Tag Archive: Beau Biden

Feb 14 2012

The Mortgage Settlement: They All Lied

Yes, they all lied, the the government and the state attorneys general, Schneiderman, too. The 49 state mortgage settlement that is  not written but was reached is not the narrow settlement that these actors would have you believe. In the Mortgage Settlement Executive Summary Section VII states:

   The proposed Release contains a broad release of the banks’ conduct related to mortgage loan servicing, foreclosure preparation, and mortgage loan origination services. Claims based on these areas of past conduct by the banks cannot be brought by state attorneys general or banking regulators.

   The Release applies only to the named bank parties. It does not extend to third parties who may have provided default or foreclosure services for the banks. Notably, claims against MERSCORP, Inc. or Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) are not released.

What does that mean? According to Yves Smith at naked capitalism it translates to a complete get out of jail free card

This is sufficiently general so that it is hard to be certain, but It certainly reads as if it waives chain of title issues and liability related to the use of MERS. That seems to be confirmed by the fact that made by local recorders for fees are explicitly preserved (one would not think they would need to be preserved unless they might otherwise be assumed to be waived). This is exactly the sort of release we feared would be given in a worst case scenario. The banks have gotten a huge “get out of jail free” card of bupkis.

Yves also quotes Frederick Leatherman who for a recap:

In one of his articles yesterday at Firedoglake, David Dayen mentioned that the settlement agreement has not been reduced to writing.

That is astonishing.

Let me repeat. That. Is. Astonishing.

The biggest problem with settlement agreements in particular, and all agreements in general, is reaching a so-called ‘meeting of the minds’ regarding the details and ‘chiseling them into stone’ by reducing them to writing. As I used to warn my clients when I was practicing law, we do not have an agreement until it has been reduced to writing, thoroughly reviewed, and signed by each of the parties. That has obviously not happened in this case.

Experience has taught us that humans dealing in good faith make mistakes, no matter how careful they are, and the potential for mistakes, misunderstandings and subsequent disagreements about the terms of an agreement cannot be overestimated. That potential becomes a certainty when one or more parties to an agreement is dealing in bad faith.

That, my friends, is why we have a law called the Statute of Frauds, which requires that certain types of agreements be in writing or they are invalid and unenforceable.

Yves take on Schneiderman and Biden’s involvement:

While the full terms have not been agreed upon, this seems to call into question the claim that Schneiderman got a carve-out for his MERS suit (and Biden had separately insisted that he had wanted to be able to add banks to his case against MERS).

But even with all these caveats, it’s hard to read the executive summary, which no doubt was vetted by the bank, Administration and AG sides, as meaning other than what it intends to mean: that the banks have been released of the meteor-wiping-out-the-dinosaurs-and-the-MBS-market liability they were most afraid of, that of the monstrous mess they made in their failure to convey notes as stipulated in their own contracts, and with their failure to use MERS as a mere registry, rather than a substitute for local recording offices. That in turns means that various cheerleaders for this deal, such as Mike “Settlement Release Looks Tight” Lux and Bob Kuttner have badly misled readers in their assertions that the release was narrow and the deal is good for homeowners.

The Obama administration and its advocates would have us believe that this agreement is going to help underwater homeowners and those who have been victims of foreclosure fraud. I’m not going to be delicate about this, it’s a bold faced lie. To make matters even worse Pimco’s analysis points out how this will damage pensions:

The government’s deal with banks over their foreclosure practices after 16 months of investigations is cheap for the loan servicers while costly for bond investors including pension funds, according to Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Scott Simon.

In what the U.S. called the largest federal-state civil settlement in the nation’s history, five banks including Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. yesterday committed $20 billion in various forms of mortgage relief plus payments of $5 billion to state and federal governments.

“This was a relatively cheap resolution for the banks,” said Simon, the mortgage head at Pimco, which runs the world’s largest bond fund. “A lot of the principal reductions would have happened on their loans anyway, and they’re using other people’s money to pay for a ton of this. Pension funds, 401(k)s and mutual funds are going to pick up a lot of the load.”

If anyone expects that that new panel with New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is going to ease the housing crisis and hold the banks accountable, I have some really cheap bridges for sale in California and New York.

