Prosecute the Big Banks? Nothing’s Off the Table!

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Editor’s Comment:

Looks like Obama got the memo. Everyone dislikes the banks across all spectrums of ideology. The comment made that this is a man-made catastrophe shows that law enforcement is getting the point. And by announcing indictments in the fall and blaming the Banks and those who did the bidding of the banks as politicians, Obama scores major points from the far left to the far right. And of course there is the issue that criminal prosecutions will give borrowers far more credibility in court.

Prosecute The Big Banks? ‘Nothing’s Off The Table,’  

NY Attorney General Says

DAVID TAINTOR

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Americans can expect to see tangible results this fall from the task force President Obama created to investigate the financial crisis, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told TPM Thursday.

Asked after his keynote speech to the progressive Netroots Nation conference here whether prosecutions from the task force are possible, Schneiderman said: “Nothing’s off the table now. Nothing’s off the table.”

The attorney general is one of five co-chairs of the “special unit” Obama announced at his January State of the Union address. More than 100 staffers and prosecutors have been deployed, Schneiderman said, mostly in Washington, but also in U.S. attorneys offices around the country. The group has been criticized by some for its lack of results thus far. In late May, Schneiderman told the Wall Street Journal he was seeking more prosecutorial firepower. The Journal reported that the group has issued more than two-dozen subpoenas and collected millions of pages of documents. Schneiderman wouldn’t specify how much man power will be necessary.

“I’m continuing to push for more, and faster, but I’m an impatient guy,” Schneiderman told TPM. “I think we’re going to get there.”

Schneiderman’s speech stopped short of specifics for the task force. He gave credit to progressive activists and the Occupy movement’s role in public discourse, saying “true change requires movement-building” and “officials don’t create movements, movements create leaders.” Schneiderman also said the public’s faith in the financial industry is at such a low that America needs a second New Deal.

“The markets didn’t crash because of an act of God,” he said later. “That was a man-made catastrophe. If we have any sense at all, we’re going to do what our predecessors did after the last big catastrophe in the 1930s and do some real re-regulations of the markets.”

While Schneiderman spoke to a mostly receptive crowd, a small group of demonstrators gathered in front of the stage holding “jail the bankers” signs. Schneiderman’s staffers said they thought group was friendly to the attorney general’s efforts to take on the financial industry. But Schneiderman said he appreciates activists who push public officials. “I understand the sentiment,” he said. “People have a sense that they’re not sure what happened, but they feel like somebody got away with something, and there hasn’t been accountability.”

Schneiderman remains an enthusiastic supporter of Obama’s reelection campaign. Introducing former President Bill Clinton at an Obama fundraiser this week, Schneiderman said, according to Capital New York, “Given how much is on the line for everyday Americans, why in the world would we hand over the White House to the same people that left our country in a much worse place than they found it? The same recipe for economic failure is what Mitt Romney’s serving. And I believe the American people will say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ to a third term for George W. Bush.”

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Turning the Tide Toward Borrowers

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Editor’s Comment:

Nocera and several other responsible journalists have finally reached the point of taking a larger perspective than the narrow myths perpetuated by Wall Street. Wall Street would have us believe that they took bad risks and “made mistakes” causing the financial collapse. His point is the Justice Department has taken after “the smallest of smallest” and he believes that those prosecutions are in lieu of the prosecutions that ought to occur against those who are responsible for setting up a criminal enterprise with the appearance of a conventional business structure.

The problem is easy to describe and difficult to solve.  It is simply true that prosecutions of “small fry” are easier because they don’t have the resources or knowledge necessary to properly defend themselves.  It is equally true that the successful prosecution can be used for public relations purposes to show that a regulating agency or law enforcement is doing its job.

On the other hand prosecution of Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein would provoke a vigorous defense conducted by dozens of lawyers whose purpose would be to merely poke holes in the prosecutions case rather than proving their clients innocence.  In order to prosecute such people and those close to them, it would be necessary for the regulating agencies and law enforcement to acquire specialized knowledge so that they would know what to investigate and arrive at conclusions as to which violations to prosecute based upon their likelihood of success. 

The solution is obvious.  Since there is no likelihood that most regulatory agencies and most law enforcement agencies would ever be able to mount such a challenge to the Titans of Wall Street, and the political risk of losing such a case would be devastating, they simply must maintain the status quo, which is to say that they should continue the policy of going after “small fry”.  On the other hand if they really want to represent the citizens of their country or their state (or their county), they could appoint a special prosecutor whose payment would be relatively minimal in terms of getting the case started and largely dependent upon the actual payment of fines, penalties, interests, and restitution.  There are at present at least a dozen law firms in the country (including our very own GarfieldFirm.com) who could perform this service under the direction of the Attorney General or county attorney or both.

The only thing that the state would need to provide is space and facilities and perhaps some minimal capital.  To put this in perspective, I made an approach to the appropriate people in government in the state of Arizona in 2008 in that proposal it was my naïvely idealistic presumption that the state would be more than happy to collect taxes, fees, fines, penalties interest etc that were due from out of state residence residing on Wall Street in the state of New York.  Based upon existing AZ law I projected a 10 billion dollar recovery.  Their finance department looked over my analysis and decided I was wrong.  They projected a recovery of 3 billion dollars which as it turns out is exactly the amount of the budget deficit of the state. 

