Tag Archive: Foreclosure Fraud

Jun 29 2012

Federal Reserve Lies About Foreclosures

While the attention was on the SCOTUS ruling on the affordable Care Act, this is what was going on under the radar at the Federal Reserve:

Federal Reserve, Regulators Arguing for More, Quicker Foreclosures

by David Dayen

The Federal Reserve has decided to put their thumbs on the scales of justice, explicitly attempting to overturn state-based anti-foreclosure laws on the spurious grounds that they hurt the economy.

This story by Tim Reid in Reuters cites the Fed arguing against the kind of laws in states like Nevada – and soon, California – that have saved hundreds of thousands of homes from foreclosure.

   “State and federal laws enacted to protect homeowners from eviction in the wake of the 2008 housing crash may be extending the slump, according to a growing number of economists and industry experts.

   Foreclosures have all but ground to a halt in Nevada, which passed one of the stiffest borrower-protection laws in the country last year. Yet the housing market is further than ever from recovery, local real estate agents say, with a lack of inventory feeding a “mini-bubble” in prices that few believe is sustainable.

   A recent U.S. Federal Reserve study found that in states requiring a judicial review for foreclosure, delays associated with the process had no measurable long-term benefits and often prolonged the problems with the housing market.”

There’s been a concerted effort to overturn due process in these judicial foreclosure states, on the theory that foreclosures must be quickly flushed through the system so the market can “clear.” Incredibly, house organs like the Fed still express this opinion even after years of documented evidence of illegal foreclosures using false and forged documents in court. The explicit recommendation from the Federal Reserve is to react to systematic foreclosure fraud by closing the courthouse doors to troubled borrowers.

The entire premise that judicial foreclosure states are prolonging the housing slump is completely spurious. Nothing furthers the housing slump more than a spate of foreclosures flooding the market, increasing the supply of distressed homes that sell cheaply and bringing down property values in a particular area. That’s what the Fed is arguing for.

Yes, they’re serious. This is basically siding with the banks, giving fraud as pass and screwing the homeowners and housing market with a flood of foreclosures. And Reuters and other trade publications have decided to publish the propaganda that keeping people in their homes is causing the market to slump and the solution is more foreclosures.

Freelance writer and attorney who helped expose the foreclosure fraud, Abigail Field takes on the Reuters “b.S.” sentence by sentence, shredding the propaganda that the housing crisis was caused by homeowners but by the banks themselves who created the shadow market of foreclosed homes and the underwater crisis. She makes these four points:

  • First, en route to committing mass securities fraud the banks dishonored their contracts and failed to document the mortgage loans as they promised investors they would. As a result, they’ve had to fabricate nonsensical, obviously fraudulent and often sworn statements to try to foreclose. It’s that swamp of fraud that’s causing the delays.
  • Second, banks are manipulating housing market inventory, letting properties they own rot, not listing them for sale, and when auctioning them, sometimes outbidding third parties.
  • Third, bankers’ securities fraud broke the secondary market for non-government backed mortgages. As a result, there’s a lot less capital to lend wannabe homeowners.
  • Fourth, lender-driven appraisal fraud led to such inflated prices that the underwater problem is directly attributable to them.
  • Rather than deal in the reality that our housing crisis is banker driven and dare push the meme that bankers must be held accountable, Reuters is helping bankers (and their government allies) push the idea that if only we made it easy for bankers to use their fraudulent documents, the housing market would heal quickly.

    There’s even more that exposes not just the Federal Reserve’s pass on bank fraud but the how the Obama administration’s so called homeowner bail out is just more hand outs to the banks:

    Sentences ten and eleven:

    “The increasing doubt about the impact of anti-foreclosure laws on the long-term health of the housing market calls into question a basic principle of the Obama Administration’s approach to the housing crisis.

    Many Democrats, including Obama, say struggling homeowners should get more time to make good on their mortgage arrears, or have the breathing room to renegotiate their loans with lenders, especially in the wake of the “robo-signing” scandal in which banks were found to have falsified foreclosure paperwork.”

    How I wish the Obama Administration’s approach had really been about helping struggling homeowners. Instead it has been mostly theatrics with gifts to the banks thrown in. Most recent example – the latest refinancing program has become a fee/profit center for the big banks. Moreover, if homeowners did “make good”, that would be better for everyone involved, including the broader market, but in the era of maximally predatory servicing, it’s not easy. Ditto with mortgage mods that work – and when they include principal reduction that’s meaningful, they work.