Feb 12 2012

The Mortgage Settlement: Not Settled Yet

So one has yet seen the final agreement between the banks and the state attorneys general and it may be awhile before we do. And as Yves Smith at naked capitalism stated “You know it’s bad when banks are the most truthful guys in the room“:

Remember that historical mortgage settlement deal that was the lead news story on Thursday? It has been widely depicted as a done deal. The various AGs who had been holdouts said their concerns had been satisfied.

But in fact, Bank of America’s press release said that the deal was “agreements in principle” as opposed to a final agreement. The Charlotte bank had to be more precise than politicians because it is subject to SEC regulations about the accuracy of its disclosures. And if you read the template for the AG press release carefully, you can see how it finesses where the pact stands. And today, American Banker confirmed that the settlement pact is far from done, and the details will be kept from the public as long as possible, until it is filed in Federal court (because it includes injunctive relief, a judge must bless the agreement).

This may not sound all that important to laypeople, but most negotiators and attorneys will react viscerally to how negligent the behavior of the AGs has been. The most common reaction among lawyers I know who been with white shoe firms (including former partners) is “shocking”.

In fact as the American Banker points out the document does not exist:

More than a day after the announcement of a mammoth national mortgage servicing settlement, the actual terms of the deal still aren’t public. The website created for the national settlement lists the document as “coming soon.”

That’s because a fully authorized, legally binding deal has not been inked yet.

The implication of this is hard to say. Spokespersons for both the Iowa attorney general’s office and the Department of Justice both told American Banker that the actual settlement will not be made public until it is submitted to a court. A representative for the North Carolina attorney general downplayed the significance of the document’s non-final status, saying that the terms were already fixed. [..]

Other sources who spoke with American Banker raised doubts that everything is yet in place. A person familiar with the mortgage servicing pact says that a settlement term sheet does not yet exist. Instead, there are a series of nearly-complete documents that will be attached to a consent judgment eventually filed with the court. That truly final version will include things such as servicing standards, consumer relief options, legal releases, and enforcement terms. There will likely be separate state and a federal versions of the release.

Some who talked to American Banker said that the political pressure to announce the settlement drove the timing, in effect putting the press release cart in front of the settlement horse.

Whatever the reason for the document’s continued non-appearance, the lack of a public final settlement is already the cause for disgruntlement among those who closely follow the banking industry. Quite simply, the actual terms of a settlement matter. [..]

“The devil’s in the details,” says Ron Glancz, chairman of law firm Venable LLP’s Financial Services Group. “Until you see the document you’re never quite sure what your rights are.”

“It’s frustrating,” agrees Stern Agee analyst John Nadel. “But it’s not unlike anything else that’s been going on in financial reform generally, is it?” [..]

“It is hard for me to believe that they would have gone public in the way that they did if they didn’t have it all worked out. But it is unusual that we don’t have a copy of the settlement yet,” says Diane Thompson, an attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.

A spokesperson from the South Carolina AG’s office told American Banker that when the agreement is finalized it would be posted to this website “nationalmortgagesettlement.com,” which raised some eyebrows. David Dayen at FDL News Desk questioned why .com and not .org? Dayen also pointed out that by not having all the details ironed out is “just a shocking abdication of responsibility”:

This is incredible. The Administration, the AGs, everyone involved in this made a big show of an agreement reached on foreclosure fraud. But there is no piece of paper with the agreement on it. There’s no term sheet. There are just agreements in principle.

There’s a HUGE difference between an agreement in principle and the actual terms. I mean night and day. The Dodd-Frank bill was for all intents and purposes an agreement in principle. It left to the federal regulators to write hundreds of rules. And we have seen how that process of implementation has faltered on several key points. But the Administration wanted to announce a “big deal,” the details be damned. And they got buy-in from the AGs. Everyone else stayed silent.

Yves Smith appeared with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now to discuss just how bad this deal is.

The U.S. Justice Department has unveiled a record mortgage settlement with the nation’s five largest banks to resolve claims over faulty foreclosures and mortgage practices that have indebted and displaced homeowners and sunk the nation’s economy. While the deal is being described as a $25 billion settlement, the banks will only have to pay out a total of $5 billion in cash between them. We speak to one of the settlement’s most prominent critics, Yves Smith, a longtime financial analyst who runs the popular finance website, “Naked Capitalism.” “The settlement, on the surface, does look like it is helping homeowners,” Smith says. “But in fact, the bigger part that most people don’t recognize is the way it actually helps the banks with mortgages on their own books. … The real problem is that this deal is just not going to give that much relief.”

