CHAIN OF NOTHING: Wells Fargo Fraud Is Causing the Curtain to Fall Revealing Fraud in Foreclosures and Ultimately Mortgage Bonds

“Defendant Wells Fargo’s deceptive and intentional conduct displayed a complete and total disregard for the rights” of the couple, wrote Judge Elliott, a circuit judge in the 43rd Judicial District of Missouri. “Wells Fargo took its money and moved on, with complete disregard to the human damage left in its wake.”

see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/business/in-wells-fargos-bogus-accounts-echoes-of-foreclosure-abuses.html?_r=0

Gretchen Morgenson of the New York times has revived the issues of fraudulent foreclosures in mainstream media by publishing a sharply critical attack on Wells Fargo. Like Elizabeth Warren has done, Morgenson brings attention to two connected policies of the TBTF banks: (1) the the recent revelation that Wells Fargo forced 8 accounts upon each customer of the commercial banking side of the bank — regardless of whether the customer even knew those accounts existed and (2) the obvious similarity with the fraudulent sales of MBS and the fraudulent foreclosures initiated by Wells Fargo.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, who always knows more than she says, made a statement on one of the network news shows that the Banks decided that the best way to make more money was to cheat their customers. She went on to say that the latest Wells Fargo scandal was revealing something that has always been the case with the large banks since the early 1990’s, to wit: that there is a commonality between this one Wells Fargo abuse that occurred over many years and the conduct of the same bank and the other major banks in the global economic crisis of 2008 caused by those banks.

Warren chooses her words carefully. So her use of the word “customers” instead of consumers might be an indication that she was thinking about the “investors” in mortgage bonds as customers of the same bank. Pension Funds and other managed funds were customers of the banks when they gave those banks money for the purchase of mortgage bonds issued by a new business – a REMIC Trust that would use the money to acquire residential mortgage loans. The banks called it securitization. But the rest of us who have analyzed it are quite sure that it was a fraudulent scheme from the very beginning. — And it was not a securitization scheme.

The “new business” did not exist. In most cases the illusion of its existence was created by partially complete written documents that were never used or followed. The new business never had a bank account and never received the proceeds from the sale of the mortgage bonds. This was no ordinary IPO. The “new business” was actually just a proprietary arm of the investment bank that used the false documents to claim a position as Master Servicer — over a Trust that was empty.

Pretending that the “new business” was real, Wells Fargo and other participants in the scheme pocketed the money from the managed funds except for that part that was used to fund the origination of mostly toxic loans. They needed the loans to be toxic so they could foreclose. When they foreclosed they received the first legal document in the entire chain — either a foreclosure judgment or a Trustee’s deed.

CHAIN OF NOTHING: The banks treated the deposits of money from the managed funds as if it were their own. They broke every promise they made to the “investors”, commingled the money and acquired no loans because the loans were already funded at origination by the illegal use of investor (bank customer) money. In all the assignments ever represented over the last ten years, at least, there is zero evidence that any transaction occurred in which the assignee paid anything for the loans said to have been transferred by the words in the assignment. Why would the assignor not insist on receiving money in exchange for the assignment? The answer is obvious — they didn’t own the loan. And following all that back to origination you find that the originator was, in nearly all cases, never paid for the assignment of the loan because the originator did not make the loan. In fact, you find that there was no loan contract between the “borrower” and anyone who advanced money to or on behalf of the homeowner. The investors were left out in the cold while the supposed “intermediary” banks played as though they were the lenders.

 

 

 

A Double Standard: Only Mega-Bank’s can Fabricate Mortgage Documents without Consequence

see http://www.pe.com/articles/san-808058-defendants-homeowners.html

“The defendants filed bogus petitions and court pleadings and recorded false deeds in county recorders’ offices.”

So here is my issue. That description of what they did sounds really bad. And maybe it IS bad and should be punished. BUT has the judiciary now opened the door to calling this behavior “not so bad?”

The banks are filing bogus pleadings to support foreclosures in which they have no interest except to complete the project of stealing investors money with homeowners being collateral damage. The banks and their servicers are sending bogus notices of substitution of trustee in non judicial states and filing bogus notices of default on behalf of a “beneficiary” or “mortgagee” that is not a creditor, not a holder, not a possessor of any written instrument that is true. The banks and their servicers are creating and recording false instruments attendant to nearly every fraudulent foreclosure. Among the most egregious examples are the void assignment of mortgage and the conjured endorsement on the note.

If an assignment can suddenly create rights rather than merely transfer them, then maybe these defendants being prosecuted created false documents that now have meaning in the fight against the banks. And if that is true then maybe no crime was committed at all — as long as we follow the current legal doctrine of “protect the banks.” Once upon a time in California it was said that homeowners have no standing to challenge standing based upon a void assignment. Yvanova v Countrywide changed all that. Maybe these defendants did not have pure motives and maybe they should be punished; but if they deserve to be brought to justice then so do thousands of bankers, robo-signers, robo-witnesses and fabricators of “original” documentation.

The courts meanwhile have been open to all kinds of excuses for that behavior. Have they now opened the door for scams on the other side — in which homeowners are the direct victims — can be called “irrelevant? Can we say that the government has no standing to prosecute claims against scam artists? Is this a case of unequal protection under the law? Is this case really a scam — or just fighting fire with fire?

Those of us who have been heavily engaged in the defense of homeowners know that the banks are given so much credibility that their fabrication, forgery and robosigning of documents that are created out of thin air and then recorded is then given the benefit of a legal presumption of truth and proof of facts that we all know are in fact nonexistent and therefore making the assertion untrue.  When the documents are untrue and false the Court’s rubber stamp means that false representations and false documents will be considered as true when, without the legal presumption, that can never be proven.

So in defense of fraudulent foreclosures is it possible that a new doctrine has been born: you can create and record fake documents and wait to see if anyone takes them seriously in which case they can be enforced. That is clearly the case with the banks and servicers in millions of foreclosures. And if that is the case then it follows logically that the targets of such fraud should respond in kind.