    Hey, look! In sentence 11 we get the first whiff of banker wrongdoing. And wow, he not only uses the misleading “robo-signing“, but he also says “falsified foreclosure paperwork.” Foreclosure “paperwork” doesn’t sound that serious, though, does it? How about “falsified documents affecting property title”? Or, “lied under oath about how much borrowers owed and to whom?”

    And as Yves Smith at naked capitalism notes in her article the lies get repeated ad nauseum:

    The way Big Lies get sold is by dint of relentless repetition. In the wake of the heinous mortgage settlement, foreclosure fatigue has set in. A lot of policy people want to move on because the topic has no upside for them. Nothing got fixed, the negotiation process took a lot of political capital (meaning, as we pointed out, it forestalls any large national initiatives in the near-to-medium term), and Good Dems don’t want to dwell on a crass Obama sellout (not that that should be a surprise by now). But the fact that this issue, which ought to be front burner given its importance both to individuals and the economy, is being relegated to background status creates the perfect setting for hammering away at bank-friendly memes. When people are less engaged, they read stories in a cursory fashion, or just glance at the headline, and don’t bother to think whether the storyline makes sense or the claims are substantiated.

    Just look at the headline: “Evidence suggests anti-foreclosure laws may backfire.” First, it says there are such things as “anti-foreclosure laws.” In fact, the laws under discussion are more accurately called “Foreclose legally, damnit” laws. Servicers and their foreclosure mill arms and legs have so flagrantly violated long-standing real estate laws in how they execute foreclosures that some states have decided to up the ante in terms of penalties to get the miscreants to cut it out. [..]

    And that is perhaps the most remarkable bit, the failure to consider that gutting the protections to the parties to a contract undermines commerce. Borrowers in judicial foreclosure states paid higher interest rates due to the greater difficulty of foreclosure. So now they are to be denied what they paid for because the banks recklessly disregarded the procedures they set up and committed to perform? What kind of incentive system is it when we reward massive institutional failure with a bank-favoring settlement and supportive messaging from central bank economists? As Dayen stated:

       “So when these officials argue against laws like those in Nevada, which merely criminalize a criminal practice, or California, which provides due process for people having their homes taken from them, they’re arguing in favor of what amounts to a dissolution of justice.”

    I don’t think you’ll read anything like this at Reuters. Shameful

    May 11 2012

    Is It Time For Schneiderman To Walk Away From The Task Force?

    It may be past time for New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to walk away from Residential Mortage Backed Securities working group (RMBS) and point it out for the sham that it is. It’s just not working and perhaps never was intended to “work”, from Anna Cuevas at Huffington Post:

    Not only have they not done anything, they also have no dedicated website, address, or telephone number. Under the arm of the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the Group planned to have 30 employees within the first few weeks — however, as of this date, the only names associated with the Group are the co-chairs: Lanny Breuer, Stuart Delery, Robert Khuzami, John Walsh, and Eric Schneiderman. While the president deemed that this group would “speed assistance” to homeowners, that assistance has thus far been exceedingly slow or non-existent. [..]

    Questions remain and need to be answered. The Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group is the sixth group formed by the administration to address the foreclosure crisis and provide relief to homeowners. Unfortunately, this group, like the others, is not seeing the urgency of the matter — that is, if they do, in fact, exist and are something more than a public relations announcement. As it appears, the new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group is not working — they don’t even have a place to work from.

    Schneiderman tried to put a positive spin on this circle jerk but it’s not easing the growing skepticism. From David Dayen at FDL News Desk:

    My point on this was always that the President’s appropriation request and $6 will get you a very expensive cup of coffee at my local Intelligentsia cafĂ© (seriously, $6 for a cup of coffee?). Presidential budget requests are as ignored in Washington as pledges to not accept lobbyist money, or marital vows. The request didn’t mean anything, and the House Republicans currently putting together the budget were highly unlikely to honor it.

    Sure enough, yesterday, the Justice, Science and Commerce appropriations bill, the proper venue for this additional $55 million request, came up for a vote. Maxine Waters tried to include the appropriation for the RMBS working group. And it failed pretty badly. [..]

    there’s no chance that the working group gets anything close to this kind of money for at least 4 months, and in all likelihood not at all.

    It’s just another example of how the protestations about the legitimacy of the working group fall apart when subjected to the slightest scrutiny.