Yes, this could be a lot worse and won’t address the needs of the underwater homeowners or those who lost their homes through fraud.

Feb 09 2012

The Settlement & Other Propaganda

This is a state by state breakdown of the foreclosure settlement (h/t Yves Smith):

An astute observation from Lambert Strether:

OMFG, look at the weasel wording in the press release:

   “This agreement is very significant in how it addresses the fraud that these banks committed against many homeowners across our state,” said ___.” This agreement not only provides much needed relief to (STATE) [Ha ha, fill in the blank!!!] borrowers, but it also puts a stop to many of the bad [criminal] behaviors that contributed to the mortgage mess in our state and across the country.”

And then there’s “fraud that these banks committed.” So if it’s fraud (against whom?!) then why is nobody going to jail?

UPDATE Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot. Banksters never go to jail. A banana republic like ours has a two-tier system of justice, and banksters have impunity for all crimes. Unlike you, peasants. My bad, seriously.

And is definitely a top comment:

Google tells it like it is. I google the first phrase as a complete string, a la “This agreement is very significant in how it addresses the fraud“, and the first thing that comes up is indeed Tom Miller’s press release, from 9 minutes ago (10:44AM EST), and two or three down after that, links to Nigerian 419 scams, triggered by the similarities between the Miller’s wording, and the scripts of scam artists. Shocker!

(all emphasis mine)

Some of the propaganda (again h/t Yves Smith):

Settlement Graphic and Settlement Graphic

Click the links but first put all heavy and sharp objects out of reach.

Feb 09 2012

The Mortgage Settlement: Leaves Out Millions of Homeowners, Banks Walk Away Happy

The biggest banks involved in mortgage fraud have agreed to a $26 billion settlement along with 49 states attorneys general. Oklahoma is the only hold out because the state’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, did not believe that the banks should face any penalty. The agreement will “help borrowers owing more than their houses are worth, with roughly one million expected to have their mortgage debt reduced by lenders or able to refinance their homes at lower rates. Another 750,000 people who lost their homes to foreclosure from September 2008 to the end of 2011 will receive checks for about $2,000. The aid is to be distributed over three years.”

Yves Smith at naked capitalism notes that while the final terms of the agreement have not been released but some of the details have been leaked:

   1. The total for the top five servicers is now touted as $26 billion (annoyingly, the FT is calling it “nearly $40 billion”), but of that, roughly $17 billion is credits for principal modifications, which as we pointed out earlier, can and almost assuredly will come largely from mortgages owned by investors. $3 billion is for refis, and only $5 billion will be in the form of hard cash payments, including $1500 to $2000 per borrower foreclosed on between September 2008 and December 2011.

   Banks will be required to modify second liens that sit behind firsts “at least” pari passu, which in practice will mean at most pari passu. So this guarantees banks will also focus on borrowers where they do not have second lien exposure, and this also makes the settlement less helpful to struggling homeowners, since borrowers with both second and first liens default at much higher rates than those without second mortgages. Per the Journal:

      “It’s not new money. It’s all soft dollars to the banks,” said Paul Miller, a bank analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

   The Times is also subdued:

       Despite the billions earmarked in the accord, the aid will help a relatively small portion of the millions of borrowers who are delinquent and facing foreclosure. The success could depend in part on how effectively the program is carried out because earlier efforts by Washington aimed at troubled borrowers helped far fewer than had been expected.

   2. Schneiderman’s MERS suit survives, and he can add more banks as defendants. It isn’t clear what became of the Biden and Coakley MERS suits, but Biden sounded pretty adamant in past media presentations on preserving that.

   3. Nevada’s and Arizona’s suits against Countrywide for violating its past consent decree on mortgage servicing has, in a new Orwellianism, been “folded into” the settlement.

   4. The five big players in the settlement have already set aside reserves sufficient for this deal.

Yves goes on to enumerate the top 12 reasons why this settlement really stinks. These are her top 5:

1. We’ve now set a price for forgeries and fabricating documents. It’s $2000 per loan. This is a rounding error compared to the chain of title problem these systematic practices were designed to circumvent. The cost is also trivial in comparison to the average loan, which is roughly $180k, so the settlement represents about 1% of loan balances. It is less than the price of the title insurance that banks failed to get when they transferred the loans to the trust. It is a fraction of the cost of the legal expenses when foreclosures are challenged. It’s a great deal for the banks because no one is at any of the servicers going to jail for forgery and the banks have set the upper bound of the cost of riding roughshod over 300 years of real estate law.

