Tag: 50 State Agreement

Foreclosure Fraud: More Foreclosures

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Who could have possibly thought that by giving the banks a pass on foreclosure fraud with the 49 state agreement that there would be an increase in foreclosures? That prediction came from Mark Vitner, an economist with Wells Fargo:

“The immediate results are not going to be all that pleasant,” said Mark Vitner, an economist with Wells Fargo. His bank is one of the biggest lenders in Florida as well as a participant in the settlement. “The amount of foreclosures will actually increase and there will be some additional downward pressure on home prices.”

And foreclosures are on the rise in half of the major metro areas:

February foreclosure activity in the 26 states with a judicial foreclosure process increased 2 percent from January and was up 24 percent from February 2011, while activity in the 24 states with a non-judicial foreclosure process decreased 5 percent from January and was down 23 percent from February 2011.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Half of largest metro areas post annual increases in foreclosure activity

Ten of the nation’s 20 largest metro areas by population documented year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity in February, led by the Florida cities of Tampa (64 percent increase) and Miami (53 percent increase).

The 10 metro areas with increases were all on the East Coast or in the Midwest, while most of the metro areas with year-over-year decreases in foreclosure activity were in the West, led by Seattle (59 percent decrease) and Phoenix (43 percent decrease).

The metro areas with the highest foreclosure rates among the 20 largest were Riverside-San Bernardino in California (one in 166 housing units), Atlanta (one in 244), Phoenix (one in 259), Miami (one in 264) and Chicago (one in 302).

Meanwhile robosigning has still not stopped. Matt Stoller at naked capitalism found according to the HUD Inspector General Report Well Fargo is still using it:

At the time of our review, affidavits continued to be processed by these same signers, who may not have been qualified, and these signers may not have adequately verified certain figures because they accessed a computer screen of data showing a compilation of figures instead of verifying the data against the information through review of the books and records kept in the regular course of business by the institution.

Stollers reaction deserves repeating:

I’m sorry, but WHAT THE $&*@!?!?  I’m so glad Eric Holder has cut a deal with Al Capone while Capone is still on a shooting spree.  And note, this isn’t just robosigning, this is potentially overcharging homeowners with junk fees and just generally not verifying accurate data on who owes what to whom.  There really is no lesson here except “crime pays”.

And they are still stealing homes.

Foreclosure Fraud: The Criminals Conducted the Prosecution

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Along with the Foreclosure Settlement documents it was agreed that the Housing and Urban Development Inspector General report was also released. The New York Times review of the report noted that, contrary to the denial by the banks, top bank managers were responsible for the criminal conduct:

   Managers at major banks ignored widespread errors in the foreclosure process, in some cases instructing employees to adopt make-believe titles and speed documents through the system despite internal objections, according to a wide-ranging review by federal investigators.

   The banks have largely focused the blame for mistakes on low-level employees, attributing many of the problems to the surge in the volume of foreclosures after the housing market collapsed and the economy weakened in 2008.

   But the report concludes that managers were aware of the problems and did nothing to correct them. The shortcuts were directed by managers in some cases, according to the report, which is by the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development […]

   “I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question – how could so many people have participated in this misconduct?” David Montoya, the inspector general of the housing department, said in a statement. “The answer – simple greed.”

Ben Hallman at The Huffington Post observed that the report fell short because of stonewalling by the banks lawyers who blocked interviews with but a handful of employees:

Though the report describes a pattern of misconduct that appears widespread, it fails to quantify the damage to homeowners or, ultimately, how many home loans were affected. It also clearly reflects the frustration that investigators felt in conducting the review. Even as negotiators for the banks were fighting to win the best possible deal, their lawyers were stonewalling other government investigators trying to ascertain the scope of the “robo-signing” abuses.

Wells Fargo provided a list of 14 affidavit signers and notaries — but then stalled while the bank’s own attorneys interviewed them first. The bank then tried to restrict access to just five of those employees. The reason? “Wells Fargo told us we could not interview the others because they had reported questionable affidavit signing or notarizing practices when it interviewed them,” the report says. [..]

Bank of America only permitted its employees to be interviewed after the Department of Justice intervened and compelled the testimony through a civil investigation demand. Even so, the review was hindered, the report says.  [..]

The investigation into Citigroup’s mortgage division was “significantly hindered” by the bank’s lack of records. Citigroup simply did not have a mechanism for tracking how many foreclosure documents were signed.

Both JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial refused to provide access to some employees or documents or otherwise impeded the investigation, according to the report.

Hallman also noted some of what was uncovered by investigators:

Wells Fargo employees testified that they signed up to 600 documents a day without attempting to verify whether any of the information was correct. [..] The bank also relied on low-paid, unskilled workers to do the reviews: a former pizza restaurant worker, department store cashier, and a daycare worker, to name a few.

A vice president at Bank of America testified that she only checked foreclosure documents for formatting and spelling errors. Employees in India supposedly verified judgment figures in foreclosure documents, but none of the U.S. employees interviewed by the inspector general could explain how that process was supposed to work. One former employee described signing 12 to 18 inch stacks of documents without review.

Employees at Wells Fargo and Bank of America testified that they complained about the pace and lack of care given to reviews, but instead of relief, were told to sign even faster. One Bank of America notary said his target was set at 75 to 80 documents an hour, and he was evaluated on whether he met that target. One notary even notarized her own signature on a few documents.