    At naked capitalism, Yves Smith was even more critical of the task force and Schneiderman’s “performance” on Up with Chris Hayes:

    The point is that (Iowa AG Tom) Miller was a convenient stooge for the Administration. His job was to maintain the pretense that the effort he was leading was in the public’s interest and moving ahead at a good clip. These weren’t very easy lies to sell and Miller wasn’t very good at pedaling them, but that didn’t matter much. His job was to keep up a certain level of background noise.

    But nothing was going to happen unless the Administration wanted it to happen, and for some reason, the powers that be decided in late 2011 that a mortgage settlement would be a useful election talking point. So they saddled up and pushed the foundering deal over the line.

    Now that the Administration has traded up from the unknown Miller to the soi disant “Man the Banks Fear Most” Eric Schneiderman, we have the instructive spectacle of watching Schneiderman look more and more Miller-like with every passing day. Admittedly, Schneiderman is far more skilled at passing off Administration canards than Miller, and is also trusted by many progressives, so he can probably run on brand fumes for quite a while. [..]

    Schneiderman may be able to get away with this longer than he should, particularly since the plan is likely to be to file a couple of headline-getting but not-seriously-threatening-to-the-banking-oligarchs cases in the weeks before the election. He seems not to have noticed how the Administration has been quick to cast aside its operatives when they are no longer of use to them. In case he has managed not to notice how he is being played, expect him to have a rude awakening by the election.

    Read Yves entire article, it’s a scathingly realistic assessment of the Obama administration, the RMBS (could that abbreviation be more appropriate?) and Schneiderman. If Schneiderman doesn’t walk away from this joke, he will lose what little credibility he has left which, at this point, isn’t much.

    Apr 06 2012

    The Haunting Housing Crisis

    It seems like there is no end to the housing crisis that continues to be a major drag on the economy. The recent foreclosure agreement solved little to nothing of the problem and may have exacerbated it with thousands of homeowners still facing foreclosure or loss of equity in their homes. There is also the matter of all those homes that sit vacant, boarded up as a sign of the “suburban decay” that is plaguing minority neighborhoods the worst.

    David Dayen at FDL News Desk points out the bright side and dark side of suburban foreclosures:

    Kaid Benfield from the Natural Resources Defense Council takes a look on the bright side in regards to the foreclosure crisis, postulating that it will sound the death knell for exurban communities and sprawl. [..]

    I don’t think there’s much question, from my perspective, that a sharply reduced exurbia would benefit the country. It would limit fuel consumption and demand; and culturally, more livable, walkable, sustainable cities would foster a greater sense of community, which typically aligns with progressive values. Sprawl policies can answer for a number of societal problems over the past decades. [..]

    And yet I’m not convinced that we’re in for an era of reduced sprawl. The private equity players trying to purchase homes at a discount and rent them back out will find most of their inventory in the exurban areas. The expected rental market increase will probably increase the number of single-family units for rent more than anything. In fact, a report in today’s Washington Post finds that these kind of units are practically the only livable vacant properties left. Studies show that banks maintained their properties in white areas at a far greater rate than the ones in minority areas.

    With regard to the Washington Post article Think Progress‘s Travis Walden had this to say:

    The report is the latest sign of discrimination on the part of big banks when it comes to America’s housing market. Earlier reports found that blacks and Latinos were twice as likely to have been affected by the housing crisis, largely because an industry that has become infamous for its predatory lending practices was even more predatory when dealing with black and Latino borrowers. Banks and lenders often pushed minority borrowers into subprime loans even when they qualified for prime loans, adding as much as $100,000 in interest payments over the life of the loan.

    Housing prices remain depressed and are likely to drop another 10%:

    Sales of repossessed properties probably will rise 25 percent this year from 1 million in 2011, according to Moody’s Analytics Inc. Prices for the homes could drop as much as 10 percent because they deteriorated as they were held in reserve during investigations by state officials resolved in February, according to RealtyTrac Inc. That month, 43 percent of foreclosures were delinquent for two or more years, from a 21 percent share in 2010, according to Lender Processing Services Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida.

    Prices for repossessed properties could drop as much as 10 percent because they deteriorated as they were held in reserve during investigations by state officials resolved in February, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

    As Yves Smith at naked capitalism notes, this isn’t just a few thousands foreclosed homes but millions that are sitting empty:

    Note this view is based simply on the notion that foreclosures were attenuated on 1.25 million houses, allegedly due to banks keeping them off the market due to the robosiging crisis. By contrast, top housing analyst Laurie Goodman estimates the amount of shadow inventory at between 8 and 10 million homes, and our Michael Olenick, using a different methodology, comes in at just under 9 million homes.