I’d like to see an explanation from prosecutors for why they don’t prosecute the banks, their “witnesses” and their robosigners for filing false documents and recording them when that is exactly their complaint on the other side of the fence. Could the State be estopped from enforcing such laws when they are giving a free pass to the main culprits?

Held Hostage by a Home: The Devastation of Foreclosure

held hostage2

Held Hostage by a Home

Depending on reader response- this column may become an ongoing Sunday feature on LivingLies. Let us know what you think.
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Although Neil Garfield eloquently describes the legal dynamics of foreclosure, there is also a human battle waged in millions of homes nationwide that remains hidden behind walls of shame, fear and anger. Families are torn apart by the stress and uncertainty that financial burdens bring. A home, no matter how modest or grand, is a foundation of family life- and when it is torn away by companies without legal standing to do so- the pain is compounded because of the injustice.
Most families who fall behind on their debts, do not do so deliberately. Usually financial debt is caused by job loss, illness, divorce, or simply being induced into obtaining more credit than the family can service-by companies who carry no risk (due to securitization). Most families would embrace the opportunity to have one second chance to pay back any outstanding balance on their home and make good on their debts-but loan servicers have no incentive to work with the homeowner.
Unfortunately, the way the mortgage industry works, it is no longer beneficial for the servicer to service your loan- when they can foreclose instead. A huge financial windfall awaits a servicer that can engineer a default. Instead of receiving approximately .125% of the monthly payment, the servicer is entitled to keep all fees, late interest, and other default charges (and the entire proceeds if they are collecting on behalf of a trust that does not exist). Until loan servicing issues are addressed, servicers will continue their predatory tactics to push homeowners into foreclosure. I should know because I am the victim of a predatory servicer. This is my story.
I am being held hostage by my home. The red brick and mortar of the quintessential American home has become my prison. For the past seven years I have had the rope of the commercial code truss my freedom, happiness, career and dreams. The blindfold has been removed but I still can’t trust what I see- banks that operate like organized crime syndicates supported by courts that refuse to acknowledge the fraud. I have been gagged and silenced by a bank, as my story, like millions of others goes unheard. Hopefully, the ability to warn others what a bank is capable of- will be cathartic.
What most people don’t understand before taking on foreclosure is that unless you have unlimited wealth, you will be taken hostage during litigation. The Notices of Default filed against you will keep you from repurchasing a different house, will destroy your credit, may prevent you from obtaining employment, may cause creditors to rescind credit extended, and may exhaust all of your savings and retirement. Your neighbors will likely shun you and your “friends” may distance themselves from you. Your opportunities to rebuild and recover from a financial setback will be compromised. I won’t even get into the emotional costs (divorce, volatile home environment, stressed parenting). Rarely is a case settled at the trial level. Most cases that should be settled with two or three years may go on for a decade or so if you continue to battle on.
Eight years ago, If I had been told what my future would hold if I dared to challenge my loan servicer- I would have held a block party for the bank and handed them the keys to the house. My greatest regret in life is that I decided to hold the bank accountable for reneging on my loan modification. It has cost me my life savings, my health, my marriage, and worst of all- instead of enjoying the childhoods of my children- I have spent every day depressed and anxious while battling a soul-less banking cartel with unlimited financial resources and power. My children have no idea who I am, or who I was before my life became a war game and I took up the position of General. In fact, I have no idea who I am outside of being held hostage by my home.
Why don’t I walk away? Surely losing 13 years of my life would be better than another decade? Because I am a fool. Because I have sacrificed and lost almost everything- to quit would be even worse than to go down defeated. There becomes a point in time- when you can’t turn back. For 13 years I have spent over 200k in order to receive an answer to one very simple question: WHO OWNS MY NOTE???? My servicer and the courts believe I have no right to an answer.
There are thousands of unconscionable foreclosure stories in America- that are unfathomably egregious and completely unnecessary- mine included. I had the ability and desire to pay the bank any amount they requested. I only wanted to sell my home and move on with my life. However, the bank did not want payment- they wanted the house. Neil Garfield has stated that the reason the banks want the foreclosure more than they want payment is because not only does the bank profit handsomely from a foreclosure, but it allows them to neatly tie up the fraud and seal the deal. Once a home is foreclosed upon- rarely does the homeowner sue for wrongful foreclosure.
The ordeal of foreclosure is by design, created by banks to cause the maximum amount of damage- both financially and emotionally. There is absolutely no good faith that arises when the bank can profit from a foreclosure. I have often wondered how people who work in the foreclosure industry sleep at night. Ayn Rand thought about these people also and wrote in Atlas Shrugs, “The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.” To live knowing you have destroyed the lives of families and committed moral crimes in order to receive a paltry paycheck, would be a worse hell than even I have faced.
Last week the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the suicide rates for middle-age whites jumped an alarming 40 percent from 1999 to 2010. The suicide rate for both younger and older Americans remained virtually unchanged, however, the rate spiked for those in middle age (35 to 64 years old) with a 28 percent increase from 1999 to 2010. According to the CDC, there were more than 38,000 suicides in 2010 making it the tenth leading cause of death in America overall. Among African Americans, Hispanics and even the oldest white Americans, death rates have continued to fall. What could be responsible for this drastic change in suicide demographics?
The middle-class suicide spike began with the onset of the tech bubble implosion where middle-class families saw their retirement funds evaporate. Locked into company 401ks where the funds are illiquid, many 401ks don’t allow the ability to place stop-losses. A stop-loss is an order that is placed, usually on a stock, to sell when the price declines to a certain level. So while the wealthy and knowledgeable were able to stop some of the bleed, mid-level employees in company-sponsored retirement programs were disproportionately impacted.
By 2008 the middle class found themselves mired in home loans that were unaffordable, in houses where they owed more than the home was worth, and subjected to a volatile job market and economy. In effect, the middle class died in 2008 and has not rebounded.  Consider the way life has changed since 2001. We are under surveillance all day, we pay a disproportionate amount of our income to taxes that go to support wars and programs most of us do not want, the economy is rigged in favor of the wealthy, and the cost of living has skyrocketed while wages remain flat. Most people in this demographic went to college, both partners work full-time jobs, and are responsible for raising their own children while caring for aging parents on limited incomes.