Abuses at the other banks — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally Financial — appear just as pervasive. Citi, for example, routinely hired law firms that “robo-signed” documents. An exhibit included with the report shows eight different versions of one attorney’s signature — all apparently signed by different people.

In signing off on this 49 state agreement the banks did not have to admit to any wrongdoing despite the damning evidence of fraud that was directed by top management. No other sanctions beyond a few billion dollars and certainly no criminal prosecutions. If I were Bernie Madoff, I’d be really pissed.

Foreclosure Fraud: Finally the Details

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The Foreclosure Fraud Settlement documents were filed in federal court and released to the public. There is a lot to wade through but the intrepid David Dayen at FDL News Desk breaks them down in a series of four articles that highlight just how easy these banks are getting off and what they are getting away with. Some of it will really make your blood boil:

Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Docs (I): Ally’s Side Deal

What accounts for this? Probably this little nugget buried in a Reuters article on the settlement:

  Some banks negotiated separate requirements.

   Ally Financial, for example, negotiated a steep discount on the fine part of its settlement, based on an inability to pay it, according to people familiar with the matter.

   It was expected to pay some $250 million, but the Justice Department cut it to around $110 million, these people said.

   In exchange, it committed to solicit all borrowers in its own loan portfolios and to offer to cut principal for delinquent borrowers down to 105 percent of the home’s value. It also offered to refinance underwater borrowers who are current on their payments.

Gee, I didn’t know that federal and state civil penalties had a “pay what you can” quality to them. [..]

About those state funds: there is nothing to stop state AGs from using them in any way they see fit. Note the weasel words in this language (which I’ve bolded):

Each State Attorney General shall designate the uses of the funds set forth in the attached Exhibit B-1. To the extent practicable, such funds shall be used for purposes intended to avoid preventable foreclosures, to ameliorate the effects of the foreclosure crisis, to enhance law enforcement efforts to prevent and prosecute financial fraud, or unfair or deceptive acts or practices and to compensate the States for costs resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct of the Defendants.

   No more than ten percent of the aggregate amount paid to the State Parties under this paragraph 1(b) may be designated as a civil penalty, fine, or similar payment. The remainder of the payments is intended to remediate the harms to the States and their communities resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct of the Defendant and to facilitate the implementation of the Borrower Payment Fund and consumer relief.

You have that strong word “shall” competing with “to the extent practicable.” And indeed, several states have already made clear that they will be diverting much of the settlement into their state budgets. More make it clear in the settlement docs, more on that later.

Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Docs (II): Giving Homes to Charity as a Penalty

Another part of the document explains that any modification under any government housing program can qualify under the settlement credits:

   Eligible modifications include any modification that is made on or after Servicer’s Start Date, including:

   i. Write-offs made to allow for refinancing under the FHA Short Refinance Program;

   ii. Modifications under the Making Home Affordable Program (including the Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”) Tier 1 or Tier 2) or the Housing Finance Agency Hardest Hit Fund (“HFA Hardest Hit Fund”) (or any other federal program) where principal is forgiven, except to the extent that state or federal funds paid to Servicer in its capacity as an investor are the source of a Servicer’s credit claim.

   iii. Modifications under other proprietary or other government modification programs, provided that such modifications meet the guidelines set forth herein.

Presumably those programs weren’t all going to shut down. So banks doing what they’ve been doing, meeting the minimum requirements of those other programs, will help them complete the settlement requirements.

Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Docs (III): “Internal Review Group”

Page E-3 details the “internal review group”:

   Servicer will designate an internal quality control group that is independent from the line of business whose performance is being measured (the “Internal Review Group”) to perform compliance reviews each calendar quarter (“Quarter”) in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Work Plan (the “Compliance Reviews”) and satisfaction of the Consumer Relief Requirements after the (A) end of each calendar year (and, in the discretion of the Servicer, any Quarter) and (B) earlier of the Servicer assertion that it has satisfied its obligations thereunder and the third anniversary of the Start Date (the “Satisfaction Review”). For the purposes of this provision, a group that is independent from the line of business shall be one that does not perform operational work on mortgage servicing, and ultimately reports to a Chief Risk Officer, Chief Audit Executive, Chief Compliance Officer, or another employee or manager who has no direct operational responsibility for mortgage servicing.

So the bank can take their own employees out of another part of the bank and have them conduct a quarterly review, which then gets passed to the monitors and becomes the initial basis for enforcement. Even if you believe these will be “independent” internal reviews, we’ve seen with the OCC foreclosure reviews that those independent reviewers paid for and hired by the banks typically write bank-friendly reports. In fact, a later note indicates that “The Internal Review Group may include non-employee consultants or contractors working at Servicer’s direction.”

Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Docs (IV): Association of Mortgage Investors Planning to Challenge in Court

At any rate, if there’s one group who does not agree with HUD that investors won’t end up footing the bill for a substantial portion of the settlement, it’s… the Association of Mortgage Investors. The trade group representing investors in mortgage-backed securities fully believes they will be on the hook for losses, and so they will challenge the settlement in federal court.