At this point it is fair to say that the risk reward ratio of prosecuting the Titans of Wall Street has reached a point where it is irresistible if it is performed by a special prosecutor who has no ambitions for public office.  In the process, the state would recover not only the taxes, fees, fines, penalties and interest, but the homeowners would be virtually guaranteed some form of restitution based upon the wrongful foreclosures and the trading of their loans and securities whose value was derived from their loans. 

It is well understood and known that we are only halfway through a contest of enormous consequence.  Without appropriate restraints on banking and financial service companies most of the liberties and rights set forth in the founding documents of our country will become meaningless.   Until now the investment banks have been able to control the narrative.  But the facts about their misdeeds and malfeasance are starting to drown out the gigantic Wall Street machine.  I’m not saying that the tide has already turned.  But with the help of readers like you who become proactive and write letters to their attorney generals, county attorneys, and the regulatory agencies demanding such action, the tide will turn earlier rather than later. 

The Mortgage Fraud Fraud

By JOE NOCERA

I got an e-mail the other day from Richard Engle telling me that his son Charlie would be getting out of prison this month. I was happy to hear it.

Charlie’s ordeal isn’t over yet, of course. When he leaves prison on June 20, Charlie, 49, will move temporarily to a halfway house, after which he will be on probation for another five years. And unless he can get the verdict overturned, he will have to spend the rest of his life with a felony on his record.

Perhaps you remember Charlie Engle. I wrote about him not long after he entered a minimum-security facility in Beaver, W.Va., 16 months ago. He’s the poor guy who went to jail for lying on a liar loan during the housing bubble.

There were two things about Charlie’s prosecution that really bothered me. First, he’d clearly been targeted by an agent of the Internal Revenue Service who seemed offended that Charlie was an ultramarathoner without a steady day job. The I.R.S. conducted “Dumpster dives” into his garbage and put a wire on a female undercover agent hoping to find some dirt on him. Unable to unearth any wrongdoing on his tax returns, the I.R.S. discovered he had taken out several subprime mortgages that didn’t require income verification. His income on one of them was wildly inflated. They don’t call them liar loans for nothing.

Charlie has always insisted that he never filled out the loan document — his mortgage broker did it, and he was actually a victim of mortgage fraud. (The broker later pleaded guilty to another mortgage fraud.) Indeed, according to a recent court filing by Charlie’s lawyer, the government failed to turn over exculpatory evidence that could have helped Charlie prove his innocence. For whatever inexplicable reason, prosecutors really wanted to nail Charlie Engle. And they did.

Second, though, it seemed incredible to me that with all the fraud that took place during the housing bubble, the Justice Department was focusing not on the banks that had issued the fraudulent loans, but rather on those who had taken out the loans, which invariably went sour when housing prices fell.

As I would later learn, Charlie Engle was no aberration. The current meme — argued most recently by Charles Ferguson, in his new book “Predator Nation” — is that not a single top executive at any of the firms that nearly brought down the financial system has spent so much as a day in jail. And that is true enough.

But what is also true, and which is every bit as corrosive to our belief in the rule of law, is that the Justice Department has instead taken after the smallest of small fry — and then trumpeted those prosecutions as proof of how tough it is on mortgage fraud. It is a shameful way for the government to act.

“These people thought they were pursuing the American dream,” says Mark Pennington, a lawyer in Des Moines who regularly defends home buyers being prosecuted by the local United States attorney. “Right here in Des Moines,” he said, “there was a big subprime outfit, Wells Fargo Financial. No one there has been prosecuted. They are only going after people who lost their homes after the bubble burst. It’s a scandal.”

The Justice Department has had a tough run recently. Last week, Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general — who was recently given a role by President Obama to investigate the mortgage-backed securities issued during the bubble — complained publicly that he wasn’t getting the resources he needed from the Justice Department. And, of course, on Thursday, a federal judge declared a mistrial on five charges of campaign finance fraud and conspiracy in the trial of the former presidential candidate John Edwards.

In the Edwards case, the Justice Department spent tens of millions of dollars, and trotted out novel legal theories, to prosecute a man who was essentially trying to keep people from discovering that he had had a mistress and an out-of-wedlock child. Salacious though it was, the case has zero public import. Yet this same Justice Department isn’t willing to use similar resources — and perhaps even trot out some novel legal theories — to go after the pervasive corporate wrongdoing that gave us the financial crisis and the Great Recession. (I should note that the Justice Department claims that it “will not hesitate” to prosecute any “institution where there is evidence of a crime.”)

Think back to the last time the federal government went after corporate crooks. It was after the Internet bubble. Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay of Enron were prosecuted and found guilty. Bernard Ebbers, the former chief executive of WorldCom, went to jail. Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco was prosecuted and given a lengthy prison sentence. Now recall which Justice Department prosecuted those men.

Amazing, isn’t it? George W. Bush has turned out to be tougher on corporate crooks than Barack Obama.

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Like I said, the loans never made into the “pools”

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Editor’s Comment:

When I first suggested that securitization itself was a lie, my comments were greeted with disbelief and derision. No matter. When I see something I call it the way it is. The loans never left the launch pad, much less flew into a waiting pool of investor money. The whole thing was a scam and AG Biden of Đelaware and Schniedermann of New York are on to it.