    Moreover, evidence on the ground suggests that the banks had reasons other than the robosigning scandal for drawing out foreclosures. While NEW foreclosure actions slowed down markedly, and have ramped up again in the wake of the settlement, it looked far more likely that banks were attenuating foreclosures to maximize income . The longer a house in delinquent and then in the foreclosure process, the more the bank can collect in late fees and servicing fees. And there is considerable evidence that banks pile junk fees on top of that, for instance, double charging the borrower and the trust for fees like broker price opinions.

    To get a better idea of what this crisis looks like o a map, Ben Geddes of the Florida Coastal School of Law, working with April Charney, has been putting together Google Maps of vacant properties in Jacksonville, Fl.. If you go to the article you can zoom in on neighborhoods. It’s really very depressing and this is just one medium sized city.

    Until this crisis is truly addressed in a way that helps the homeowner stay in the home the housing market will continue to haunt any recovery from the recession.

     

    Mar 18 2012

    Foreclosure Settlement: More Reasons To Hate It

    The more the experts and analysts look into the Foreclosure Agreement the more reasons are found to hate it and why, to Yves Smith‘s descriptive word, it “sucks”:

    Not only are the banks getting away with fraud they are still going to be allowed to systemically overcharge homeowners and wrongly take their homes.

    Remember that the Administration also trumpeted that enforcement would be tough, even as Abigail Field has shown that idea to be a joke. For instance, the servicing standards allow for the astonishing concept of an acceptable error rate. Banks aren’t permitted to make errors with your checking account and ding you an accidental $10,000 and get away with it. But with people’s most important asset, their homes, servicers are allowed a certain level of reportable errors, and many of them can be serious as far as borrowers are concerned.[..]

    She also points out that wrongful foreclosures at a 1% rate are acceptable. Procedures around real estate are deliberate because any error of this magnitude has devastating consequences. But this new provision means that 1%, or over 33,000 erroneous foreclosures since 2008 would be perfectly OK as far as the authorities are concerned.

    Field also points out in a separate post that this deal is in no way done. Key points remain to be resolved, in particular, how the Monitor will supervise the pact. That’s a huge item, and leaving it unresolved shifts the power to the banks (if you don’t believe me, I refer you to what is happening to Dodd Frank).

    Field also wonders “how did all our meaningful law enforcers do this deal?:

    I hate the term Too Big To Fail because it’s a loaded premise presented as fact. But looking at the weasel parentheticals, maybe we should start asking if the banks as too big to be competent. I mean, why do the banks need a ‘hey, we tried but didn’t have enough time to stop the sale’ exemption? If the B.O.Bs (bailed out bankers) want their lawyer or trustee to call off a foreclosure sale, all they need is two things: a) to contact their agent and b) have a competent agent.

    What does “took appropriate steps to stop the sale” mean, anyway? Does it mean that someone at the bank left a message or two with foreclosure counsel? If the B.O.B.s made a real effort to stop the sale but their agents did it anyway, why isn’t that the B.O.B’s fault for having incompetent agents? Doesn’t giving the B.O.B. a pass remove any incentive to have competent (and thus more expensive) agents?

    Wrongfully selling someone’s home should be a strict liability issue. Strict liability is, well, strict: no one cares what you were trying to do, what your intentions were, what you did or didn’t do. Did the harm happen? Then you’re responsible.

    Before you give me any, hey, let’s be reasonable here, a business needs to operate and we’re so big some mistakes will happen, remember what we are talking about: homes; property rights; land records; fundamental fairness. How can the B.O.Bs be held to any standard other than strict liability when it comes to wrongfully selling a home?

    Neil Barofsky, the former Special US Treasury Department Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and Matthew Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute give a good overview of why this settlement really “sucks”

    There is no accountability, no punishment for what has to be the largest fraud ever perpetrated in this country.  

    Mar 16 2012

    Foreclosure Fraud: More Foreclosures

    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.

    Mar 14 2012

    Foreclosure Fraud: The Criminals Conducted the Prosecution

    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.