   As the federal court reviews the final settlement, AMI asks that the following changes be made on behalf of all investors:

   Transparency. The NPV (net present value) model incorporated into the settlement must consider all of a borrower’s debts, be national in scope, transparent, and publicly disclosed; the NPV model must be developed by an independent third-party. An incorrect NPV model likely will lead to further re-defaults and further harm distressed homeowners.

   Monetary Cap to Protect Public Institutions. As intended, the settlement causes financial loss to the abusers (the bank servicers and their affiliates). Unfortunately, the settlement is expected to also draw billions of dollars from those not a party to the settlement, including public institutions, unions, and individual investors. It places first and second lien priority in conflict with its original construct thereby increasing future homeowner mortgage credit costs. It is unfair to settle claims against the robosigners with other people’s funds. While we request that it not be done, at a minimum we request that a meaningful cap be placed on the dollar amount of the settlement satisfied by innocent parties. Again, restitution should come from those who are settling these claims, and

   Public Reporting. We ask that the settlement Administrator be required to make reports public and available on a monthly basis, reporting progress on clearly defined benchmarks and detailing on both a dollar and percentage basis whether the mortgages modified are owned by the mortgage servicers or the general public.

Over at naked capitalism, Yves Smith points out The Legal Lie at the Heart of the $8.5 Billion Bank of America and Federal/State Mortgage Settlements

HUD Secretary Donovan, the propagandist in chief for the Federal/state mortgage pact, has claimed he has investor approval to do the mortgage modifications that are a significant portion of the value of the settlement. We’ll eventually see what is actually in the settlement, but the early PR was that “no less than $10 billion” of the $25 billion headline total was to come from principal reductions. Modifications of mortgages not owned by banks, meaning in securitized trusts, are counted only 50% and before Donovan realized he was committing a faux pas, he said he expected 85% of the mods to be from securitizations, so that means $17 billion. [..]

But what about this investor approval that Donovan says he has? He has told both journalists and mortgage investors directly that the bulk of the mods will come from Countrywide deals and he has consent via the $8.5 billion Bank of America/Bank of New York settlement. Huh? First, it seems more that a bit cheeky to rely on a major piece of a program via a deal that has not yet gone through (the Bank of America settlement was removed to Federal court and has now been sent back to state court, and there will be discovery in the state court process, so approval is not imminent).

But second and more important, investors approved nothing. Bank of New York is trying to act well outside its authority as trustee for the 530 Countrywide trusts in the settlement. It’s tantamount to having a friend that you gave a medical power of attorney claim that it gave him the authority to sell your car and write checks on your account.

The terms of Countrywide PSAs vary, but all appear to restrict mods. The prohibitions varied by credit quality of the deal. Alt-A and early vintage (2004 and earlier) deals often barred mods completely; subprime and later vintage deals generally allowed for a higher limit on mods, with 5% the top amount across these deals. The idea was that some mods were expected in the dreckier mortgage pools. Nevertheless, all of them, as well as the few that had no caps, also required Bank of America to buy the modified loans back at par. That is something the battered Charlotte bank would be very keen to avoid doing.

This comment by Synoia sums it all up pretty nicely:

The Banks won’t be held accountable

The Banks won’t fix their past behavior

The Banks won’t change their behavior

The Banks won’t stop bribing our politicians

The Banks won’t stop gouging consumers

The Banks won’t tell the truth about any facet of their business

The Banks won’t stop taking enormous risks with other people’s money

The Banks won’t stop paying their worthless executives too much money

Need one continue?

And this settlement won’t change a thing.

Thank you, President Obama

Is This A Sell Out?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

I realize that there has been a lot of speculation about what went down in the 24 hrs prior to the SOTU after Miller announced that there was no bank/state settlement deal. There is a lot of speculation about Schneiderman and not without good reason. When I was writing my article for Stars Hollow I was careful not to join in the “sell out” theme that was running hot with some very respected bloggers. I think Obama is desperate. He knows that he is losing the Independents and moderate Republicans and needed to do something fast, especially in the light of the unpopularity of the 50 state agreement and the massive push to stop it. On the other side, and I somewhat agree with RJ Eskow on this, Schneiderman has the upper hand. He is wildly popular and scares the crap out of Cuomo & company. Schneiderman is not dropping the investigation here in NY, he’s expanding it from what I hear.

That said, I think that if this unit doesn’t move quickly in the evidence they already have, evidence BTW Schneiderman has not had access to, he will drop this like a hot potato and walk. Obama is walking a thin line and realizes that Wall St money alone will not get him reelected. I think Schneiderman is playing on that and hopes to at least hold some of them more responsible and get some better compensation for the homeowners that got screwed along with some regulation of the securitization that caused this all.

I have my doubts. There are better ways to do this, namely appointing a special prosecutor with a budget, investigators and subpoena power. I’m not willing to throw Schneiderman under the bus just yet.

I also think Obama wants him to succeed Holder who said he would leave this year even if Obama is reelected. It’s either him or CA’s AG Harris.

This was a complete surprise, so I’m being very cautious here, knowing what I do about Schneiderman and who is politically afraid of him. Like after Obama was elected, I’m watching and listening very carefully. Hoping that it is not as bad as it looks.