2. That $26 billion is actually $5 billion of bank money and the rest is your money. The mortgage principal writedowns are guaranteed to come almost entirely from securitized loans, which means from investors, which in turn means taxpayers via Fannie and Freddie, pension funds, insurers, and 401 (k)s. Refis of performing loans also reduce income to those very same investors.

3. That $5 billion divided among the big banks wouldn’t even represent a significant quarterly hit. Freddie and Fannie putbacks to the major banks have been running at that level each quarter.

4. That $20 billion actually makes bank second liens sounder, so this deal is a stealth bailout that strengthens bank balance sheets at the expense of the broader public.

5. The enforcement is a joke. The first layer of supervision is the banks reporting on themselves. The framework is similar to that of the OCC consent decrees implemented last year, which Adam Levitin and yours truly, among others, decried as regulatory theater.

She goes on to explain how there are no constraints on servicers cheating to reduce their losses and will face no consequences when caught as in the past. With the law suits against Countrywide somehow “folded into the deal”, Bank of America, who is by far the worst offender in the chain of title disaster, gets a “special gift”: “that failing to comply with a consent degree has no consequences but will merely be rolled into a new consent degree which will also fail to be enforced”. As David Dayen at FDL News Desk explains:

As far as the release goes, AG offices that signed onto the lawsuit claimed it was narrowly crafted to only affected foreclosure fraud, robo-signing and servicing (which I don’t feel is all that narrow, but I’m trying to just-the-facts this – ed). The lawsuit that New York AG Eric Schneiderman filed last Friday, suing MERS and three banks for their use of MERS, was preserved fully. There was a last-minute request by the banks to dissolve that lawsuit, but it was not successful. In addition, Schneiderman reserves the right to sue other servicers for their use of MERS along the same lines as the current lawsuit. [..]

Other lawsuits, like Delaware AG Beau Biden’s lawsuit against MERS, Missouri AG Chris Koster’s criminal indictments against DocX, and Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto’s suit against LPS and its employees would be able to go forward as well because the banks are not a party to them. However, it’s unclear whether any of those AGs will be able to work their way up the chain to indict bank officers for the same conduct; the likely answer, I assume, would be no. In California, Kamala Harris preserved the right for state officials and large pension funds to sue under the state’s False Claims Act over mortgage backed securities that later fell in value.

The status of Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley’s suit against five banks for foreclosure fraud is unknown. In all likelihood, the Nevada/Arizona suit against Bank of America for failing to follow their responsibilities in the Countrywide settlement will be folded into the deal.

In that settlement, BofA promised to deliver $8.5 billion in relief for Countrywide borrowers who fell victim to deceptive practices in the mortgage process. In reality, only $236 million was ever spent. Weak settlement terms allowed BofA to take credit merely for offering loan modifications to borrowers. And the Nevada suit alleged that BofA immediately started abusing borrowers who tried to get relief under the deal. But that suit is now gone.

As to the role of new Federal task force, if it were to be taken seriously this settlement should have not been completes until the task force’s investigation was finished. A good investigation takes charges that are easy to prove to help get the more evidence for the more difficult ones. By letting the banks walk. As Yves sees it, and she is correct, the investigations in Nevada and Missouri led to criminal charges and arrests that might have led to deals to catch the criminals “higher up the food chain.” There is plenty of evidence of bankruptcy-related filings, such as inflated and bogus fees, and even substantial, completely made up charges that has been ignored that could have led to a bigger settlement and prosecutions. By cutting a deal on robosigning the deeper chain of title problem has now been covered up making it even more difficult to address the on going fraud at high levels, the banks themselves.

So the bottom line is the banks have three years to hand out $5 billion in cash to about one million homeowners that will amount to about $2000 each for the loss of their homes through fraud. They will suffer no other consequences and there will be no further means to prosecute them, even if there is clear evidence of complicity in fraud related to robosigning. There is still the issue of 10 million underwater homeowners with $700 billion in negative equity that will continue to drag on the housing market and the economy for years to come. It would seem the Obama administration has once again screwed the vast majority of Americans to protect the Banks and Wall St. and his supporters are cheering this as another reason to reelect him. I see no reason for the Republicans to worry about another four years of Obama.

