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Oct 31 2011

Mortgage Fraud: Selling Out To The Banks

The Obama administration is about to screw Main St. one more time by letting the banks get away with mortgage and foreclosure fraud with a pittance of a fine and indemnifying the banks from state-level prosecution for a series of crimes at practically all stages of the mortgage process. It has been pointed out that by not enforcing the law, which includes investigating and prosecuting fraud, Barack Obama is in violation of his oath of office. Remember? The one he took on front of a rapt nation on the steps of the Capitol where he swore to up hold the Constitution and Law. I don’t recall any part of that oath including letting the banks get away with bringing the US economy to its knees through fraudulent practices.

A Deal That Wouldn’t Sting

by Gretchen Morgenson

Cutting to the chase: if you thought this was the deal that would hold banks accountable for filing phony documents in courts, foreclosing without showing they had the legal right to do so and generally running roughshod over anyone who opposed them, you are likely to be disappointed.

This may not qualify as a shock. Accountability has been mostly A.W.O.L. in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. A handful of state attorneys general became so troubled by the direction this deal was taking that they dropped out of the talks. Officials from Delaware, New York, Massachusetts and Nevada feared that the settlement would preclude further investigations, and would wind up being a gift to the banks.

It looks as if they were right to worry. As things stand, the settlement, said to total about $25 billion, would cost banks very little in actual cash – $3.5 billion to $5 billion. A dozen or so financial companies would contribute that money.

The rest – an estimated $20 billion – would consist of credits to banks that agree to reduce a predetermined dollar amount of principal owed on mortgages that they own or service for private investors. How many credits would accrue to a bank is unclear, but the amount would be based on a formula agreed to by the negotiators. A bank that writes down a second lien, for example, would receive a different amount from one that writes down a first lien.

Sure, $5 billion in cash isn’t nada. But government officials have held out this deal as the penalty for years of what they saw as unlawful foreclosure practices. A few billion spread among a dozen or so institutions wouldn’t seem a heavy burden, especially when considering the harm that was done. {..}

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. MERS, which wreaked havoc with land records across the country, was sued last week by Beau Biden, Delaware’s attorney general, on accusations of deceptive trade practices.

The MERS registry was also subpoenaed last week by Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, as part of his investigation into the fun-while-it-lasted mortgage securitization fest. If he were to sign on to the settlement, his investigation into MERS could not move forward.

Angry yet?

Latest Leak on State Attorney General Mortgage Settlement: A Shameless Sellout to the Banks

by Yves Smith

Morgenson highlights another feature of the plan:

   One of the oddest terms is that the banks would give $1,500 to any borrower who lost his or her home to foreclosure since September 2008. For people whose foreclosures were done properly, this would be a windfall. For those wrongfully evicted, it would be pathetic. Roughly $1.5 billion in cash is expected to go into this pot.

“Pathetic” isn’t strong enough. Let’s look at the damages sought by Nevada attorney general Catherine Masto in her second amended complaint against Bank of America: civil penalties of $5000 per violation, or $12,000 for elderly or disabled borrowers. An individual loan can, and likely does, have multiple violations. The suit also seeks restitution, costs for wrongful foreclosures, plus the cost of damage to municipalities and homeowners from unnecessary vacancies. Note that an AG victory on the issue of wrongful foreclosure would pave the way for private lawsuits, and here the damages would be massive, particularly if state law or precedent allows for penalties (as we’ve noted, Alabama has statutory tripe damages for wrongful foreclosure, and recent rulings have had applied penalties in excess of nine times).

And what did Masto get from a different servicer, Morgan Stanley’s Saxon? The settlement is estimated to average somewhere between $30,000 and $57,000 per borrower. And the basis of action wasn’t erroneous or fraudulent foreclosures, but deceptive practices in mortgage lending and securitization.



Look at the MERS compplaint filed by Delaware AG Beau Biden. He’s suing MERS over deceptive practices, at $10,000 per violation. It’s quite possible that he may find more than one violation per mortgage. And I would imagine that success against MERS would pave the way for actions against servicers who relied on MERS in the face of knowledge of its deficiencies.

In other words, the suits filed by two AGs alone make a mockery of these negotiations.

So, how much are the banks contributing to the president and the attorney generals who are going to try to let them off the hook?  

1 comment

  1. TMC

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