Eskow’s opinion appeared in Huffington Post and he disclosed that he is a fellow at Campaign for America’s Future, a left wing strategy center. (This site, however, is not affiliated with any outside organization and opinions expressed here are solely are own.) He gives a good analysis of the reasons for the skepticism of David Dayen, Yves Smith and Duncan Black (Atrios) who said, “It’s hard to see the Schneiderman thing as anything but bad news.”

Eskow dissects the reasons for the skepticism

The administration’s lack of prosecutions has been inexcusable. His administration has refused to prosecute even the most compelling prima facie cases of and has appointed one revolving-door banker after another to key economic positions. Its financial settlements with Wall Street have been disgraceful. For far too long the president pushed the nonsensical argument that “Wall Street and Main Street rise and fall together.”

And with an election coming up, bankers can write big checks that most other people can’t.

He also points out that if the Department of Justice and the SEC had been doing their jobs in the first place neither the Financial Fraud Task Force or this unit would be necessary. It’s hard not to agree with him that committees are “designed for paralysis and gridlock, not efficiency” and that president who promoted “”streamlining government” and “eliminating bureaucracy” would create this committee. Looking back on what happened with health care and financial reform everyone on the left has good cause to be wary of anything that President Obama does at this point and some groups, perhaps shouldn’t have been so effusive in their praise of this deal. Eskow, as do I, thinks that the White House, left scrambling after Iowa AG Tom Miller announced that there was no settlement with the banks and presented with citizen petitions that had hundred of thousands of names, reversed course in desperation. Then with the announcement that Schneiderman would “chair” the committee, there was a rush of exuberant relief that Obama was finally showing some signs of supporting the 99%.

As to the possibility that Schneiderman “caved”to pressure from the White House, Eskow backs up what I have said, Schneiderman has too much leverage:

Whatever Eric Schneiderman’s goals are, I doubt they include being stigmatized by progressives as a sell-out. His actions over the last few months have not been those of a guy who rolls over easily. It’s safe to assume that he wants to prosecute bank fraud, and that this appointment will give him access to the resources he’s needed to conduct a thorough investigation. [..]

Consider this: What would it do to the White House if Schneiderman labeled the entire effort a sham, resigned in protest, and continued his investigations alone? He must know he has leverage now, and presumably will use it if necessary.

Escow appeared with Cenk Uygur on “The Young Turks” to discuss the unit and Schneiderman with Cenk’s panel:

I certainly don’t agree with Michael Shure and what basically is “the lesser of two evils” meme. It can be just as bad with Obama. That said, could this turn out as the cynics are predicting? Sure and if it does we here at Stars Hollow, like Eskow, will say so.

Another good discussion of this new committee was with Delaware AG Beau Biden who appeared with Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC and his other guest real estate analyst, Jack McCabe:

I’m not ready to throw in the towel nor am I going to get on the cheer-leading band wagon. I will wait to see what transpires and keep my fingers crossed for the best outcome for the most people, the 99%.

Federal Investigation Mortgage Fraud A Possible Charade

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

While there are there are many reasons to cheer President Obama’s announcement during his State of the Union address that he was forming a special unit within the Financial Fraud Task Force to investigate the fraud and other illegalities that caused the financial crisis and collapse of the housing market, there are plenty of reasons to be very skeptical.

The unit will be co-chaired by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who withdrew from the DOJ panel of state attorney generals that was working on a settlement with the big banks over their part in mortgage fraud. That’s about all the good news there is. The other members of the unit are Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general at the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement at the SEC; John Walsh, a U.S. attorney in Colorado, and Tony West, assistant attorney general in the Civil Division at DOJ.  Also, the And there in lies the farce of this unit.

Lanny Breuer, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, was partner in the Washington DC law firm Covington & Burling that represented a number of big banks and MERS which are at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud. He recently appeared on “60 Minutesmaking numerous lame excuses justifying the lack of prosecutions out of the Justice Department. Despite the evidence, including records from federal and state courts and local clerks’ offices around the country, showing widespread forgery, perjury, obstruction of justice, and illegal foreclosures on the homes of thousands of active-duty military personnel, the Holder DOJ has not brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved. There is a clear conflict of interest and possible ethics violations.

The director of enforcement of the SEC is another embarrassment. Robert Khuzami, a former general counsel at Deutsche Bank, one of the leading trustees in securitization, will no be looking into the instruments of the fraud he helped create. It has been Khuzami’s office that has been giving the banks no-fault settlements which recently were rejected by U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

U.S. Attorney in Colorado, John Walsh, is most notable for justifying the crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in that state. He doesn’t appear to have any experience in prosecuting banking fraud.

The last unit member is Tony West, the brother-in-law of California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris who like Schneiderman withdrew from the DOJ agreement because it was too little and didn’t hold the banks or companies libel. West, a lawyer with a Oakland, CA law firm and a former US attorney, appears to have little experience with financial fraud.

Is this really the way to do this? Why not create a Special Prosecutor with the budget and subpoena power rather than a committee within a task force that has done minimal in the last three years to investigate fraud? Both David Dayen at FDL News Desk and Yves Smith at naked capitalism think that Schneiderman is being used for a charade that would eventually let the banks get away with fraud anyway. But is Schneiderman that easily misled or dazzled by Obama’s offer? He certainly didn’t sound like he was going to end his state level investigation in this release from his office:

I would like to thank President Obama for his leadership in the creation of a coordinated investigation that marshals state and federal resources to bring justice for the victims of the misconduct that caused the mortgage crisis.