 

When you face foreclosure or bankruptcy this often pushes people over the tipping point. This was not the life that most middle-class people contemplated and are ill equipped to deal with. The middle class bought into the premise if you go to college and work hard you will gain financial security- not knowing the system was rigged. These individuals were also typically raised in middle class homes and were unprepared for the financial struggles not typically equated with the middle class.
“It’s a loss of hope, a loss of expectations of progress from one generation to the next,” said Angus Deaton, a Nobel Prize–winning economist who had studied the data. The middle class is not only being financially impacted by the economy but the strain on the middle class is psychological. The study noted that white women between 25 and 55 have been dying at accelerating rates over the past decade, a spike in mortality not seen since the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s. According to recent studies of death certificates, the trend is worse for women in the middle of the United States, even worse in rural areas, and worst of all for those in the lower middle class. Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.
According to the Federal Reserve, 47 percent of those who responded to a recent survey said they are living so close to financial ruin that they couldn’t come up with $400 to meet an emergency, not without first borrowing the money or selling something. Almost half of all Americans are fighting a losing battle to keep their heads above water.
This situation was the subject of a paradigm shifting article in the May issue of Atlantic magazine, “The Secret Shame of the Middle Class,” that was written by Neal Gabler, a well-known book author and film critic. Gabler reveals that despite his successful career, impressive resume and outward appearance of prosperity, he is financially insolvent and must often “juggle creditors to make it through the week.”
The writer attempts to provide reasons for the crisis. He lists predatory credit card companies, the ever-rising cost of living, wage stagnation, poor decision-making, bad luck and a national plague of financial illiteracy. But one cash depleting issue Gabler overlooks is taxation — and the fact that the middle class that pays almost 50% of their income to some type of tax- while the wealthy are able to exploit the system and pay very little if any tax.
Rising health-care costs, job insecurity, climbing foreclosures, and rising energy costs are decimating the middle class. The middle class American now “leases” their lives and most will have no assets to show upon their deaths. They are tenants in their own homes (read your Mortgage- you are a tenant), lease their cars, and are dependent on their employer who is likely facing financial troubles of their own. The housing markets are starting to look a lot like they did in 2007 (except there are more renters now). It is easy to see why the middle class that provides the support for both upper and lower classes is at its breaking point.
Signs of Big Trouble
Families with no savings, piles of credit card debt, and mortgages on homes they should not have been qualified for coupled with flat-lining incomes, low-paying jobs, skyrocketing health-care costs and exorbitant college costs are in dire straits. Wall Street banks with complicit buy-ins from the courts and law enforcement have created an untenable situation where the middle class has nowhere to turn. The banks prey on the vulnerability of people who suffered a temporary setback but are doing everything in their power to correct the situation in good faith. Homeowners are a small obstacle to big banks with unlimited financial resources who retain the best attorneys in the country to defend their predatory and illegal schemes.

It is evident that the government and courts are either unable or unwilling to rein in the powerful banks. Home ownership has dropped to its lowest rate since 1967, and one in every three American families is dealing with a debt collector. One more major recession and the suicide rates will further skyrocket. Without the middle class who is going to take care of the lower classes? The middle class is fighting for its life- and when all else fails apparently they take their own lives.
People are angry, people are desperate and people want solutions. If the middle class really wants to do something to stop this downward trajectory- the first thing to do would be to close your accounts with the major banks that service loans (Wells Fargo, CitiMortgage, Bank of America). If able, refinance your home with a credit union who holds your mortgage in-house and does not securitize loans. The middle class could effectively starve the beast that oppresses them if they would unite.
There are economic indicators that the housing market is reverting back to the 2007 lending policies that were the norm prior to the bubble that popped in 2008. Many banks are offering zero-down loans while Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have lowered their loan qualifications in an attempt to spur on the lower and middle class housing market. The banks are resorting to desperate tactics as homebuyers have stopped purchasing. There can be no doubt that those who have lived through a foreclosure or the foreclosure of a family member will ever trust a big bank again. I know that personally, I will NEVER borrow from a big bank again.
The suicide report showed a marked increase in mortality of middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women in the United States between 1999 and 2013 was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar event. Self-reported declines in health, mental health, and ability to conduct activities of daily living, and increases in chronic pain and inability to work, as well as clinically measured deteriorations in liver function, all point to growing distress in this population. Research confirms that this situation is due to economic causes and life quality deterioration. All indications show that economic conditions are even worsening for the middle class.
It is noteworthy that other countries have had similar financial problems that mirror the United States, however, the suicide rates and middle-class morbidity have not increased in any other developed country but the United States. The American capitalist machine is feeding off the hopes and dreams of the middle class and yet the middle class is unable to obtain any relief through government agencies or access due process within the courts. This reality is impacting the lives of millions of Americans who deserve much better.