The tip of the iceberg is that the note was not delivered to the investors. The gravitas of the situation is that the investors were never intended to get the note, the mortgage or any documentation except a check and a distribution report. The game was on.

First they (the investment banks) took money from the investors on the false pretenses that the bonds were real when anyone with 6 months experience on Wall street could tell you this was not a bond for lots of reasons, the most basic of which was that there was no borrower. The prospectus had no loans because there were no loans made yet. The banks certainly wouldn’ t take the risks posed by this toxic heap of loans, so they were waiting for the investors to get conned. Once they had the money then they figured out how to keep as much of it as possible before even looking for residential home borrowers. 

None of the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code on REMICS were followed, nor were the requirements of the pooling and servicing agreement. The facts are simple: the document trail as written never followed the actual trail of actual transactions in which money exchanged hands. And this was simply because the loan money came from the investors apart from the document trail. The actual transaction between homeowner borrower and investor lender was UNDOCUMENTED. And the actual trail of documents used in foreclosures all contain declarations of fact concerning transactions that never happened. 

The note is “evidence” of the debt, not the debt itself. If the investor lender loaned money to the homeowner borrower and neither one of them signed a single document acknowledging that transaction, there is still an obligation. The money from the investor lender is still a loan and even without documentation it is a loan that must be repaid. That bit of legal conclusion comes from common law. 

So if the note itself refers to a transaction in which ABC Lending loaned the money to the homeowner borrower it is referring to a transaction that does not now nor did it ever exist. That note is evidence of an obligation that does not exist. That note refers to a transaction that never happened. ABC Lending never loaned the homeowner borrower any money. And the terms of repayment intended by the securitization documents were never revealed to the homeowner buyer. Therefore the note with ABC Lending is evidence of a non-existent transaction that mistates the terms of repayment by leaving out the terms by which the investor lender would be repaid.

Thus the note is evidence of nothing and the mortgage securing the terms of the note is equally invalid. So the investors are suing the banks for leaving the lenders in the position of having an unsecured debt wherein even if they had collateral it would be declining in value like a stone dropping to the earth.

And as for why banks who knew better did it this way — follow the money. First they took an undisclosed yield spread premium out of the investor lender money. They squirreled most of that money through Bermuda which ” asserted” jurisdiction of the transaction for tax purposes and then waived the taxes. Then the bankers created false entities and “pools” that had nothing in them. Then the bankers took what was left of the investor lender money and funded loans upon request without any underwriting.

Then the bankers claimed they were losing money on defaults when the loss was that of the investor lenders. To add insult to injury the bankers had used some of the investor lender money to buy insurance, credit default swaps and create other credit enhancements where they — not the investor lender —- were the beneficiary of a payoff based on the default of mortgages or an “event” in which the nonexistent pool had to be marked down in value. When did that markdown occur? Only when the wholly owned wholly controlled subsidiary of the investment banker said so, speaking as the ” master servicer.”

So the truth is that the insurers and counterparties on CDS paid the bankers instead of the investor lenders. The same thing happened with the taxpayer bailout. The claims of bank losses were fake. Everyone lost money except, of course, the bankers.

So who owns the loan? The investor lenders. Who owns the note? Who cares, it was worth less when they started; but if anyone owns it it is most probably the originating “lender” ABC Lending. Who owns the mortgage? There is no mortgage. The mortgage agreement was written and executed by the borrower securing terms of payment that were neither disclosed nor real.

Bank Loan Bundling Investigated by Biden-Schneiderman: Mortgages

By David McLaughlin

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Delaware’s Beau Biden are investigating banks for failing to package mortgages into bonds as advertised to investors, three months after a group of lenders struck a nationwide $25 billion settlement over foreclosure practices.

The states are pursuing allegations that some home loans weren’t correctly transferred into securitizations, undermining investors’ stakes in the mortgages, according to two people with knowledge of the probes. They’re also concerned about improper foreclosures on homeowners as result, said the people, who declined to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The probes prolong the fallout from the six-year housing bust that’s cost Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and other lenders more than $72 billion because of poor underwriting and shoddy foreclosures. It may also give ammunition to bondholders suing banks, said Isaac Gradman, an attorney and managing member of IMG Enterprises LLC, a mortgage-backed securities consulting firm.

“The attorneys general could create a lot of problems for the banks and for the trustees and for bondholders,” Gradman said. “I can’t imagine a better securities law claim than to say that you represented that these were mortgage-backed securities when in fact they were backed by nothing.”

Countrywide Faulted

Schneiderman said Bank of America Corp. (BAC)’s Countrywide Financial unit last year made errors in the way it packaged home loans into bonds, while investors have sued trustee banks, saying documentation lapses during mortgage securitizations can impair their ability to recover losses when homeowners default. Schneiderman didn’t sue Bank of America in connection with that criticism.

The Justice Department in January said it formed a group of federal officials and state attorneys general to investigate misconduct in the bundling of mortgage loans into securities. Schneiderman is co-chairman with officials from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The next month, five mortgage servicers — Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. (ALLY) — reached a $25 billion settlement with federal officials and 49 states. The deal pays for mortgage relief for homeowners while settling claims against the servicers over foreclosure abuses. It didn’t resolve all claims, leaving the lenders exposed to further investigations into their mortgage operations by state and federal officials.