In coordination with our federal partners, our office will continue its steadfast commitment to holding those responsible for the economic crisis accountable, providing meaningful relief for homeowners commensurate with the scale of the misconduct, and getting our economy moving again.

The American people deserve a robust and comprehensive investigation into the global financial meltdown to ensure nothing like it ever happens again, and today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction.

(emphasis mine)

Considering who has run the Treasury, the revolving door of bankers in the Oval Office and Obama’s weak efforts in investigating or prosecuting any person or entity that would ruffle the feathers of his Wall St. contributors over the last three years, there is a whole lot of reason to be doubtful about the president’s sincerity or any future hope of substantial relief for homeowners.

Foreclosure Fraud: While You Were Sleeping

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Over the weekend while everyone was distracted by the South Carolina primary circus, the Super Bowl Championship playoffs and the Joe Paterno death watch, the Obama Justice Department is working to stab homeowners in the back and let the big banks off the hook for liability for the fraud they’ve committed and continue to commit.

Talks set out terms of US mortgage deal

By Shahien Nasiripour and Kara Scannell at Financial Times

Banks and government negotiators have cleared a big hurdle in efforts to resolve allegations of widespread mortgage-related misdeeds, agreeing on terms for a settlement that are being circulated to the 50 US states for approval, state officials and a bank representative say.

The proposed pact would potentially reduce mortgage balances and monthly payments by more than $25bn for distressed US homeowners, these five people said.

The tentative agreement still must be approved by all 50 state attorneys-general, and negotiators have previously missed proposed deadlines. Participants described the proposal terms as set, meaning the states will be asked either to agree to them or decline to participate.

The amount of potential aid is contingent on state participation and would decrease significantly if big states do not sign the agreement. New York and California are among several states that have voiced concerns about the terms of the proposed deal with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial. New York and California are particularly concerned with the part of the deal that would absolve the banks of civil liability for allegedly illegal mortgage-related conduct.

California borrowers would be eligible to receive more than $10bn in aid if the state were to agree to the terms, according to several people involved in the talks.

It’s pretty obvious that by offering California 40% of the settlement that the Obama administration is trying very hard to pull their AG, Kamala Harris, back into the agreement. So far the pressure from her constituents is winning out over bribes that in the end would short change California home owners. From Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel:

Remember the “Cornhusker Kickback”? That was the $45 million in expanded Medicaid funding Ben Nelson demanded from the Obama Administration before he’d support Health Insurance Reform. The special treatment for Nebraska gave the reform effort a tawdry feel.

And just as importantly, it did nothing to improve Nelson’s popularity in his own state. When he announced he would not run for reelection in December, reporters pointed to the Cornhusker Kickback as one issue that was making his reelection increasingly unlikely. [..]

Yet it seems like Obama’s trying something similar in his effort to get CA’s Kamala Harris to join in his foreclosure settlement, with $10 billion in aid slated for CA’s struggling homeowners.

It would seem that Obama is having a hard time getting the Democratic AG’s on board.

Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Terms Laid Out, But Holdout AGs Not Signed On

by David Dayen at FDL News Desk

When I started digging into whether this Monday meeting with HUD and DoJ officials to go over a proposal for a foreclosure fraud settlement was legitimate, I couldn’t find one state Attorney General who mattered actually committed to showing up. When I say AGs who “matter,” I mean the ones who have been critical of a settlement in the past. I mean the Justice Democrats. I mean Eric Schneiderman in New York, Beau Biden in Delaware, Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Kamala Harris in California, not to mention the AGs from Hawaii, New Hampshire, Missouri, Mississippi, Maryland, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oregon and Montana who showed up (either themselves or representatives) at the meeting in DC last week to discuss alternatives to a settlement. I mean them. They aren’t going to Chicago, by all accounts. [,,]

But again, I’ve seen no evidence that anyone outside of the small circle of the Administration and the AGs on the executive committee negotiating the deal actually agree to it. Call it the 12-state deal, rather than the 50-state one. This is only closer to getting done in the sense that the folks who have wanted to cave all along are ready to do so.

So what can we do as individuals to get our state Attorney Generals to support homeowners and reject this sell out to the big banks? Yves Smith at naked capitalism lays out three reasons they should oppose this settlement and says to call them:

Here are some of the reasons to oppose a settlement:

1. There have been virtually no investigations, and the Administration has engaged in cover-ups rather than trying to get to the bottom of the mortgage mess

2. The big argument made in favor of the deal, that it will help borrowers, is patently false. Remember, Countrywide entered into a deal with attorney generals just like this, where they agreed to do mods in return for a settlement on abuses. Guess what? They didn’t do the mods. To add insult to injury, they actually abused homeowners who should have gotten mods. Nevada AG is suing Countrywide now over its failure to comply with the terms of its settlement. And even if some mods miraculously did get done, the settlement is designed to have banks hit a dollar amount. That means they will focus on the biggest loans, which means any relief will go to a comparatively small number of people in (originally) big ticket houses.