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The graph is shocking. And for obvious reasons I’m very interested in the mortality of white Americans in the 45-54 age range since I am in this class. If anyone knows about the costs of fighting an unlawful foreclosure it is me. I have filed three bankruptcies during 13 years of ongoing litigation to save my home (despite simply wanting to sell the home that I no longer resided in and cash out my equity). The bank has also filed at least 9 Notices of Default (destroying my ability to obtain credit for over a decade) and illegally foreclosed on me once (in violation of an automatic stay). I have spent every single discretionary dollar I have had believing that the courts would honor the rule of law. I was so confident when I set out to settle the illegal acts by my servicer that I naively believed the situation would be remedied within a year (when it could still take up to another decade to settle this issue).
I was raised in a white upper-middle class family. Your credit score was considered as important as your IQ and success was measured by your position and income. However, by 2001 I found out it doesn’t matter how successful you are- if you are dependent on an employer- it can all be snatched out of your hands (I was fired while on an approved medical leave from a large pharmaceutical company just to add irony). Unable to replace my high salary I fell into financial arrears. I lost my friends, my social standing, my ability to obtain credit, and my ability to rebuild. Even more tragically, the stress decimated my family and destroyed my marriage. I have never recovered. I hope that I don’t become one of these statistics but there are no guarantees I won’t.
Fighting a foreclosure is ugly, ugly business. Unfortunately, in our society, litigation is reserved for those well enough off to fight back. The majority of low-income households have literally no hope of fighting back without competent and aggressive legal counsel (and legal counsel is expensive). Both middle and lower classes are extremely vulnerable to any fluctuation of the economy. A job loss can result in losing everything and purchasing a house you can’t afford further exacerbates your financial stress.
It appears the banks deliberately started giving out loans like candy to anyone with a pulse, knowing they would securitize these debts, keep the investors’ money meant to fund the loan, collect the monthly payments and then foreclose- while knowing very few in the lower and middle classes would be able to fight back. The researchers state they can only hypothesize why records of white middle class Americans are committing suicide in increasing numbers? Although my statistical skills are sub-par I can tell you exactly what is behind the statistics- the illusion of the American dream has been exposed and not one elected official is willing to do what is necessary to correct the situation while the elite are still able to milk the market while it climbs and crashes. This is a tragedy not seen since people jumped off of skyscrapers with the stock market crash in 1929- it is just more subtle and stealth.
One theory about what is causing rising mortality among whites is the “dashed expectations” hypothesis. According to Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin, whites today are more pessimistic than their forebears about their opportunities to advance in life. They are also more pessimistic than their black and Hispanic contemporaries.
“The idea that today’s generations will do better than their parents’ generation is part of the American Dream. It has always been true until now,” Cherlin said. “It may still be true for college-educated Americans, but not for the high-school-educated people we used to call the working class.”  The demise of the middle class is broad in its effects, but it appears to be culminating in places that are particularly vulnerable — such as cities where the drinking water is polluted with lead for years, or a small city that saw its biggest manufacturer move overseas, or in a household destroyed by job loss and foreclosure. It’s no big mystery why the wounded middle class is turning to Trump and his anti-establishment rhetoric and hitting a nerve.
Things aren’t going to get better for sometime due to the apathy and disconnect of Washington and your elected officials. Before you pursue litigation please consider if you possess the endurance needed to fight a bank with unlimited sources. In almost every successful case- an Appeal will be necessary. Consider the evidence you possess- is it enough to defeat the servicer’s claims? Do you have the financial means to finish the fight? Can you detach enough from the outcome that when your due process rights are trampled and the banks resort to forgery to defeat you- you won’t fall apart?
As much as I hate to say this- most people who have viable cases end up in some type of modification or agreement. The costs become too high for most homeowners to endure. Sadly the judges are now unfazed by forgeries, falsified documents, and fraud on the court- and there is nothing unusual about dummied up documents (although the banks are committing felonies with impunity). It is up to the people who have the means and temperament to fight foreclosure to do so on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced. Going the distance also requires that you don’t give in and sign a confidentiality agreement. Precedents in favor of the homeowner are desperately needed.
Every case you have read on Living Lies was because an attorney and the client refused to give in and both incurred serious losses in order to prevail. In cases like these, both attorney and client looked under every rock and crevice for evidence, they studied every law, act and statute. There are few attorneys who are willing to stand up for the homeowner and take the case all the way to trial. These world-class attorneys have sometimes faced ridicule by their peers but can’t be deterred. South Florida has some of the best foreclosure attorneys in the country including Neil Garfield, Tom Ice, Patrick Giunta, James “Randy” Ackley, Matthew Weidner, Mark Stopa, Bruce Jacobs and others (please read the blogs of these attorneys). Through the professionalism, proficiency and passion of these attorneys- the judges are now becoming wise to court manipulation and the fraudulent deeds of the banks.
With the knowledge Neil Garfield has shared with his readers on Living Lies- YOU have a better chance of prevailing than most Americans do who rely solely on their attorneys to take care of every aspect of their case (attorneys simply do not have the time). Eric Mains wrote a blog for Living Lies entitled “Why your Foreclosure Attorney Just became Your Business Partner”. The post provides excellent information for people who are willing and able to take on their loan servicers.
There is no doubt that the banks must receive much harsher monetary penalties to dissuade them from engaging in criminal conduct. It is also time that the representatives of the banks and foreclosure mills they employ be criminally prosecuted for the destruction they have caused to millions of families by fabricating documents, deliberately deceiving homeowners (through disinformation, false modifications, refusal to accept payments) and intentionally setting homeowners up to fail.
My advice to anyone contemplating foreclosure would be to NEVER allow a bank to steal your happiness or harm your family- walk away.  If you decide to pursue litigation your eyes will be opened that the attorneys for the banks are no different than college-educated thugs and that the courts are owned and paid for by the big banks. This lesson in itself will completely shake your belief system to the core. I would recommend in most cases that you save your family, your sanity and your money and go fight a war you can win.
Not to discourage you- but I have now been held hostage for 13 years. I have no home (except the house that has sat empty during 6 years of litigation now), no retirement, no marriage and my physical health is now starting to suffer (my mental suffering endures). I have wasted the best years of my life fighting a heartless bank with unlimited power and unlimited resources- because I actually believed our judicial system guaranteed my due process rights (wrong).  My ONLY hope is that the judge overhearing my case can put his own biases aside, apply the rule of law- and allow a jury of my peers to hear what a bank hell-bent on orchestrating the theft of my home is capable of.
They haven’t stolen my home-yet, but they may have stolen my life.

Update: March 25, 2018: If you have been victimized by a predatory foreclosure attorney- please write me at lendingliesconsulting@gmail.com.  I would like to hear your story.

 

WHISTLEBLOWERS AT BANKS TERMINATED AND HARASSED

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“workers joked that bogus documents were being produced in the “art department.”

Supervisors’ behavior degenerated from vulgar to threatening, she claimed, when she started complaining about inflated property appraisals and other misconduct. Managers often forged borrowers’ signatures on loan documents and made up fake verification of employment forms, her lawsuit said. One manager, the suit said, had an arrangement with a friendly business owner who was willing to falsely claim that the manager’s loan customers were on his payroll.”

“Parmer isn’t alone in claiming she was punished for objecting to fraud in the midst of the nation’s home-loan boom. iWatch News has identified 63 former employees at 20 financial institutions who say they were fired or demoted for reporting fraud or refusing to commit fraud. Their stories were disclosed in whistleblower claims with the U.S. Department of Labor, court documents or interviews with iWatch News.”