Top Issuers

The New York and Delaware probes involve banks that assembled the securities and firms that act as trustees on behalf of investors in the debt, said one of the people and a third person familiar with the matter.

The top issuers of mortgage securities without government backing in 2005 included Bank of America’s Countrywide Financial unit, GMAC, Bear Stearns Cos. and Washington Mutual, according to trade publication Inside MBS & ABS. Total volume for the top 10 issuers was $672 billion. JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual in 2008.

The sale of mortgages into the trusts that pool loans may be void if banks didn’t follow strict requirements for such transfers, Biden said in a lawsuit filed last year over a national mortgage database used by banks. The requirements for transferring documents were “frequently not complied with” and likely led to the failure to properly transfer loans “on a large scale,” Biden said in the complaint.

“Most of this was done under the cover of darkness and anything that shines a light on these practices is going to be good for investors,” Talcott Franklin, an attorney whose firm represents mortgage-bond investors, said about the state probes.

Critical to Investors

Proper document transfers are critical to investors because if there are defects, the trusts, which act on behalf of investors, can’t foreclose on borrowers when they default, leading to losses, said Beth Kaswan, an attorney whose firm, Scott + Scott LLP, represents pension funds that have sued Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) and US Bancorp as bond trustees. The banks are accused of failing in their job to review loan files for missing and incomplete documents and ensure any problems were corrected, according to court filings.

“You have very significant losses in the trusts and very high delinquencies and foreclosures, and when you attempt to foreclose you can’t collect,” Kaswan said.

Laurence Platt, an attorney at K&L Gates LLP in Washington, disagreed that widespread problems exist with document transfers in securitization transactions that have impaired investors’ interests in mortgages.

“There may be loan-level issues but there aren’t massive pattern and practice problems,” he said. “And even when there are potential loan-level issues, you have to look at state law because not all states require the same documents.”

Fixing Defects

Missing documents don’t have to prevent trusts from foreclosing on homes because the paperwork may not be necessary, according to Platt. Defects in the required documents can be fixed in some circumstances, he said. For example, a missing promissory note, in which a borrower commits to repay a loan, may not derail the process because there are laws governing lost notes that allow a lender to proceed with a foreclosure, he said.

A review by federal bank regulators last year found that mortgage servicers “generally had sufficient documentation” to demonstrate authority to foreclose on homes.

Schneiderman said in court papers last year that Countrywide failed to transfer complete loan documentation to trusts. BNY Mellon, the trustee for bondholders, misled investors to believe Countrywide had delivered complete files, the attorney general said.

Hindered Foreclosures

Errors in the transfer of documents “hampered” the ability of the trusts to foreclose and impaired the value of the securities backed by the loans, Schneiderman said.

“The failure to properly transfer possession of complete mortgage files has hindered numerous foreclosure proceedings and resulted in fraudulent activities,” the attorney general said in court documents.

Bank of America faced similar claims from Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who accused the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender of conducting foreclosures without authority in its role as mortgage servicer due improper document transfers. In an amended complaint last year, Masto said Countrywide failed to deliver original mortgage notes to the trusts or provided notes with defects.

The lawsuit was settled as part of the national foreclosure settlement, Masto spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez said.

Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon declined to comment about the claims made by states and investors. BNY Mellon performed its duties as defined in the agreements governing the securitizations, spokesman Kevin Heine said.

“We believe that claims against the trustee are based on a misunderstanding of the limited role of the trustee in mortgage securitizations,” he said.

Biden, in his complaint over mortgage database MERS, cites a foreclosure by Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) as trustee in which the promissory note wasn’t delivered to the bank as required under an agreement governing the securitization. The office is concerned that such errors led to foreclosures by banks that lacked authority to seize homes, one of the people said.

Renee Calabro, spokeswoman for Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank, declined to comment.

Investors have raised similar claims against banks. The Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System last year sued U.S. Bancorp as trustee for mortgage bonds sold by Bear Stearns. The bank “regularly disregarded” its duty as trustee to review loan files to ensure there were no missing or defective documents transferred to the trusts. The bank’s actions caused millions of dollars in losses on securities “that were not, in fact, legally collateralized by mortgage loans,” according to an amended complaint.

“Bondholders could have serious claims on their hands,” said Gradman. “You’re going to suffer a loss as bondholder if you can’t foreclose, if you can’t liquidate that property and recoup.”

Teri Charest, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp (USB), said the bank isn’t liable and doesn’t know if any party is at fault in the structuring or administration of the transactions.

“If there was fault, this unhappy investor is seeking recompense from the wrong party,” she said. “We were not the sponsor, underwriter, custodian, servicer or administrator of this transaction.”

Release on Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Looks Broader Than Advertised

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Release on Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Looks Broader Than Advertised

By: David Dayen

In his statement on the Administration’s new housing policies, CFPB Director Richard Cordray makes a fairly stunning response, considering it’s posted at the White House blog:

The principles articulated by the Obama administration today are good guideposts for much-needed reforms in the mortgage market. The problems that plague consumers are well-documented. Too many consumers were steered into complicated mortgages that they did not understand and couldn’t afford. Too many families were forced into foreclosure because paperwork was lost, phone calls went unanswered, errors were not resolved, or documents were falsified.