3. The Administration has only one chance to get this right. Now you might argue that Team Obama has no intention of getting the mortgage mess right, but the tectonic plates suddenly seem to be moving in elite circles. The Fed realizes that housing is a BIG problem and has even started making noise about it. Yet Obama is moving forward with a plan cooked up in late 2010 that is completely out of whack with the urgency and severity of the problem. Note that this settlement will NOT stop private actions, such as borrowers fighting foreclosures. And we will continue to banks refuse to take losses and drag out foreclosures to maximize fees. That will lead to continued pressure on housing prices in many markets as buyers stay on the sidelines, fearful of buying before a large shadow inventory clears. [..]

PLEASE call them TODAY. Here is a list of phone numbers. If you can’t get through, send an e-mail.

Please also sign this petition from Campaign for America’s Future (it has some talking points if you need them for the AG calls). Note you can opt out of being put on their mailing list (I know that has been a sore point with some past petitions). I know it is futile to ping Obama, but they will collect the number of people who sign, and that will in turn bolster the dissident AGs.

Please call today. Unlike Congresscritters, who get a lot of constituent mail and phone calls, AGs get much less in the way of messages from state citizens, so your calls will make a difference.

Thanks for your help.

Investigating Fannie & Freddie But Not The Banks

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Another slap on the wrist by the government for the banks that caused the housing bubble and the crash that sank the economy world wide with unregulated derivatives and credit default swaps:

DoJ Settles – Again – With Countrywide on Fair Lending Claim

by David Dayen

The Department of Justice has announced a $335 million settlement with Countrywide, the former subprime mortgage giant now subsumed into Bank of America, on claims of housing discrimination.

   The Justice Department on Wednesday announced the largest residential fair-lending settlement in history, saying that Bank of America had agreed to pay $335 million to settle allegations that its Countrywide Financial unit discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers during the housing boom.

   A department investigation concluded that Countrywide had charged higher fees and rates to more than 200,000 minority borrowers across the country than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. It also steered more than 10,000 minority borrowers into costly subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans, the department said.

   The pattern and practice covered the years 2004 to 2008, before Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America.

   “The department’s actions against Countrywide makes clear that we will not hesitate to hold financial institutions accountable, including one of the nation’s largest, for discrimination,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said. “These institutions should make judgments based on applicants’ creditworthiness, not on the color of their skin.”

I’m waiting for someone to hold financial institutions accountable for discrimination against every one of its customers, by defrauding them and destroying the residential home mortgage market. That’s obviously not going to happen here.[..]

Here’s the settlement agreement, and once again you see that Countrywide doesn’t have to admit wrongdoing for their crimes.

But the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission will enthusiastically pursue the one agency that didn’t cause the crash but just inherited it, at tax payers expense:

FBI Now Investigating Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

by David Dayen

The walls have closed in over the past couple weeks on mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The SEC charged former CEOs and executives at the companies with fraud. California Attorney General Kamala Harris sued them for imformation (sic)in a wide-ranging fraud investigation. And now we learn that the FBI is investigating them[..]

If Fannie and Freddie are guilty of misleading investors, they deserve to pay the penalty. And yet, I do sense more enthusiasm to go after these government sponsored enterprises than to go after the private banking firms which were far more responsible for subprime. This feeds a false narrative that government somehow caused the financial crisis by forcing lending to poor people. Fannie and Freddie followed the market in subprime and did not originate it.

Slow, Steady Calls For Investigating Foreclosure Fraud

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Some encouraging news in the on going call for an investigation into foreclosure fraud, Sen Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called for Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the fraud before letting the bank off with a pitiful settlement $20 billion and a “get out of jail” card for criminal charges, She also demanded a full investigation into robo-signing scandal and ‘pump and dump’ mortgage bubble scheme:

I am concerned that recently reported settlement proposals will effectively absolve these financial institutions of substantial civil and criminal liability in one of the largest alleged fraud schemes during the financial crisis. Specifically, I am concerned that the proposed settlement includes a release from liability that may be far too sweeping, does not adequately compensate victims, does not require enough of banks to reform the system that led to the crisis in the first place, and is being made before all the facts are known and without the backing of a full inquiry into the size and scope of the alleged fraud.



Without a thorough investigation, it is impossible to truly estimate just how pervasive the defects in the foreclosure and securitization process are. Continued reports of wrongful foreclosures, forged documents, and an inability of servicers and banks to prove chain of title and the legal right to foreclosure, raises the very alarming possibility that these defects were endemic to the mortgage servicing industry across the country. The sheer magnitude of the potential fallout from these defects demands that we undertake a full investigation to uncover the true scope of wrongdoing before providing blanket immunity to the perpetrators.

I am also concerned that reports of a settlement in the range of $20 billion, as recently reported, may not adequately compensate the victims of the foreclosure crisis. As a result of the pump-and-dump scheme perpetrated by the nation’s largest banks that inflated – and burst – the housing bubble, an estimated 14 million Americans are underwater, owing $700 billion more on their homes than those homes are worth. A $20 billion settlement is woefully inadequate to compensate the wrongfully evicted or homeowners struggling to stay in their homes. Much more should be required of banks to provide meaningful help underwater homeowners and compensate foreclosure fraud victims.