Up Date: If you’re one of the victims of the banking ghouls, you might not want to visit the new website for “The National Mortgage Settlement” The picture alone might make you want to do something you’d regret. The site details the agreement. David Dayen gives a brief synopsis of some of the gorier detail:

$750 million in a payment to the federal government;

$4.5 billion in direct payments to the states, of which $1.5 billion will go to those $2,000 checks to borrowers, and $2.75 billion to state foreclosure prevention services like legal aid, mandatory mediation and other programs. So the hard money comes to $5.25 billion.

$20 billion in “direct consumer relief”;

$3 billion to help current underwater borrowers refinance, and $17 billion in “credits” for principal reductions. HUD estimates that the dollar value of this will come to $32.3 billion in the end, as we’ve discussed. HUD Secretary Donovan has alternately said that a “substantial” amount of this money will come from MBS investor loans, and also that the large majority would come out of bank-owned loans. Also second liens have to be reduced along with firsts at least pari passu (on equal terms).

In addition, officials are touting the nationwide servicing standards that will be ushered in with this deal. Left out of this is the fact that the CFPB now has control over the servicing market, and can regulate national standards all by themselves.

The site mentions what the settlement doesn’t cover:

Release any criminal liability or grant any criminal immunity.

Release any private claims by individuals or any class action claims.

Release claims related to the securitization of mortgage backed securities that were at the heart of the financial crisis.

Release claims against Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems or MERSCORP.

Release any claims by a state that chooses not to sign the settlement.

End state attorneys general investigations of Wall Street related to financial fraud or the financial crisis.

We still don’t have any specific answers to the letter that Nevada AG Masto sent to the settlement negotiators. What Davyen finds really annoying is that the specific details haven’t been released to the  public who really deserves to know how badly they are being screwed.

I may have a separate article later as more specifics trickle down

Feb 07 2012

Foreclosure Settlement: Banks Want A Free Pass On All Litigations

As the the multistate foreclosure settlement inches to some conclusion, the Big Banks have dropped the other shoe. They won’t sign on to the agreement unless Schneiderman drops his law suit against them and MERS. The proposed settlement would also require the attorneys general from Nevada, Massachusetts and Arizona to drop their litigation should they decide to sign onto the agreement:

Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. made a last-minute demand that New York drop claims filed against them Feb. 3 as a condition of the settlement, a person familiar with the matter said. [..]

New York sued Bank of America, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo in state court in Brooklyn, saying their use of a mortgage database known as MERS led to improper foreclosures. Schneiderman said the banks’ use of the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems database misled homeowners, undermined foreclosure proceedings and created uncertainty about ownership interests in properties.

The banks have asked that many of the claims in the complaint be thrown out, said the person. The other two banks involved in the nationwide settlement proposal, Ally Financial Inc. and Citigroup Inc., weren’t named in the complaint. [..]

The proposed settlement already requires Massachusetts, Nevada and Arizona, which have sued banks involved in the talks, to settle their claims, a person familiar with them said.

Nevada and Arizona each sued Bank of America over mortgage- servicing practices, accusing it of misleading consumers, while Massachusetts sued all five banks.

It appears that the agreement would give the banks immunity from prosecution and civil suits from mortgage origination fraud. The settlement does not prevent an investigation into mortgage securitization (secondary mortgage fraud), it would give the banks a free pass on all the fraudulent foreclosures and mortgages that are the primary cause of the housing market crash.

So where does this leave the new unit the President Obama created to investigate mortgage fraud? Professor of law and economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Bill Black, spoke with Theresa Riley on Bill Moyers & Compnany:

Riley: If the deal goes through as reported, what could this mean for future criminal investigations and reforms?

Black:  The leaks about the proposed deal occurred in conjunction with President Obama’s State of the Union Address and a series of press releases and conferences by Attorney General Holder about a newly created “working group.” That working group is intended to investigate secondary market fraud. There is no comprehensive investigation of the over $1 trillion in mortgage origination fraud. There are no prosecutions of any of the elite bank officers who led, and became wealthy from, the epidemic of mortgage origination fraud. The State AGs do not have the resources to investigate even two of the largest fraudulent lenders.