“To protect consumers, there must be clear rules of the road and real consequences for breaking them. The Consumer Bureau is already hard at work making the costs and risks of mortgages clear upfront through our Know Before You Owe project. The financial reform law also requires us to create new mortgage servicing rules that hold servicers accountable for disclosing fees and fixing problems. We are also working with other federal agencies to develop common-sense national servicing standards. But having rules in place isn’t enough. We are closely monitoring mortgage servicers to make sure that no one gains an unfair advantage by breaking the law. Taking these steps to fix the mortgage market is good for consumers, honest businesses, and our entire economy.

“Documents were falsified.” Not “allegedly” falsified, not in some cases falsified, just the simple fact that documents were falsified. This is coming from the former Attorney General of Ohio, who filed the first lawsuit against a bank over the aforementioned falsified documents.

But now that bank, Ally, is banking a $270 million charge for “foreclosure-related matters.” You can reliably read this as the precursor to a settlement, where Ally and the other top banks will pay $5 billion at most, and then make principal reductions on investor-owned mortgages (paying off the penalty with other people’s money) totaling another $17 billion or so, to get out of the liability for routinely falsifying documents. We’re not talking about errors. Falsification connotes knowing fraud. It’s called foreclosure fraud for a reason.

Which brings me back to the question of why any AG would release said liability – which as we’ll soon see is probably a release of liability going forward – for a miniscule amount of relief for their constituents. In fact, as we know from Shahien Nasiripour, the only state that has any idea of the level of relief their constituents would get is California, which publicly opposes the settlement. These other AGs are flying in blind, when $15 billion of the $25 billion total is committed to another state, and there’s no guarantee that their affected customers will see one dime from the settlement.

Furthermore, in the one area where the settlement has been said to have improved, the terms of the liability release, as Yves Smith demonstrates, the letter from Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto about the settlement indicates that the release could be broader than recent reports suggest. Masto’s crucial Question #3 out of 38 says: “The State release contains a provision that prevents the State AGs and banking regulators from seeking to invalidate past assignments or foreclosures. Does this prevent States from effectively challenging future foreclosure actions that are based on faulty prior assignments?”

That’s a key question. All of the fabricated mortgage assignments and associated documents used to foreclose are back-dated, so the banks can simply say that they are covered by the release. Meaning that the release could cover ONGOING foreclosure fraud. The foreclosure mills basically invent new, “found” documents all the time, so this is a real concern. Yves writes:

The banks will pay an amount into the fund, and all issues relating to robo-signing and foreclosure will be released by the AGs: the banks will have a state level release from all bad assignment/transfer issues.

Note this does not stop private parties, meaning individual borrowers, from suing on these very grounds. But taking the AGs out of the picture prevents them from using their subpoena and prosecutorial powers to determine how widespread these abuses are and to negotiate broad solutions. So we’ll have the worst of all possible worlds: individual borrowers getting better and better at fighting foreclosures (or if you are a pro bank type, getting better and better at throwing sand in the gears) with the AGs sidelined in their ability to shed light on these issues and bring them to resolution on a broader basis. And given that the OCC has already entered into weak consent orders with the major servicers, and past servicing settlements have been violated, I remain skeptical that this deal will stop these abuses. Remember, bank executives piously swore in 2010 that they stopped robosigning, yet their firms continue to engage in that practice.

So this is a major release of liability. And in exchange, we’re supposed to be happy about an ongoing investigation with the participation of the New York Attorney General, something Harold Meyerson lauds today. What this fails to recognize is that this release would invalidate one of Eric Schneiderman’s key motions against Bank of New York Mellon, in his bid to stop the settlement between Bank of America and investors over mortgage backed security claims. Schneiderman used the argument of mortgage originators failing to convey loan documentation to the trusts as a key part of why the settlement should be disallowed. That’s the “pre-crisis” conduct he’s going on about. This settlement would make it nearly impossible to litigate that. To quote Tom Adams (from Yves’ post):

Economically, if the banks get released from failing to properly transfer thousands of mortgages into the trusts for a mere $5 billion they will have gotten the deal of the century. Especially because this settlement will do nothing to stop borrowers and courts from challenging foreclosures and continuing to expose the failure to transfer. So not only will investors pick up the cost of most of the settlement, but they will then still be exposed to the bad transfers, while the banks get a get out of jail free card.

Bill Black has more on the lack of teeth to the prosecutions here.

When I first got wind of this new fraud unit, I thought that its goal was to grease the skids for the settlement. It’s really hard to see how events have rejected that thesis. So far, Schneiderman, Kamala Harris and Beau Biden remain nominally opposed to the deal. Their fellow AGs ought to understand what they’d be giving up here.

UPDATE: And now we have a possible indication that joining the robo-signing settlement is a condition of joining the federal/state RMBS working group:

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger likes what he sees in final deal between the multistate AG coalition and mortgage servicers and said Wednesday he will sign onto a settlement.

But Kroger also said he wants to join the federal task force investigating securitization and other lending mispractices at the largest banks […]

A spokesperson for Iowa AG Tom Miller, who has led the talks, said the deadline was extended for states to sign the deal to Feb. 6 from Friday at the request of an undisclosed AG. The multistate coalition will file the judgment in federal court assuming it gets a sufficient number of sign-ons.

