The Senate voted on Monday evening, 72 to 27, to confirm Wilbur Ross as secretary of commerce. The 79-year-old billionaire private equity investor is President Donald Trump’s 10th cabinet nominee to be confirmed, and remarkably, is the second member of Trump’s cabinet who was deeply involved in companies that swept up the housing crisis with foreclosures marred by document fraud like robo-signing.
The first, Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, invested in and ran OneWest bank, which foreclosed on tens of thousands of Americans in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. During his Senate confirmation hearing, he denied that his bank used the illegal practice of robo-signing, but public documents obtained by The Columbus Dispatch showed that was a false statement.
Ross may not have been the CEO of a bank foreclosing on homeowners, but he was nevertheless intimately involved and invested in two companies that were accused of widespread wrongdoing. American Home Mortgage Servicing was accused of illegal foreclosure practices while it ran the second-biggest portfolio of subprime mortgages in the country.
American Home effectively outsourced the fraud, David Dayen reported, using “a company called DocX, which forged millions of mortgage assignments, claiming to be the officers of dozens of different banks ... documents were fraudulently signed after the fact to recreate a chain of title that lenders broke.” The company was eventually sold to Ocwen, which was fined $2.1 billion in 2013 for its unethical business practices. Ross served on Ocwen’s board from 2012 to 2014.
Not only is Ross a member of a secret Wall Street fraternity, where, clad in velvet slippers, he sang show tunes mocking poor people, but he also has pockmarks that would likely have sunk his nomination if he’d been put forward by another president for consideration by another Senate.
During his confirmation hearing, Ross admitted to employing an undocumented household worker for years. It was only after he was nominated by Trump to be commerce secretary that he asked all his “dozen or so” household employees to prove they were legally allowed to work in the U.S. “This one employee was unable to and therefore was terminated,” Ross said at his confirmation hearing. Hiring undocumented workers sank two of President Bill Clinton’s nominees for attorney general and President George W. Bush’s first choice for labor secretary pulled out after it emerged she had sheltered an undocumented woman.
Ross has also outsourced 2,700 U.S. jobs in companies he has invested in since 2004, Labor Department data published by Reuters shows. Reviewing his investment in International Textile Group, which under Ross’ ownership rebranded and shed hundreds of American jobs, The Daily Beast dubbed him, “Trump’s future secretary of outsourcing.”
And then there is Ross’ involvement in the coal industry, which Trump talks about reviving at seemingly every opportunity. In 2005, Ross fully acquired a series of coal mines that he had long been the largest investor in. One of those properties was Sago Mine, which was hit with 208 violations by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration that year. More than half those citations were labeled “serious and substantial,” like 20 roof falls, 14 wire insulation problems and three cases of inadequate ventilation plans.
On Jan. 2, 2006, an early morning blast ripped through the mine, trapping 13 miners underground for two days. Only one survived. Ross did not visit the disaster site and says the deaths haunt him. He agreed to pay the dead miners’ families a total of $2 million.