And some good news for homeowners facing foreclosure in Florida:

WEST PALM BEACH РHome­owners in foreclosure may have a better chance of getting a true trial, instead of a quickie judgment, following a 4th District Court of Appeal decision that requires banks to prove ownership of the note at the time they file for repossession.

The ruling Wednesday in Palm Beach County was heralded by foreclosure defense attorneys who said it may even force banks to dismiss some cases and start over with new paperwork.[..]

Wednesday’s ruling was on the case of Robert McLean vs. JPMorgan Chase, and involved a 2009 Broward County foreclosure.

According to the decision, which reversed a lower court’s verdict in favor of the bank, Chase originally filed the foreclosure claiming the note – basically the IOU from the borrower – was “lost, stolen or destroyed.”

The claim has been made thousands of times as lenders rushed without the proper documentation to take back homes tangled up in the real estate boom’s securitization frenzy.

Although most notes are found before a final foreclosure judgment is entered, the 4th DCA said the note also must be correctly dated and endorsed to show ownership before the foreclosure was initially filed – something that Chase didn’t have, according to the ruling. The court also questioned a mortgage assignment made to Chase that was dated three days after the foreclosure was initially filed.

If there is substantial doubt about the note, the bank should dismiss and refile the case or the home¬≠owner should be entitled to an evidentiary hearing instead of a more hasty “summary judgment,” the ruling said.

GMAC to Massachusetts: We Aren’t Going to Play in Your State

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow gazette

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a law suit against five major banks and MERSover deceptive mortgage practices. One of those entities, GMAC, the mortgage lender of Ally Financial Inc., decided to stop mortgage lending in Massachusetts. The nation’s fifth-largest mortgage originator said it “has taken this action because recent developments have led mortgage lending in Massachusetts to no longer be viable,”. Seriously, they are not going to play in the state because Martha wants them to play by the rules. How dare she!

Yves Smith at naked capitalism says that in essence GMAC Mugs Massachusetts for Insisting on the Rule of Law, Suspends Mortgage Lending in the State

This move by GMAC, now Ally, is remarkably brazen. GMAC has effectively said that Massachusetts must hew to its demands of how to deal with foreclosures. It announced it is withdrawing from mortgage lending in the state in an effort to bring it to heel. [..]

GMAC is trying to get other big banks to follow suit. I hope the state and other groups that do substantial financial business with banks (largish churches are also attractive clients) make it clear than any effort to punish the state for enforcing the law will be met by moving their accounts to smaller institutions that respect the law. [..]

Sorry, for the first decade plus of the private mortgage securitization business, banks and servicers did hew to the requirements of state law. It was only in the late 1990s through 2004 or so that they started to fail to comply with the requirements of their own contracts (the breakdown appears to have taken place over time, with the biggest decay taking place during the 2002-2003 refi boom). That’s what has put their foreclosures on shaky footing, which in turn has led to wideranging legal abuses to get around the mess they created.

The insolence of the securitization industry continues to be astonishing. They act as if they have an imperial right to dictate to governments, and refuse to admit any role in a disaster of their own creation. I hope those of you who do business with Ally close your accounts immediately and tell the bank that it is due to their Mafia style move in Massachusetts.

If you’re a GMAC customer in Massachusetts, it’s time to move your loan.  

MA Attorney General Sues 5 Major Banks & MERS

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Another state attorney general is suing five major banks and Mortgage Electronic Registration System Inc. and its parent company over deceptive foreclosure practices. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley  filed the suit on Wednesday seeking redress from Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc., and Ally Financial.

Ms. Coakley joins a small group of state attorney generals from larger states that have been hit the hardest by the foreclosure/mortgage fraud scandal:

  • Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto sued Bank of America for fraudulent practices related to a prior settlement on Countrywide loans and recently filed a 606-count criminal indictment against two LPS employees for robo-signing;
  • Delaware AG Beau Biden sued MERS for deceptive practices;
  • New York’s Eric Schneiderman has a ever expanding investigation into foreclosure and securitization fraud and has issued a number of subpoenas for documents;
  • California’s Kamala Harris just filed subpoenas against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over mortgage servicing and securitization.
  • Ms. Coakley, whose reputation was tarnished after her loss to a Republican for the late Ted Kennedy’s senate seat, has been strong on tightening state regulations and force banks to assist financially stressed homeowners save their homes:

    Coakley spoke in support of legislation she filed in January with state Senator Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, and Representative Steven M. Walsh, a Lynn Democrat. The proposed law, which they call An Act to Prevent Unlawful and Unnecessary Foreclosures, focuses on mortgage loans that are considered to be risky, including those with interest-only payment and adjustable rates.

    The bill would require lenders to analyze a borrower’s financial information to determine whether modifying the loan to a more affordable payment would be more beneficial financially to the lender than going through the lengthy and costly process of taking the property through foreclosure. Many lenders already undertake such a study before deciding whether to foreclose, but the bill would permit homeowners to file a lawsuit if the process does not occur, according to Coakley’s staff.

    The proposed law also would force lenders to prove they are the legal owner of mortgages before foreclosing, incorporating the findings of recent foreclosure-related decisions from the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

    These five state attorney generals are doing the hard work that should be done by the US Attorney General Eric Holder. Instead Mr. Holder is still clinging to Iowa AG Tom Miller’s stalled negotiations with the banks to settle the fraud for a mere $25 billion and exoneration from criminal prosecution. Mr. Holder has made protecting banks and corporations his priority and just recently announced a new initiative to prosecute intellectual property rights thefts by the public. This is not what Americans elected this administration to do.