Oregon was one of the states that met with dissident AGs prior to the announcement of the RMBS working group. Kroger also lists specific numbers to which borrowers in his state should expect (“$100 million to $200 million in relief”), so that’s new.

DELAWARE TO MERS: NOT IN OUR STATE!

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Delaware sues MERS, claims mortgage deception

Posted on Stop Foreclosure Fraud

Posted on27 October 2011.

Delaware sues MERS, claims mortgage deceptionSome saw this coming in the last few weeks. Now all HELL is about to Break Loose.

This is one of the States I mentioned MERS has to watch…why? Because the “Co.” originated here & under Laws of Delaware…following? [see below].

Also look at the date this TM patent below was signed 3-4 years after MERS’ 1999 date via VP W. Hultman’s secretary Kathy McKnight [PDF link to depo pages 29-39].

New York…next!

Delaware Online-

Delaware joined what is becoming a growing legal battle against the mortgage industry today, charging in a Chancery Court suit that consumers facing foreclosure were purposely misled and deceived by the company that supposedly kept track of their loans’ ownership.

By operating a shadowy and frequently inaccurate private database that obscured the mortgages’ true owners, Merscorp made it difficult for hundreds of Delaware homeowners to fight foreclosure actions in court or negotiate new terms on their loans, the suit filed by the Attorney General’s Office said.

[DELAWARE ONLINE]

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CAL. AG DROPS OUT OF TALKS WITH BANKS: AMNESTY OFF THE TABLE

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EDITOR’S NOTE: California has approximately a 1/3 share of all foreclosures. So Harris’ decision to drop out of the talks is a huge blow to the mega banks who were banking (pardon the pun) on using it to get immunity from prosecution. The answer is no, you will be held accountable for what you did, just like anyone else. As I have stated before when the other AG’s dropped out of the talks (Arizona, Nevada et al), this growing trend is getting real traction as those in politics have discovered an important nuance in the minds of voters: they may have differing opinions on what should be done about foreclosures but they all hate these monolithic banks who are siphoning off the lifeblood of our society. And there is nothing like hate to drive voting.

This is a process, not an event. We are at the end of the 4th inning in a 9-inning game that may go into overtime. The effects of the mortgage mess created by the banks are being felt at the dinner table of just about every citizen in the country. The politics here is creating a huge paradox and irony — the largest source of campaign donations has turned into a pariah with whom association will be as deadly at the polls as organized crime.

The fact that so many attorneys general of so many states are putting distance between themselves and the banks means a lot. It means that the banks are in serious danger of indictment and conviction on criminal charges for fraud, forgery, perjury and potentially many other crimes.

IDENTITY THEFT: One crime that is being investigated, which I have long felt was a major element of the securitization scam for the “securitization that never happened” is the theft of identities. By signing onto what appeared to be mortgage documents, borrowers were in fact becoming issuers or pawns in the issuance of fraudulent securities to investors. Those with high credit scores were especially valued for the “cover” they provided in the upper tranches of the CDO’s that were “sold” to investors. An 800 credit score could be used to get a AAA  rating from the rating agencies who were themselves paid off to provide additional cover.

But it all comes down to the use of people’s identities as “borrowers” when in fact there was no “Lending” going on. What was going on was “pretend lending” that had all the outward manifestations of a loan but none of the substance. Yes money exchanged hands, but the real parties never met and never signed papers with each other. In my opinion, the proof of identity theft will put the borrowers in a superior position to that of the investors in suits against the investment bankers.

NO UNDERWRITING=NO LOAN: There was no underwriting committee, there was no underwriting, there was no review of the appraisal, there was no confirmation of the borrower’s income and there was no decision about the risk and viability of the so-called loan, because it wasn’t about that. The risk was already eliminated when they sold the bogus mortgage bonds to investors and thus saddled pension funds with the entire risk of loss on empty “mortgage backed pools.” So if the loan wasn’t paid, the players at ground level had no risk. Their only incentive was to get the signature of the borrower. That is what they were paid for — not to produce quality loans, but to produce signatures.

Little did we know, the more loans that defaulted, the more money the banks made — but they were able to mask the gains with apparent losses as an excuse to extract emergency money from the US Treasury using taxpayer dollars without accounting for the “loss” or what they did with the money. Meanwhile the gains were safely parked off shore in “off-balance sheet” transaction accounts.

The question that has not yet been asked, but will be asked as prosecutors and civil litigators drill down into these deals is who controls that off-shore money? My math is telling me that some $2.6 trillion was siphoned off (second level — hidden — yield spread premium) the investors money before the balance was used to fund “loans.”

When all is said and done, those loans will be seen for what they really were — part of the issuance of unregistered fraudulent securities. And you’ll see that the investors didn’t get any more paperwork than the borrowers did as to what was really going on. The banks want us to focus on the the paperwork when in fact it is the actual transactions involving money that we should be following. The paperwork is a ruse. It is faked.

NOTE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT: FOLLOW THE MONEY. IT WILL LEAD YOU TO THE TRUTH AND THE PERPETRATORS. YOUR EFFORTS WILL BE REWARDED.

