Mar 30 2011

Getting Away With Fraud But Only If You’re A Bank

(2 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

You can get away with defrauding people of possibly trillions of dollars but don’t do it if you’re a borrower or undocumented immigrant working on the banker’s estate.

The Department of Justice: Indicting Immigrants, Ignoring Wall Street Crooks

by Richard (RJ) Escow

If you’re a banker who bought your estate with the millions you made from mortgage fraud, relax. The Justice Department isn’t looking for you. But if you’re an illegal immigrant who’s working on that banker’s estate, look out. The Department of Justice is ignoring your boss and devoting most of its resources to catching you.

And the Justice Department’s “mortgage fraud” unit doesn’t prosecute bankers. It protects them.

Joe Nocera of the New York Times contrasts the legal treatment that was given to one high-flying borrower with that received by Angelo Mozilo, CEO of the fraudulent lender Countrywide. But if stories like this one are bad, the numbers are even worse.  

If you also take a qualitative look at some of the federal government’s other well-publicized mortgage fraud efforts, like its “Stop Fraud” website, the picture becomes pretty stunning — if not downright infuriating.

Mortgage Brokers Go Free While Mortgage Customer Goes to Jail

by David Dayen

Joe Nocera’s story over the weekend about a man thrown in jail for signing his name on a liar loan is a textbook example of the two-tiered system of justice in this country. On the one hand you have the banks, who systematically committed fraud on millions of loans, and for their trouble received hundreds of billions in bailout money and access to cheap money. On the other hand you have a customer, who gets taken to jail for his one loan transgression. Never mind that for many millions of customers, they didn’t even know they were lying on their loans; shady mortgage brokers falsified their records, forged their signatures and altered the terms and conditions repeatedly during the run-up of the housing bubble. And that’s possibly true of Charlie Engle as well, as Nocera illustrates.

As for the loans themselves, on one of them Mr. Engle claimed an income of $15,000 a month. As it turns out, his total income in 2005, according to his accountant, was $180,000, which amounts to … hmmm …$15,000 a month, though of course Mr. Engle didn’t have the kind of job that generated monthly income. (In addition to real estate speculation, Mr. Engle gave motivational speeches and earned around $50,000 a year as a producer on the hit show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”)

   The monthly income listed on the second loan was $32,500, an obviously absurd amount, especially since the loan itself was for only $300,000. It was a refinance of a property Mr. Engle already owned, allowing him to pull out $80,000 of the $215,000 in equity he had in the property.

   Mr. Engle claims that he never saw that $32,500 claim and never signed the papers. Indeed, a handwriting analysis conducted by the government raised the distinct possibility that Mr. Engle’s signature and his initials in several places in the mortgage documents had been forged. As it happens, Mr. Engle’s broker for that loan, John J. Hellman, recently pleaded guilty to mortgage fraud for playing fast and loose with a number of mortgage applications. Mr. Hellman testified in court that Mr. Engle had signed the mortgage application. Early this week, Mr. Hellman received a reduced sentence of 10 months, less than half of Mr. Engle’s sentence, in no small part because of his willingness to testify against Mr. Engle.

The specifics of the case are quite disturbing – the IRS man with an axe to grind, the confused jury – but the general impression is perhaps worse. A loan is a contract between two people. When that loan is fraudulent, to the extent that the fraud is willingly entered into by both parties, they should in any reasonable world share the blame. But not only did Engle suffer disproportionately by losing all his equity when the bubble popped, he lost his personal freedom in a crime that his mortgage lender was all too happy to facilitate and may have even perpetrated.

This is the Obama administration Justice Department at work. Meanwhile the banksters are now trying to keep this all out of court:

Are Banks Scheming to Gut the Role of the Courts in Foreclosures?

by Yves Smith

I may be overreacting but given the sorry behavior of banks throughout the crisis and its aftermath, better to be vigilant than sorry.

The Wall Street Journal provided a very sketchy summary of the counterproposal that the banks will put on the table in the foreclosure fraud settlements this week:

   The 15-page bank proposal, dubbed the Draft Alternative Uniform Servicing Standards, includes time lines for processing modifications, a third-party review of foreclosures and a single point of contact for financially troubled borrowers. It also outlines a so-called “borrower portal” that would allow customers to check the status of their loan modifications online.

   But the document doesn’t include any discussion of principal reductions. Nor does it include a potential amount banks could pay for borrower relief or penalties.

This seems innocuous, right?

Think twice. It depends on what they mean by “third party review of foreclosures”. I strongly suspect that the intent is to pull as many contested foreclosures as possible out of the court process, particularly those that involve chain of title issues, since enough adverse rulings have the potential to blow up the entire mortgage industrial complex.

Yup, getting away with fraud unless you’ve already lost your shirt or you have no papers and work for a banker. You rock, Mr. Rule of Law.

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