The major development this past week is that New York Attorney General Schneiderman filed suit, alleging that the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) is aiding foreclosure fraud and ruining America’s public recordation system for real estate, which conservative economists praised as one of the key reasons America became so prosperous. MERS is enormous and it is fundamentally flawed and dangerous, so this could be a tremendously useful action.

Riley: Speaking of Schneiderman, what’s your view of President Obama’s SOTU announcement of a new Financial Crimes Unit (the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) Working Group) co-chaired by him?

Black:  If Schneiderman had been named Attorney General of the United States, we would know that the administration really intended to hold accountable the frauds that drove the crisis. Instead, the top two Justice Department officials that are supposed to be prosecuting the elite frauds have consistently failed to even investigate the frauds, have denied the existence of material fraud, and came from the same law firm that represented many of the big, fraudulent banks and was critical to the creation of the notorious Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) that contributed to the foreclosure fraud.

AG Schneiderman was appointed to the working group because he has broad credibility as a real prosecutor. His refusal to support the earlier drafts of the robo-signing deal (which was so bad that I described it as the formal surrender of the U.S. to crony capitalism) led the State AGs to kick him out of the settlement discussions.

Schneiderman is only one of the co-chairs of the new working group. The others are federal prosecutors or officials who were the strongest proponents of the cynical deal that would have de facto immunized the elite criminals from civil and even criminal sanctions. The working group is set up so that Schneiderman can give the group credibility while being marginalized. He can be outvoted in any matter in which he proposes vigorous prosecutions.

Riley: It sounds like you don’t think this new working group is going to get the job done. Last week, Schneiderman said that he thinks he has the resources (particularly the IRS and the Consumer Protection Unit) and the political will to pursue the investigation in a meaningful way. Why do you disagree?

Black: First, the “investigation” will not investigate what was by far the largest and most destructive fraud – control frauds – the origination of millions of fraudulent loans. Second, the working group’s resources to investigate secondary market fraud are ludicrously inadequate.

Let me provide specifics on scale.

The total staffing of the working group (once completed in several months) is 55. At peak, there were roughly 1000 investigators (and hundreds of prosecutors) assigned to the S&L prosecutions 20 years ago. The current crisis caused losses far exceeding the S&L debacle and involves frauds that are massively greater than the frauds that drove the S&L debacle.

But the issue of resources is not where the discussion needs to begin. The keys are information, expertise, understanding of control fraud, and prioritization of investigations and prosecutions. Absent criminal referrals from the financial regulators and whistleblowers, absent dozens of banking regulators being “detailed” to serve with the FBI as their internal experts, absent training of the investigators and prosecutors on how to detect and prosecute control frauds (the Justice Department uses the mortgage lending industry’s “definition” of mortgage fraud – and, surprise, it defines the lenders and their CEOs who made millions of fraudulent liar’s loans as the good guys/victims of mortgage fraud rather than the perpetrators), and absent the immediate reversal of the current system of making smaller mortgage frauds our top criminal justice priority – absent all of these things there can be episodic prosecutorial successes, but continued systemic failure is certain.

We will know that there is a real commitment to prosecuting the elite frauds when the Justice Department takes these essential, foundational steps – and the Department quadruples the number of FBI agents assigned to investigate mortgage fraud.

Riley: What would you like to see happen?

Black:  We have descended too fully into the cesspool of crony capitalism when our most elite banks can commit what SEC investigations find to be fraud and still claim in filings to the SEC that they have “a strong record of compliance with securities laws” – and the SEC buys such a preposterous claim hook, line, sinker, rod, reel, and the canoe they paddled into the swamp.

Where are the “soft on crime” conservatives when you need them? This is the perfect story for Republicans to use in attacking President Obama’s policies. Why are they so silent?

I want the elite criminals who ran the control frauds to be prosecuted and imprisoned if found guilty. Under President Bush, the Justice Department’s prosecution of financial frauds was pathetic. Even though financial fraud reached unprecedented levels, the Bush administration prosecuted fewer than one-half as many financial frauds as during the S&L debacle. The bad news is that the Obama administration has proven even more disgraceful failures in holding elite criminals accountable than did the Bush administration. The Obama administration has convicted a few bankers from non-elite banks and it may eventually convict a token elite banker, but it will continue to fail systemically to hold elite bankers accountable for their frauds.