California AG Harris Exits Multistate Talks
in News > Mortgage Servicing
by MortgageOrb.com on Monday 03 October 2011
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The multistate attorneys general group working toward a foreclosure settlement with the nation’s biggest banks suffered a blow Friday, when California’s Kamala Harris announced her departure from negotiations.

Harris notified Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and U.S. Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli of her decision in a letter that was obtained and published by the New York Times Friday. According to the letter, Harris is exiting the talks because she opposes the broad scope of the settlement terms under discussion.

“Last week, I went to Washington, D.C., in hopes of moving our discussions forward,” Harris wrote. “But it became clear to me that California was being asked for a broader release of claims than we can accept and to excuse conduct that has not been adequately investigated.”

“[T]his not the deal California homeowners have been waiting for,” Harris adds one line later.

Harris, who earlier this year launched a mortgage fraud task force, says she will continue investigating mortgage practices – including banks’ bubble-era securitization activities – independent of the multistate group.

“I am committed to doing as thorough an investigation as is needed – and to taking the time that is necessary – to set the stage for achieving appropriate accountability for misconduct,” she wrote.

Harris also told Miller and Perrelli that she intends to advocate for legislation and regulations that increase transparency in the mortgage markets and “eliminate incentives to disregard borrowers’ rights in foreclosure.”

Harris’ departure is considered significant given the high number of distressed loans in California. In August, approximately one in every 226 housing units in the state had a foreclosure filing of some kind, according to RealtyTrac data.

Minnesota AG Backs NY AG: No Amnesty For Banks

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POLITICIANS SMELL BLOOD: RUN AGAINST THE BANKS

“Every single American has paid a very heavy price for the behavior of the financial industry. Ordinary people have lost homes, jobs, income, and financial security because of the actions of this industry,” Swanson said in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post by a spokesman. “I welcome and embrace all efforts to investigate the banks and their executives and to hold them accountable for unlawful activity.”

Minnesota Attorney General Backs New York’s Eric Schneiderman In National Foreclosure Settlement Talks

Minnesota Lori Swanson

First Posted: 9/13/11 12:24 PM ET Updated: 9/13/11 01:40 PM

NEW YORK — As government officials work to settle claims that the nation’s biggest banks illegally foreclosed on American homeowners, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has joined a group of law enforcers pushing for a narrow deal that would leave banks exposed to potential legal action in the future.

In a letter obtained by The Huffington Post, Swanson said any settlement with the group of banks over mortgage practices should exclude a release from claims over the creation of mortgage-linked securities. Swanson’s support for a narrow settlement unites her with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and attorneys general from three other states, who have said the banks’ alleged wrongdoing hasn’t been investigated thoroughly enough to merit a broader release from legal liability.

“[T]he banks should not be released from liability for conduct that has not been investigated and is not appropriately remedied in any settlement,” she said in a Friday letter addressed to Schneiderman, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Associate United States Attorney General Thomas Perrelli. “For example, a settlement that focuses on mortgage servicing standards should not release the banks or their officers from liability for securities claims or conduct arising out of the securitization of mortgages.”

“[A]ny settlement between government regulators and the mortgage industry should have ‘teeth’ — holding the banks accountable for their wrongful conduct, enjoining future unlawful activity, and helping injured homeowners,” she continued.

The federal government, along with attorneys general from all 50 states, launched an investigation into big banks’ mortgage and foreclosure practices after it emerged last fall that mortgage companies employed so-called “robo-signers,” who signed thousands of foreclosure documents without reading them. Banks temporarily halted foreclosures last October, saying they would review documents for errors.

Settlement talks, which began in the spring, seemed to be moving toward a conclusion during the summer months, even though government officials had initiated only a limited investigation into the banks’ alleged wrongdoing, The Huffington Post reported in July. Elizabeth Warren, a staunch consumer advocate and recently a senior Obama Administration adviser, told a congressional panel that claims of illegal foreclosures may not have been fully investigated.

The banks, which include Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial, have pushed for a speedy resolution, as uncertainty over a legal penalty that could reach $20 billion has contributed to persistent slumps in their stock. “When we get that call we’ll be on an airplane, we’ll be down there, we’ll be signing up,” JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said during a conference call in July.

Schneiderman, who has firmly supported a narrow deal, was last month kicked off the committee leading the 50-state talks at the behest of Iowa’s Miller, who is leading the state group, The Huffington Post reported. That news broke a day after the New York Times editorial board voiced support for New York’s attorney general, saying Schneiderman “should stand his ground in not supporting the deal.”

The skirmish among government officials highlights divisions that have emerged, as federal officials and some state attorneys general advocate for a quick resolution, while others are urging the parties not to settle unless there has been a more thorough investigation. Some attorneys general, including Schneiderman, are also pursuing their own investigations.

Law enforcers recently proposed a deal that would effectively release banks from legal liability for securitization practices, the Financial Times reported earlier this month. The banks, which want the broadest possible immunity, called the latest proposal a “non-starter,” according to the FT.

In addition to Swanson and Schneiderman, the attorneys general from Delaware, Massachusetts and Nevada have also raised concerns about a broad release of legal liability for the banks.

“We have received Attorney General Swanson’s letter and agree that any agreement must not prevent attorneys general investigating the mortgage crisis from following the facts wherever they lead,” Danny Kanner, spokesman for the New York attorney general, said in an emailed statement.