“These ex-employees’ accounts provide evidence that the muzzling of whistleblowers played an important role in allowing corruption to flourish as mortgage lenders and their patrons on Wall Street pumped up loan volume and profits. Codes of silence at many lenders, former employees claim, helped discourage media, regulators and policymakers from taking a hard look at illegal practices that ultimately harmed borrowers, investors and the economy.”

Whistleblowers ignored, punished by lenders, dozens of former employees say

WHISTLEBLOWERS GET BLOWN AWAY

Mortgage fraud involved many lenders, former employees say

By Michael Hudson

 

 

Darcy Parmer ran into trouble soon after she started her job as a fraud analyst at Wells Fargo Bank. Her bosses, she later claimed, were upset that she was, well, finding fraud.

Company officials, she alleged in a lawsuit, berated her for reporting that sales staffers were pushing through mortgage deals based on made-up borrower incomes and other distortions, telling her that she didn’t “see the big picture” and that “it is not your job to fix Wells Fargo.” Management, she claimed, ordered her to stop contacting the company’s ethics hotline.

In the end, she said, Wells Fargo forced her out of her job.

Parmer isn’t alone in claiming she was punished for objecting to fraud in the midst of the nation’s home-loan boom. iWatch News has identified 63 former employees at 20 financial institutions who say they were fired or demoted for reporting fraud or refusing to commit fraud. Their stories were disclosed in whistleblower claims with the U.S. Department of Labor, court documents or interviews with iWatch News.

“We did our jobs. We had integrity,” said Ed Parker, former fraud investigations manager at now-defunct Ameriquest Mortgage Co., a leading subprime lender. “But we were not welcome because we affected the bottom line.”

These ex-employees’ accounts provide evidence that the muzzling of whistleblowers played an important role in allowing corruption to flourish as mortgage lenders and their patrons on Wall Street pumped up loan volume and profits. Codes of silence at many lenders, former employees claim, helped discourage media, regulators and policymakers from taking a hard look at illegal practices that ultimately harmed borrowers, investors and the economy.

Whistleblower advocates say weak federal and state laws also helped prevent finance industry workers from being heard. Congress passed tougher laws in the wake of the financial crisis, but whistleblowers and their advocates say labor-law enforcers, securities-law cops and banking regulators need to do more to ensure that banking workers can safely report fraud and other abuses.

For their part, banking industry representatives reject the idea that employees were punished for reporting problems.

In court documents, Wells Fargo denied Parmer’s charges that management interfered with in-house fraud watchdogs. The bank said Parmer was never prohibited from calling the ethics line and that its internal investigation showed that no one retaliated against her and that “no fraudulent activity occurred.”

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman told iWatch News that the bank has extensive protections for internal whistleblowers and that it is the responsibility of all employees to raise concerns about ethics breaches or law violations.

“We have a strict code of ethics and a no-retaliation policy,” Wells Fargo spokeswoman Vickee Adams said. “We take responsibility for our actions, and when there’s evidence of a mistake and there’s something that’s needs to be corrected, we take action.”

‘Zero tolerance’

iWatch News has reported on former employees of Countrywide Financial Corp. who claimed the company retaliated against them for objecting to falsified mortgage documents and other fraud. In September the Labor Department ruled that Bank of America Corp., which bought Countrywide in 2008, had fired Eileen Foster, the mortgage lender’s fraud investigations chief, as punishment for finding widespread fraud and for trying to protect other whistleblowers within the company.

Further investigation reveals that concerns about the abuse of whistleblowers weren’t limited to Countrywide.­

Most of the workers who claimed they were punished for trying to fight fraud worked at giant firms such as Wells Fargo or Washington Mutual (WaMu). Others worked at smaller lenders that joined the rush to sell home loans during the boom years.

Wherever they worked, their accounts are similar. Many claim that commission-hungry workers falsified loan applicants’ incomes and bank statements, pushed appraisers to exaggerate property values and, in some instances, forged consumers’ signatures on documents.

In many cases, the former employees say, management encouraged the fraud and protected the fraudsters.

Parker, the former Ameriquest fraud investigations chief, claims that he had few problems when he did “ones” and “twos” — investigating cases that involved an employee or two who could cause only limited damage, he said. But things changed, he said, when he tried to fight systemic fraud by focusing on branches or regions where fraud was so prevalent, workers joked that bogus documents were being produced in the “art department.”

Management instructed his unit to limit its investigations by reducing the number of loan files it pulled when it went into a branch, Parker said. He was left out of meetings and key decisions and, eventually, squeezed out of his job, he claimed.

Ameriquest later agreed to pay $325 million to settle loan-fraud allegations by authorities in 49 states and the District of Columbia. It stopped making loans in 2007.

The company said previously in a written statement that Parker was a “disgruntled former employee” who lost his wrongful dismissal claim against the company before an arbitrator. In a 2007 opinion, the arbitrator ruled Parker hadn’t been able to prove that the company’s treatment of him was connected to his reports about fraud, adding that it “stretches the imagination” to think a company would retaliate against a fraud investigator for “doing his job.”

More generally, Ameriquest said it “had a policy of zero tolerance for fraud. When problems were discovered, the company addressed them, including immediately terminating the employee or vendor and pursuing civil and criminal action against them.”

‘Fraud is fraud’

At a White House press conference in October, ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper asked President Obama why his administration hadn’t pursued criminal cases more aggressively in the aftermath of disasters at Lehman Brothers and other banks.

“I don’t think any Wall Street executives have gone to jail, despite the rampant corruption and malfeasance that did take place,” Tapper said.

Obama replied that in many instances the government might have trouble making criminal charges stick, because “a lot of that stuff wasn’t necessarily illegal. It was just immoral or inappropriate or reckless.”

Obama isn’t alone in suggesting that criminal fraud by banks wasn’t the main cause of the nation’s financial disaster. Bankers have cited unpredictable market conditions, the federal government and borrowers as being among the chief culprits.