(all emphasis mine)

The special new unit is a charade. There will be no prosecutions of any elite criminals. Obama has made sure of that.

Meanwhile the agreement is inching towards a conclusion with Iowa Attorney General announcing that 40 states have agreed to sign:

“The sign-on deadline for the proposed joint state-federal mortgage servicing settlement passed Monday with more than 40 states signing on,” Miller said “This enables us to move forward into the very final stages of remaining work.Federal and state officials, as well as representatives from the banks, continue to address matters that they must complete before finalizing any settlement.”

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, who spoke with MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan, indicated he will sign on only if he can continue to pursue MERS and not be precluded from adding the banks from the suit.

Apparently Missouri’s Attorney General didn’t get the word about not filing suits. He not only filed a criminal lawsuit against DocX, one of the largest companies that provided home foreclosure services to lenders across the nation, for forgery in the preparation of documents used to evict financially strained borrowers from their homes but arrested Lorraine O. Brown, the company’s founder and former president.

Chris Koster, the Missouri attorney general, will prosecute the case. “The grand jury indictment alleges that mass-produced fraudulent signatures on notarized real estate documents constitutes forgery,” Mr. Koster said in a statement. “Today’s indictment reflects our firm conviction that when you sign your name to a legal document, it matters.”

Mr. Koster said his office’s investigation was continuing. This suggests he may hope to persuade Ms. Brown to cooperate in his investigation of the parent company. If convicted, Ms. Brown could face up to seven years in prison for each forgery count. DocX could be fined up to $10,000 for each forgery conviction.

Hey, Mr. President, this is what needs to be done on a federal level.

Nov 09 2011

The Foreclosure Fraud Saga Continues

Some members of Congress have begun to make noise about the proposed settlement of foreclosure fraud by some state attorney generals that would give immunity to the banks. David Dayen at FDL reports:

Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, are the latest. It’s pretty hedged, however:

   “We applaud President Obama and the Justice Department for this effort to hold these banks accountable. However, a $25 billion settlement pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars in lost home equity, retirement savings and exploding public debt caused by these institutions,” Grijalva and Ellison said Friday in a joint statement.

   “Instead of immunity for Wall Street banks, let’s stand with the American people and demand a fair deal for homeowners.”

Dayen also makes a couple of salient points about the problems with this settlement and solutions:

The whole gambit just reinforces the randomness of the foreclosure crisis. Borrowers didn’t choose to get a bank-owned loan, or a loan sold to Fannie and Freddie, or a loan securitized and sold as part of a tranche of securities to a pension fund in Norway. But where their loan landed has a direct bearing on their outcomes. Who services their loan, another outcome under which they have no control, also matters. And what state you live in matters. If you’re in Nevada, for example, you may never face foreclosure no matter what your delinquency situation [..]

Just criminalizing the standard law governing foreclosures in Nevada has basically ended foreclosure starts. Lucky for Nevadans – but why are folks in the rest of the country in a different place? For all the talk of moral hazard, there’s nothing moral about the foreclosure process right now. If there were, there may also be something like justice or accountability.

The New York and Maryland Attorney Generals, Eric Schneiderman and Beau Biden lay out their strategy in dealing with what they see as a two pronged man-made mess, the housing market and the mortgage-backed securities market:

These two markets are inextricably linked. Any real effort to repair the damage caused by the collapse of the housing bubble must address the injury in both sectors. Tens of millions of homeowners and millions of investors – including retirees with money in pension and mutual funds – were devastated by this manmade catastrophe.

We recognized early this year that, though many public officials – including state attorneys general, members of Congress and the Obama administration – have delved into aspects of the bubble and crash, we needed a more comprehensive investigation before the financial institutions at the heart of the crisis are granted broad releases from liability.

We undertook such an inquiry, building on the work of many others. And we know time is of the essence. Homeowners and investors are suffering every day, and patterns of abuse and misconduct are continuing. We’re working hard to complete the first – and most critical – phase of our investigation before the end of 2011.

The key to our strategy to root out the conduct that triggered the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression is recognizing that a comprehensive effort requires an attack from both sides – looking at harm both to borrowers and to investors. So we are investigating four distinct, but interdependent, areas of abuse. Only one of those areas is being discussed in the negotiations now under way among the banks, the administration and some of our colleagues.