    Mar 14 2012

    Foreclosure Fraud: Finally the Details

    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

    Feb 24 2012

    Foreclosure Fraud: The New York State Solution

    In October of 2010, New York State’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman became deeply concerned about the big banks lax handling of mortgage documents and several lenders and servicers who had hired staff who did not properly review files or submitted false statements to evict delinquent borrowers. Consequently to curb the illegal practice and preserve the integrity of the court foreclosure laws, Judge Lippman ordered that lawyers handling the foreclosures be held accountable for the paperwork:

    Chief Judge Lippman said, “We cannot allow the courts in New York State to stand by idly and be party to what we now know is a deeply flawed process, especially when that process involves basic human needs – such as a family home – during this period of economic crisis. This new filing requirement will play a vital role in ensuring that the documents judges rely on will be thoroughly examined, accurate, and error-free before any judge is asked to take the drastic step of foreclosure.”

    Under the new requirement, plaintiff’s counsel in foreclosure matters must submit the affirmation at one of several stages. In new cases, the affirmation must accompany the Request for Judicial Intervention. In pending cases, the affirmation must be submitted with either the proposed order of reference or the proposed judgment of foreclosure. In cases where a foreclosure judgment has been entered but the property has not yet been sold at auction, the affirmation must be submitted to the court referee, and a copy filed with the court, five business days before the scheduled auction. Counsel is also obligated to file an amended version of the affidavit if new facts emerge after the initial filing.

    Since the announcement of the Foreclosure Fraud “Settlement”, Judge Lippman has once again ordered a solution that may well reduce the number of fraudulent foreclosures, at least in New York State, by setting up a series special courts to handle the cases:

    The new program is to start in Queens this spring and then expand around the city and to nearby suburbs, court officials said. The officials said that under the program, judges would take over the running of some settlement conferences from court attorneys, who lack the power to impose punishments. State law requires that bank representatives “be fully authorized to dispose of the case,” but enforcement of that requirement has been sporadic.

    The officials said the plan would include court supervision of the collection of required documents to try to avoid delays and would seek to shorten the time some foreclosure cases linger in the courts to several months from up to two years.

    Courts would also work to assure that homeowners who cannot afford lawyers are represented, though some lawyers who handle such cases questioned whether that goal was realistic.

    There are still some hurdles, such as immediate funding for lawyers to represent homeowners until the funds from the settlement are release. A spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “negotiations with the Legislature were likely to find money for the legal agencies in the meantime.”

    It good to see that judiciary is stepping in when prosecutors drop the ball, thanks to commonsense jurist like Jonathan Lippman.

    Feb 22 2012

    The Joke Is On Schneiderman

    Both Yves Smith at naked capitalism and David Dayen at FDL New Desk highlighted this part of an article penned by Glenn Thrush at Politico:

       Schneiderman, whose Lower Manhattan office overlooks Zuccotti Park where the Occupy movement began, felt like he was being strong-armed by Donovan and wasn’t shy about sharing his dissatisfaction. In late August, The New York Times reported that Schneiderman had come “under increasing pressure from the Obama administration to drop his opposition to a wide-ranging state settlement with banks over dubious foreclosure practices.”

       That did it for [HUD Secretary Shuan] Donovan, according to people close to him. Worried that the settlement was in danger of falling apart, he woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning and sketched the outline of what would emerge as the final compromise plan.

       A bit later he called Schneiderman, who immediately began re-arguing his case for holding banks accountable.

       Donovan stopped him: “Look, hear me out, I want to get past this,” he said, and proposed creating a special panel to probe wrongdoing by banks, to be co-chaired by Schneiderman. He also promised to limit the scope of any releases granted to the banks and rewrote his draft.

       Miller, who clashed with Schneiderman over the releases, said Donovan didn’t make many changes but was artful enough to sell it as a compromise to the New York attorney general, who wanted to seal the deal.

       “Essentially what Shaun did was let Eric take credit for shaping the release,” Miller said, “credit that wasn’t factually correct.”

    Dayen points out, quite accurately, that with Schneiderman on board with the settlement deal the opposition to it fell apart:

    Whether you believe in Eric Schneiderman’s ability to deliver a legitimate investigation on mortgage securitization fraud or not, you have to admit that the united front on opposition to a settlement on foreclosure fraud collapsed the moment that he agreed to helm that federal investigatory task force. He immediately separated “pre-bubble” and “post-bubble” conduct, allowing for a settlement on the latter while he joined the investigation on the former. And eventually, every other AG on the Democratic side fell in line, as they didn’t have New York as an anchor to stay out of a settlement.

