The Real Deal New York

Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae regulator under investigation for sexual harassment

Federal Housing Finance Agency director Mel Watt is accused of making unwanted advances toward a female employee
July 28, 2018 10:42AM

Mel Watt. (Credit: Jeff Djevdet/speedpropertybuyers.co.uk, Federal Housing Financial Agency)

An employee is accusing the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Mel Watt, age 72, of repeatedly sexually harassing her during discussions about pay.

The staffer, who works as a special adviser at the FHFA, filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against Watt and an investigation has been underway for at least a month, according to Politico.

According to records of the case which Politico received, Watt’s comments included asking the employee about an ankle tattoo–“If I kissed that one would it lead to more?”– and, in April 2016, Watt allegedly set up a meeting with the employee outside of the office “because of perceptions” and then propositioned her.

“Well, you probably want to know what I wanted to talk to you about. I mentioned to you there is an attraction here that I think needs to be explored. In my experience there are four types of attraction: emotional, spiritual, sexual or of friendship. So, the exercise here is to find out which one exists here,” Watt said, according to a transcript of a taped conversation obtained by Politico.

In response, Watt released a statement characterizing the accusations as selective, politically motivated leaks and said he didn’t do anything “contrary to law.”

Watt, a former Democratic Member of Congress, was appointed to lead FHFA by President Barack Obama in 2014 and is in the final months of a five-year term. The independent agency oversees mortgage finance companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which have been under government conservatorship since the 2008 crash. In June, the Trump administration proposed privatizing the companies as part of a larger government overhaul. Weeks before, Bloomberg reported that Blackstone Group and hedge fund Paulson & Co. paid for a proposal to privatize the two mortgage finance giants.

During Watt’s tenure, Freddie and Fannie have expanded in size and product offerings and now have an estimated combined portfolio of $5.4 trillion. [Politico]