department of Justice, is the largest ever between the U.S. government and a corporation. It also included settlements with New York, California and other states.
JPMorgan was among the major banks that sold securities that plunged in value when the housing market collapsed in 2006 and 2007. Those losses triggered a financial crisis that pushed the economy into the worst recession since the 1930s.
The deal, reached after months of negotiations, could serve as a template for similar settlements with other big banks. As part of the deal, JPMorgan agreed to provide $4 billion in relief to homeowners affected by the bad loans. The bank also acknowledged that it misrepresented the quality of its securities to investors.
"Without a doubt, the conduct uncovered in this investigation helped sow the seeds of the mortgage meltdown," Attorney General Eric Holder said. "JPMorgan was not the only financial institution during this period to knowingly bundle toxic loans and sell them to unsuspecting investors, but that is no excuse for the firm's behavior."
JPMorgan will pay $2 billion in civil penalties to the federal government and about $1 billion to New York state. Another $6 billion will go toward compensating investors.
In a statement, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said that the settlement covers a "very significant portion" of the bank's troubled mortgage-backed securities, as well as those it inherited when it purchased Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual in 2008. "We are pleased to have concluded this extensive agreement with the (government) and to have resolved the civil claims of the Department of Justice and others," Dimon said in the statement.
The deal eclipses the record $4 billion levied on oil giant BP in January over the 2010 offshore oil spill, which was the worst in U.S. history.
While the $13 billion that JPMorgan is paying is a staggering sum, it represents about 60 percent of the bank's $21.3 billion net income reported for 2012. And JPMorgan has already set aside $23 billion this year to cover the settlement and other costs related to its legal troubles.
JPMorgan could still face criminal charges. An investigation is under way by the office of U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in Sacramento, Calif., focused primarily on JPMorgan employees. Wagner told a news conference Tuesday that the activity described in the settlement was "symptomatic of the recklessness on Wall Street."
According to the Justice Department's statement of facts agreed to by JPMorgan, many of the mortgage loans were referred to inside JPMorgan as "rejects." Those loans were missing appraisals or proof of borrower's income, employment or assets.
In one review, consultants hired by the bank found that more than a quarter of loans in a pool of tens of thousands were "rejects." Yet JPMorgan ultimately accepted half of those rejects and regraded them as acceptable.
Of the $4 billion set aside for consumer relief, about a third will be used to write down mortgage principal.