In congressional testimony, former Washington Mutual chief executive Kerry Killinger blamed borrowers for misleading WaMu about their incomes and other details in their loan applications.

“I’m certainly very disappointed to think about my customers lying to me, because that’s fraud and it shouldn’t happen,” Killinger said. “But I think an objective look at things is that there must have been situations where people did not tell the truth on their applications.”

Many whistleblowers who worked inside major banks counter that it was fraud by lenders — not borrowers — that was the driving force in the growth of toxic loans that caused the mortgage meltdown.

“Fraud is fraud,” Parker said. “It’s fraud if someone changes information in a loan file without the borrower’s knowledge or does anything deceptive to get a loan approved and passed through. How can you say those are not criminal acts?”

Parker and other former mortgage workers say some borrowers did take part in the fraud, but they usually did so with coaching from sales representatives who knew how to work the system to get deals done. And in many cases, Parker and others say, borrowers weren’t aware of the deception and were fooled by bait-and-switch salesmanship and other tactics used by the mortgage professionals who controlled the process.

A two-year U.S. Senate investigation found that senior management at Washington Mutual ignored clear evidence that bank employees were engaging in fraud.

In a report released in April, Senate investigators noted that an internal WaMu review of a high-volume loan center in Southern California found that as many as 83 percent of the loans it booked contained fraud. Despite in-house gatekeepers’ warnings about fraud at that location and other loan centers, WaMu executives took “no discernable actions” to deal with problem, the Senate report said.

Top sales managers suspected of fraud, the report said, were allowed to continue to produce huge volumes of loans and win trips to Hawaii as members of WaMu’s “President’s Club.”

WaMu collapsed in September 2008, a $300 billion institution buried in bad loans. It was the largest bank failure in American history — and one of the biggest casualties of risky practices and missed warning signs stretching back to the start of the last decade.

Early warnings

In the spring and summer of 2001, Matthew Lee was a busy man.

A fair-lending activist and blogger on innercitypress.org, Lee was fielding a growing number of emails and phone messages from people who worked at Citigroup’s subprime lending unit, CitiFinancial. The lender, they told Lee, was using slippery methods to trap borrowers in cycles of overpriced debt.

The more he reported the whistleblowers’ information on his website, the more whistleblowers contacted him. “I can’t count the number of times people called me and said: ‘It’s actually worse than you described. Let me tell you about it,’” Lee recalled.

In all, Lee estimates, he talked with three dozen current and former CitiFinancial employees.

One continued helping Lee even after he lost his job at Citi, digging through trash bins outside CitiFinancial branches around Tennessee and rescuing internal memos and other documents that, in Lee’s view, provided evidence of the lender’s “pervasive lawlessness.” The documents would arrive via overnight mail, often damp and smelling of used coffee grounds.

One former CitiFinancial employee, Steve Toomey, agreed to go on the record, signing a statement that said managers pushed workers to mislead borrowers about the costs of their loans and to falsify information in borrowers’ files. Lee filed Toomey’s affidavit and other documents with banking regulators at the Federal Reserve.

CitiFinancial immediately denied the allegations against the company, asserting, for example, that Toomey had only raised questions after “he concluded that the company would not pay him monies that he demanded to resolve an employment dispute.”

With the pressure building, Citigroup went out of its way to warn other current and former employees to keep quiet about what went on at CitiFinancial, according to Reuters news service.

Citigroup, Reuters said, hired a famed litigator “to help fight allegations of illegal lending practices and prevent former employees from bad-mouthing the financial services giant.” Mitchell Ettinger, one of Bill Clinton’s lawyers in the Paula Jones case, met with at least 15 current or former employees, reminding the ex-employees that Citigroup would enforce the “non-disparagement clauses” in their severance agreements with the company, Reuters said.

Lee charged that this was an attempt to paper over evidence of misconduct inside CitiFinancial. Why, he argued, would Citigroup dispatch a partner from Skadden Arps, described by Forbes magazine as “Wall Street’s most powerful law firm,” to talk with low-level employees?

Citigroup told Reuters the bank had acted properly. It added that the standard non-disparagement clause in the bank’s severance agreements wouldn’t prevent ex-employees from reporting illegalities.

Ettinger did not respond to requests for comment from iWatch News. A Citigroup spokesman declined to answer specific questions from iWatch News about former employees’ complaints. He said “issues from that time period” were “investigated and responded to appropriately by the company.”

The Federal Reserve eventually fined CitiFinancial $70 million for regulatory violations. Lee said that the Fed focused mainly on technical issues, however, and did nothing to protect whistleblowers from intimidation by the bank.

That, Lee said, made it less likely that more employees would come forward in the future with information about misconduct at Citi — or at other financial institutions that wanted to keep misbehavior secret.

“When people do step forward and put themselves at risk, you need to aggressively say to them, ‘If you’ve received any threats from the company, let us know,’” Lee said.

A spokeswoman said the Federal Reserve couldn’t comment on issues involving individual banks.

‘Their integrity … failed’

As whistleblowers were drawing scrutiny to Citigroup, then the nation’s largest commercial bank, others were raising questions about Washington Mutual, the nation’s largest savings and loan.

One of them was Theresa Hagman, a vice president in WaMu’s custom home-construction lending division. In 2003, Hagman spotted an increase in the number of construction loans going into default. She believed this was happening because loans were being pushed through without proper documentation, in violation of federal lending laws.

But when she pressed the issue with a high-level sales manager, Hagman later testified in a Labor Department hearing, he jumped out of his chair and charged her, screaming at her as his face purpled and veins popped in his neck. (In his testimony, the manager conceded he’d had disagreements with Hagman but denied they’d had heated confrontations.)

As an internal investigation proceeded, a senior vice president wrote: “If this wasn’t a good example of a need for a Fraud team, then I can’t find one. This poor individual is feeling like she is getting no support from her management.”

The senior executive’s concerns weren’t enough to protect her from more retaliation, Hagman said.

“I was being brutalized, and they knew it,” Hagman testified. “I was sharing the emails with everybody, pleading for protection. … We had borrowers that were being damaged and employees that were scared and crying.”

In March 2004, WaMu fired her.