These determined AG’s explain that they are investigating several areas:

  • misconduct by loan originators;
  • the aggregation, or pooling, of mortgages by major banks.
  • continuing abuses in the servicing of millions of mortgages
  • gross levels of misconduct during this process by a recording system called the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems.
  • They conclude that while their AG colleagues “seek to settle these servicing-related issues, the financial institutions on the other side of the negotiating table have predictably sought releases that are as broad as possible from future liabilities, delaying the process.”

    Biden and Schneiderman state that they support the effort but they are not going to back down on the criminal investigation of securitization, origination and MERS:

    Reforming the servicing of mortgages is crucial. But these servicing abuses did not create the mortgage bubble. Robo-signing did not blow up the U.S. economy. Rather, these are symptoms of a more far-reaching and insidious problem.

    The American people deserve a full investigation and public exposure of the conduct that got us into the economic quagmire we face today. We must ensure that it never happens again. And we must restore public confidence that ours is a nation committed to the goal of equal justice for all.

    Every American deserves due process before their homes are taken form them that is just not happening for far too many. There is no excuse.

    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?  

    Oct 28 2011

    Delaware AG Sues MERS

    This is how foreclosure fraud should be handled on the federal level and is not. It’s not that hard.

    Delaware AG Beau Biden Sues MERS

    By David Dayen at FDL

    New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has received a lot of the headlines for his no-holds-barred investigations against the banks, but he’s had a partner in Delaware’s Beau Biden. Because New York and Delaware were where most of the securitization trusts were originated, having a united front on this issue of fraud is vital, and despite the family ties with the White House, Biden has been uncompromising. His latest salvo is a lawsuit against MERS, the electronic registry owned and funded by the banks, which they used to evade the public land transfer system and save money on county recorder fees:

       The Delaware attorney general’s office sued Merscorp Inc., which runs a national mortgage registry used by banks, saying its practices are deceptive and hide information from borrowers.

       The MERS database, which tracks ownership interests in mortgages, obscures information from borrowers and impeded their ability to fight foreclosures, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said in a complaint filed today.

       “MERS engaged and continues to engage in a range of deceptive trade practices that sow confusion among consumers, investors and other stakeholders in the mortgage finance system, damage the integrity of Delaware’s land records, and lead to unlawful foreclosure practices,” Biden said. “

    MERS subpoenaed by New York, sued by Delaware

    (Reuters) – MERS, the electronic mortgage registry used by the banking industry, was sued by Delaware on Thursday and accused of deceptive practices that led to unlawful shortcuts in dealing with the foreclosure crisis.

    New York’s attorney general also took action against MERS, subpoenaing the registry this week for information about how it is used by major banks and a foreclosure law firm, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

    The suit and subpoena were part of a joint New York-Delaware mortgage probe, the person told Reuters.[…]

    Schneiderman’s subpoena also seeks information on Amherst, New York, foreclosure law firm Steven J. Baum, which the attorney general has been probing since at least last spring.

    Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the New York attorney general’s office, declined to comment.

    Delaware Attorney General Sues MERS Over Deceptive Practices, Asks for Halt of Foreclosures Relying on MERS

    by Yves Smith at naked capitalism

       The damages sought are substantial, $10,000 per violation. Since MERS is a tiny company, with under 50 employees and many of its operations outsourced (and no reason for it to maintain a substantial balance sheet), success in court would almost certainly mean bankruptcy for MERS. In theory, a new consortium or private investors could buy the database out of bankruptcy, but how would one structure its operations so as to not run afoul of the law? Yet with so many mortgages recorded in the MERS database (the registry has claimed over 60 million) the banks will need to find a way to keep it going and operate it more in line with the law […]

       Unless MERS gets injunctive relief, these two provisions effectively stop foreclosures in MERS’s name in Delware. MERS has repeatedly said it does not hold any interest in the property or note in depositions. And the mortgage registry system had also quietly put out a notice to members months ago telling members to stop foreclosing in the name of MERS. Not allowing MERS members (servicers, banks, and their foreclosure attorneys) to assign mortgages out of MERS will stop the foreclosure apparatus cold. This is a legitimate legal strategy to get a foreclosure freeze and force the servicing industry to the table to negotiate a much bigger fix.