    Where Are The Prosecutions?

    Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

    In case you missed it (I strongly suspect you did), Yves Smith of naked capitalism appeared as a guest on the PBS News Hour to discuss why there have been so few prosecutions of ceo’s or bankers in the recent banking scandal.

    The other guests are:

    Lynn Turner is a former chief accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission. He’s now a managing director at the consulting firm Litinomics.

    Anton Valukas is a former U.S. attorney. He’s now in private practice and issued a bankruptcy report examining the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

    Mark Calabria is a former Republican staff member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. He’s now at the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute.

    In Aftermath of Financial Crisis, Who’s Being Held Responsible?

    The full transcript is here.

    Foreclosure Fraud: Business As Usual

    Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

    On of the biggest frauds that has been perpetrated in the housing collapse that has precipitated the foreclosure crisis has been robosigning especially done by MERS, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, a privately held company that operates an electronic registry designed to track servicing rights and ownership of mortgage loans in the United States. The current negotiations by the state attorney generals in conjunction with the Obama Justice Department will in all likelihood exonerate the banks of any criminal liability and allow them to continue using the fraudulent MERS to foreclose on homes that the banks may not legally own. Gretchen Morgensen wrote in the New York Times that “The deal being discussed now may also release the big banks that are members of MERS, the electronic mortgage registry, from the threat of some future legal liability for actions involving that organization.”  Matt Stoller and Mike Lux point to an even bigger issue, robosigning has not stopped:

    Why a Foreclosure Fraud Settlement is a RIDICULOUS Idea

    By Matt Stoller

    What makes these discussions so utterly absurd, so ridiculous, and farcical, is that robo-signing, an abuse the banks have admitted to and clam they’ve ceased, is still going on. The AP reported this in July; mortgage servicers in Nevada have stopped foreclosing because of a law explicitly criminalizing robo-signing. Yes, the banks are asking for a release of claims on acts, or perhaps crimes, that are ongoing. And these abuses are extensive: lying to investors about the quality of the mortgages; violating their own contracts by failing to convey mortgages properly to securitization trusts; charging fees that are impermissible under Federal law and the contracts; making a mess of property records and engaging in deceptive consumer practices through the use of MERS; and engaging in document forgeries and fabrications in foreclosures. All these people trying to give the banks “a settlement” are in fact immunizing banks against acts they are committing and will commit going forward. Only in the future, when a voter complains to his or her state AG, that official will have to explain to that voter that his/her rights have been given away.

    We’re talking about an ongoing case of criminal theft of private property by mortgage servicers charging illegal fees and then using fraudulent documents to foreclose. Now, a settlement implies that this practice is over, and that the banks are remediating past wrongs. It isn’t over, but the AGs and Federal regulators are treating it as if it is. Think about this incentive – why should a bank change its mortgage servicing once it has immunity for robo-signing, origination, pyramiding of fees, etc? The last consent decrees weren’t enforced, why would this one be enforced?

    Obama on Banking: The Worst Deal They Could Cut

    by Mike Lux

       A dozen banks would contribute a grand total of $3.5 to 5 billion toward the settlement, pocket change for massive companies that apparently approved their foreclosure mill law firms likely committing over 1,000,000 counts of perjury in the robo-signing process. The rest of the money, about $20 billion, would come in the form of “credits” banks essentially give themselves if they agree to reduce a certain amount of the principal owed on mortgages. We don’t know the details yet, but given that all banks in the home lending industry write down some mortgages, unless the details are tough on the banks (a phrase not generally heard of among regulators in this era), this will be giving banks credit for mortgages they would be writing down anyway. And if they don’t end up writing down as much as they project, they probably won’t end up being penalized for it given the history of programs like HAMP […]

       If the administration rams through this ultimate in Wall Street sweetheart deals – a laughably pocket change fine combined with “credit” for what they would have done anyway, at the expense for a get out of jail free card for 1 million counts of perjury and a wide range of other potential fraud – they will have zero credibility to run as the tough on Wall Street candidate. ZERO.

       This makes no sense. For example, for the Obama administration to be leaning so hard on California Attorney General Kamala Harris to sign off on this is truly politically suicidal, both for them and for her after she so strongly announced she was pulling out a couple of weeks ago. Yet they continue to push her. Why are they pushing so hard for this? It all boils down to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. It is apparent that Geithner believes the only thing that matters in terms of fixing the economy is to keep the big banks in good financial shape, which is ironic given that in public he claims that everything is fine with the banking sector now.

    Yves Smith at naked capitalism suggests we make some phone calls:

    It’s important to keep the pressure up, particularly on state AGs who might walk from a too bank friendly deal. States whose AGs might decamp include Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Colorado. It’s also key to let the AGs in states who have left the talks and are under pressure to return that voters are watching and will be unhappy if they reverse themselves. Those states are New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Nevada, Minnesota, and of course, California. You can find their phone numbers here.

    The Obama administration, congress and the state attorney generals who refuse to hold the banks to the letter of the law hold this country’s economic future. If this passes it will destroy the housing market and this economy for decades.

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