Hagman filed a claim for federal whistleblower protection under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the corporate reform law passed in response to accounting frauds at Enron Corp. and other big companies.

Hagman told an administrative law judge that there were “senior-level people in this organization who are still there today who did not tell the truth. Their integrity and their honor … without question failed.”

WaMu maintained that there was no retaliation, only miscommunication between Hagman and her bosses. It said she hadn’t been fired, she’d simply been let go as part of a restructuring.

The judge sided with Hagman. He ordered that WaMu pay her more than $1 million.

‘Silent treatment’

The whistleblower affairs at Citigroup and WaMu came as the mortgage market was beginning to gain steam, recovering from a late 1990s credit crisis that had put dozens of subprime lenders out of business.

By 2004, mortgage industry production and profits were exploding. As the push to book loans grew to a near frenzy, industry insiders recall, the atmosphere at many mortgage-sales operations devolved into a cross between a “boiler room” operation and a frat-house blowout.

At Citizens Financial Mortgage Inc., a small Pennsylvania-headquartered lender, the out-of-control behavior included an ugly mix of sexual harassment and fraud, a lawsuit filed by a former loan processor at the company charged.

Gina La Vitola claimed one manager at her branch in Essex County, N.J., ranted and cursed and gambled on sports during office hours, even getting a visit from a bookie delivering a wad of cash. On several occasions, she said in her lawsuit, the manager picked her up, threw her over his shoulder and then used her “as a weight bar to see how many squats he could do.”

Supervisors’ behavior degenerated from vulgar to threatening, she claimed, when she started complaining about inflated property appraisals and other misconduct. Managers often forged borrowers’ signatures on loan documents and made up fake verification of employment forms, her lawsuit said. One manager, the suit said, had an arrangement with a friendly business owner who was willing to falsely claim that the manager’s loan customers were on his payroll.

After she reported the problems to Citizens’ president, she claimed, she got “the silent treatment” from coworkers and her bosses drastically changed her work hours and duties.

Finally, she said, a manager telephoned her and explained that, since her complaint, the “vibe is not there” in the office. That was a problem, he said, because he was “big about vibe, energy.”

He told her the company was letting her go, she claimed.

The company strongly denied her allegations. The case was settled on undisclosed terms. A former company official confirmed to iWatch News that Citizens was no longer in business, but said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.

Fraud sleuths

As mortgage salespeople embraced creative methods for pushing mortgages through the system, they were being stalked by a band of internal watchdogs.

Financial institutions keep fraud investigators and other gatekeepers on staff in part because they need to show regulators and investors that they have solid controls in place.

Many of these watchdogs took their jobs seriously.

In the spring of 2005, Darcy Parmer joined a team at Wells Fargo that was working on a plan to create a fraud detection report.

By doing queries within the bank’s computerized mortgage-application system, Parmer said, she and other fraud sleuths found a large number of duplicate credit applications submitted to various branch offices and divisions within Wells Fargo. It appeared to Parmer that loan officers were helping borrowers who’d been turned down for loans resubmit their applications elsewhere within the bank, inflating their incomes from one application to the next by as much as 100 percent.

The report, Parmer believed, was a great tool for sniffing out fraud. In 2006, however, management terminated use of the fraud detection report, Parmer said.Nothing was put in place to replace it, she said.

It wasn’t the only time that higher ups interfered with internal watchdogs’ ability to do their jobs, according to Parmer’s lawsuit in federal court in Colorado. Her court filings described many instances in which she claimed sales people and executives circumvented fraud controls or turned a blind eye to “acts of criminal fraud.”

One case involved a borrower Parmer referred to in court papers as Ms. A. According to Parmer, a loan officer had claimed in the loan-underwriting system that Ms. A earned roughly $140,000 per year, but federal tax records indicated she earned less than half that much — barely $60,000 a year.

When she tried to stop the loan from going through, Parmer said, a manager chastised her: “This is what you do every time.” He ordered her to close her investigation, she said.

After months of harassment, she said in an affidavit, she was “mentally and emotionally unable to continue working” and had to take disability leave to get treatment for distress and depression. After a time, she said, the bank informed her that her job had been filled.

Wells Fargo said in court documents that it had never fired her and that she was simply “on an unapproved leave of absence.”

The bank’s attorneys also said that Wells Fargo had refused to fund “nearly ever loan” that Parmer had complained about, and those that had funded had been handled “consistent with Wells Fargo protocol.”

Parmer and the bank settled the case in 2009. The terms were confidential.

‘In the dark’

When Congress passed Sarbanes-Oxley in 2002, it raised hopes that more workers would be emboldened to come forward with information that would help prevent future corporate scandals. One legal scholar hailed the act — which gave federal labor officials the power to order companies to swiftly reinstate whistleblowers with back pay — as “the most important whistleblower protection law in the world.”

Things haven’t worked out as whistleblower advocates had hoped. Critics claim the Labor Department hasn’t done enough to protect financial whistleblowers.

In roughly the first nine years of the law — from 2002 through May 20 of this year — the agency issued merit findings in 21 whistleblower complaints and dismissed 1,211 others.

That record is just one example, whistleblower advocates say, of the trials that corporate whistleblowers go through when they try to do the right thing.

When whistleblowers seek help from government agencies or state and federal courts, they often face long delays and find themselves outgunned by their employers’ legal teams.

At the same time, employers are often successful at preventing whistleblowers from getting the word out to the wider world. When companies and employees negotiate severance contracts and legal settlements, confidentiality clauses often permanently silence whistleblowers. Companies also frequently force ex-employees with whistleblower claims into private arbitration, ensuring that many details of their cases will remain secret.

Judges in Los Angeles, for example, have booted three former WaMu employees out of court and ordered them to go before arbitrators to press their claims that the company pushed them out of their jobs in early 2008 because they refused to participate in fraud.

Some former mortgage-industry workers contacted by iWatch News declined to talk in more detail about their legal claims because they’re gagged by secrecy agreements. Others said they couldn’t talk on the record because they still work in banking and don’t want to get in trouble with their current employers, or because they’re looking for jobs and don’t want to be blacklisted.