    That’s just what happened. And now we have HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Iowa AG Tom Miller, head of the executive committee that settled on foreclosure fraud, clowning Schneiderman on the record, saying that he got next to nothing in exchange for his holdout.

    As Yves Smith notes “you can draw some damning conclusions conclusions about New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman’s role.”

    Unless Schneiderman has been promised something bigger by Obama, US AG, he should walk away from this farce and, if he still can, withdraw his support of this “bait and switch” settlement that hasn’t been settled.

    But I have a feeling, he’s accepted a bigger bribe and signing onto this bank bailout will assure his easy confirmation. (Just speculating that Obama will get a 2nd term.)

    Feb 01 2012

    The Mortgage Settlement: More Lies

    Nothing is as it seems and all the optimism about how the mortgage settlement with the banks was about to be sealed with a kiss turns about to be premature. With a deadline of February 3 for states to declare whether they are joining the settlement, some major questions have been raised about just what the definition of “narrow” is for the Obama administration.

    From Yves Smith at naked capitalism.

    Yet More Mortgage Settlement Lies: Release Looks Broad, Not Narrow; Other States Screwed to Bribe California to Join

    While there is every reason to believe there has been some improvement in terms due to the resistance of Schneiderman and other state attorneys general (Beau Biden of Delaware, Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Kamala Harris of California), the notion that, per Mike Lux, “the settlement release is tight” appears to be patently false.

    Since there has yet to be any disclosure of the draft terms, we can’t be certain, but a reading of a letter sent by Nevada’s Masto gives plenty of cause for pause. Reaching inferences from her 38 questions is a Plato’s cave exercise, but some of the items seem pretty clear. [..]

    Yves explains the concerns that the banks would be released of liability of not just robosigning but chain of title securitizations and origination issues. She then get to the latter from Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto who submitted a letter to settlement negotiators

    Most of her queries are sufficiently technical so as to make it hard to guess with any certainty as to what the language of the agreement might be, but two questions at the top stood out:

    Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

    This certainly looks as if Masto sees the origination release as broad. Asking for an itemization of what is NOT included suggests a lot seems to be included.

    But this is the whopper:

    Photobucket

    From early on, we have stressed that this is a cash for release deal, and this looks like a VERY big release. The banks will pay an amount into the fund, and all issues relating to robo-signing and foreclosure will be released by the AGs: the banks will have a state level release from all bad assignment/transfer issues. [..]

    Remember, bank executives piously swore in 2010 that they stopped robosigning, yet their firms continue to engage in that practice.

    Then there is the matter of trying to bribe California’s AG Kamala Harris back into the fold by giving California 60% of the $25 billion. She notes this article from the Financial Times by Shahien Nasiripour

       California, home to the largest US property market, spurned an offer of roughly $15bn in lower monthly mortgage payments and reduced loan balances for its residents in talks to settle allegations of mortgage-related misdeeds by leading US banks…

       California would have received more than half of about $25bn of aid that would be available to borrowers in a nationwide deal under discussion to settle allegations that banks illegally seized homes using faulty documentation.

       Deal terms, sent to state attorneys-general late last week after nearly a year of talks between the banks and various states and federal agencies, did not include guaranteed minimums for any other states, people familiar with the matter said. Various state officials said they were unaware of the California offer.

    Yves notes that AG Masto in question #24 asks for clarification of how much each state would receive.

    I agree with Yves that it’s hard to imagine how any attorney general could sign onto this agreement and begs to question why Florida’s AG Pam Bondi would be pushing California to sign on to this and not pushing for a better settlement for the homeowners of her state. Masto certainly did her homework as David Dayen at FDL News Desk noted:

    n other words, Masto did her homework and saw this settlement as little more than a framework, without specificity on the release, the level of relief on a per-state basis, and the level of enforcement. Or, in other words, everything. And by the way, they want an answer by the end of the week. That’s clear at the end of Masto’s letter, where she writes: “Because there is a sign-on deadline of February 3, 2012, I need this information as soon as possible to allow my office to continue to evaluate the proposal on behalf of the state of Nevada.”

    Every AG should be asking these same questions including Eric Schneiderman.

    And that leads to the question of Eric Schneiderman and his motivations for sitting on the sideline and not opposing what appears to be a walk from liability for the banks and screw the homeowners. This is a very disappointing development and it won’t win Obama any votes either.

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