“Hell, we want to work,” one mortgage fraud investigator said, explaining why he and many of his colleagues haven’t gone public with what they know.

Matthew Lee, the fair lending activist who clashed with Citigroup a decade ago, believes getting whistleblowers to come forward is crucial to preventing the next financial meltdown.

Fraud thrives in secret. If regulators are serious about holding banks accountable, Lee said, they should cultivate and protect whistleblowers and serve as a counterweight to the power of big banks and their armies of lawyers.

“They need to think through how they’re going to protect people in the industry who come forward with information,” Lee said. “If you don’t, you’re going to be in the dark.”

E

 

TBW Taylor Bean Chairman Arrested On Fraud Charges

“The fraud here is truly stunning in its scale and complexity,” said Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Department of Justice. “These charges send a strong message to corporations and corporate executives alike that financial fraud will be found, and it will be prosecuted.”

Once they determined that that approach might be difficult to conceal, they started selling mortgage pools and other assets to Colonial Bank that they knew to be worthless, officials said. Mr. Farkas and his partners relied on this technique to sell more than $1 billion of fraudulent assets over the course of several years, even covering up the fraud by recycling old fake assets for new ones, according to the complaints.

Editor’s Note: TBW has been high on my list of incompetent fraudsters. I always thought it was a stupid risk to “sell” mortgages and “sell” the servicing rights (probably to their own entity), and then take the servicing back. Stupid maybe, but they had no choice. The entire Taylor Bean operation wreaks of fraud and inconsistencies.

Bottom Line: If you have a TBW as the originating “lender” this article indicates, as we have known all along, that they were using OPM (Other People’s Money) and they were NOT the lender even though they said they were. It is highly likely that few, if any, of the loans were actually “securitized” because the loans were either nonexistent as described, never accepted by any pool (even though there might be a pool out there that claims ownership) and that none of the assignments were ever completed.

Thus your claims against TBW (including appraisal fraud, predatory loan practices, deceptive loan practices, fraud etc.) are properly directed, to wit: TBW still owns the paper, although the obligation is subject to an equitable unsecured claim from investors who funded the loan.

June 16, 2010

Executive Charged in TARP Scheme

By ERIC DASH

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday accused the former chairman of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, once one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, of masterminding a fraud scheme that cheated investors and the federal government out of billions of dollars and led to last year’s sudden failure of Colonial Bank.

The executive, Lee B. Farkas, was arrested late Tuesday in Ocala, Fla., after a federal grand jury in Virginia indicted him on 16 counts of conspiracy, bank fraud, wire fraud and securities fraud. Separately, the Securities and Exchange Commission brought civil fraud charges against Mr. Farkas in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

Prosecutors said the fraud would be one of the biggest and most complex to come out of the housing collapse and the government’s huge bailout of the banking industry. In essence, they described an elaborate shell game that involved covering up the lender’s losses by creating fake mortgages and passing them along to private investors and government agencies.

Federal officials became suspicious after Colonial BancGroup, the main source of financing for Mr. Farkas’s company, tried to obtain $553 million in bailout money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The TARP application, filed in early 2009, was contingent on the bank first raising $300 million from private investors.

According to the S.E.C. complaint, Mr. Farkas and his partners said they would contribute $150 million, two private equity firms would each contribute $50 million, and a “friends and family” investor group would contribute another $50 million. “In truth, neither of the $50 million investors were private equity investors and neither ever agreed to participate,” the complaint said.

Mr. Farkas pocketed at least $20 million from the fraud, which he used to finance a private jet and a lavish lifestyle that included five homes and a collection of vintage cars, prosecutors said.

But the case is likely to expand beyond Mr. Farkas. The complaints cite the involvement of an unnamed Colonial Bank executive and other co-conspirators in the suspected fraud, and prosecutors said they might hold others accountable down the road.

“The fraud here is truly stunning in its scale and complexity,” said Lanny A. Breuer, assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Department of Justice. “These charges send a strong message to corporations and corporate executives alike that financial fraud will be found, and it will be prosecuted.”

Officials said the many layers of the scheme resulted in more than $1.9 billion of losses to investors; a $3 billion loss to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which guaranteed many of the loans that Mr. Farkas’s company sold; and a $3.6 billion hit to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which had to take over Colonial Bank and pay its depositors after many of the bank’s assets were found to be worthless.

The complaints also list BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank, which provided financing to Mr. Farkas’s company, as victims of the suspected fraud. Together, they lost $1.5 billion.

According to the complaints, the fraud started as early as 2002 with an effort to conceal rising operating losses at Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, a mortgage lender founded by Mr. Farkas. The first stage involved an attempt to hide overdrafts on a credit line the company had with Colonial Bank. As those overdrafts grew, prosecutors contend, Mr. Farkas and his associates started selling fake mortgage assets to Colonial Bank in exchange for tens of millions of dollars.

Once they determined that that approach might be difficult to conceal, they started selling mortgage pools and other assets to Colonial Bank that they knew to be worthless, officials said. Mr. Farkas and his partners relied on this technique to sell more than $1 billion of fraudulent assets over the course of several years, even covering up the fraud by recycling old fake assets for new ones, according to the complaints.

The transactions were “designed to give the false appearance that the loans were being sold into the secondary mortgage market,” Mr. Breuer said. “In fact, they were not.”

By 2008, prosecutors contend, the scheme had entangled the federal government. Investigators in the Office of the Special Inspector General for TARP took notice of the size of Colonial Bank’s bailout application and became suspicious of the accuracy of the bank’s statements.

That led investigators to alert other federal officials and draw a connection between Colonial Bank and Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, whose offices were raided by federal agents in August 2009. Both companies would soon stop operating.

“We knew it was a longstanding and close relationship between Colonial and T.B.W., and we decided that we needed to take a much closer look,” Neil M. Barofsky, the TARP special inspector general, said at a news conference on Wednesday. Investigators also discussed the situation with Treasury officials to “make sure the money would not go out the door.”

Federal officials have conducted nearly 80 criminal and civil investigations into companies that accepted TARP money, but so far they have filed charges in only one other case. In March, the head of Park Avenue Bank in Manhattan was accused of trying to defraud the government bailout program.

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