“Every single American has paid a very heavy price for the behavior of the financial industry. Ordinary people have lost homes, jobs, income, and financial security because of the actions of this industry,” Swanson said in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post by a spokesman. “I welcome and embrace all efforts to investigate the banks and their executives and to hold them accountable for unlawful activity.”

BOA DEATHWATCH: PORTRAIT OF CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE?

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MORTGAGES WERE NOT SECURITIZED

“[Nevada Attorney General] Masto didn’t stop there. She also pulled out a bazooka. She accused BofA of failure to properly securitize mortgages, breaking the chain of title and nullifying their standing to foreclose. This is from the amended complaint:

Bank of America misrepresented, both in communications with Nevada consumers and in documents they recorded and filed, that they had authority to foreclose upon consumers’ homes as servicer for the trusts that held these mortgages. Defendants knew (and were on notice) that they had never properly transferred [text redacted] these mortgage to those trusts, failing to deliver properly endorsed or assigned mortgage notes as required by the relevant legal contracts and state law. Because the trusts never became holders of these mortgages, Defendants lacked authority to collect or foreclose on their behalf and never should have represented they could.”

Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto Destroys BofA in New Lawsuit

By: David Dayen Wednesday August 31, 2011 6:10 am

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto’s amended complaint in a lawsuit against Bank of America has so many interesting nuances, I think I need a new Internet to catalog them all. But let me start by saying that this complaint is a stick of dynamite to the foreclosure fraud settlement, exposing it as a useless whitewash that won’t deter banks from their criminal practices. Masto joins other skeptical AGs here in not acceding to such a dereliction of duty, and instead she lays out a thorough case of systematic fraud, in this case by Bank of America, at every step of the mortgage process.

First, the background. In October 2008, a group of twelve state Attorneys General, including Nevada, entered into a settlement with Bank of America over predatory lending at the mortgage lender Countrywide, which BofA had purchased in July. In the settlement, BofA promised to modify up to 400,000 mortgages nationwide, at a cost of up to $8.4 billion. This was to include principal reductions as well as refinancing, and all foreclosure operations on the affected loans would be suspended.

If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same basic structure for the proposed settlement between all 50 AGs and leading banks over their fraudulent foreclosure operations. The question looming over the entire enterprise was whether the states could ensure vigorous enforcement. There’s a model with this Countrywide settlement in 2008 that we can look to. And apparently no AG but Catherine Cortez Masto has actually investigated whether or not BofA kept their promises. Turns out they haven’t. So Masto is seeking a pullout from the settlement, to pursue prosecution against the bank for multiple deceptive practices.

Allow me to highlight the deceptive practices in question. This is going to be a somewhat long excerpt because I want to add as much detail as possible:

In her filing, Ms. Masto contends that Bank of America raised interest rates on troubled borrowers when modifying their loans even though the bank had promised in the settlement to lower them. The bank also failed to provide loan modifications to qualified homeowners as required under the deal, improperly proceeded with foreclosures even as borrowers’ modification requests were pending and failed to meet the settlement’s 60-day requirement on granting new loan terms, instead allowing months and in some cases more than a year to go by with no resolution, the filing says […]

The complaint says the bank advised credit reporting agencies that consumers were in default when they were not, and contends that Bank of America employees deceived borrowers about why their requests to modify loans were denied. In addition, it says, the bank falsely claimed that the actual owners of loans had refused to allow changes to their mortgages, and it incorrectly claimed that borrowers had failed to make payments on trial loan modifications when in fact they had. Bank of America also misled borrowers, the Nevada attorney general’s filing noted, by offering loan modifications with one set of terms only to come back with a substantially different deal.

Among the more troubling findings in the Nevada complaint is the contention by several Bank of America employees that the company imposed strict limits on the amount of time they could spend on the phone assisting troubled borrowers seeking help with their loans.

One worker said in a deposition cited in the complaint that employees were punished if they spent more than seven minutes or 10 minutes with a customer. Even though these limits allowed almost no time for assistance, Bank of America employees who did not curtail their conversations were reprimanded, this employee said.

This is a portrait of a criminal enterprise, and to anyone who thinks the other mortgage servicers are somehow more chaste than Bank of America, I have some Bank of America stock to sell you.

But Masto didn’t stop there. She also pulled out a bazooka. She accused BofA of failure to properly securitize mortgages, breaking the chain of title and nullifying their standing to foreclose. This is from the amended complaint:

Bank of America misrepresented, both in communications with Nevada consumers and in documents they recorded and filed, that they had authority to foreclose upon consumers’ homes as servicer for the trusts that held these mortgages. Defendants knew (and were on notice) that they had never properly transferred [text redacted] these mortgage to those trusts, failing to deliver properly endorsed or assigned mortgage notes as required by the relevant legal contracts and state law. Because the trusts never became holders of these mortgages, Defendants lacked authority to collect or foreclose on their behalf and never should have represented they could.

We know that Countrywide didn’t convey the mortgage notes properly to the trust, their own officials testified to that in Countrywide v. Kemp (which is quoted in the complaint). Masto joins Eric Schneiderman in blowing the whistle on this corrupt securitization enterprise.

The entire complaint is here. Masto is seeking civil penalties of $5,000 per violation in the complaint, upping that to $12,000 when the violation affected a elderly or disabled person. She also wants restitution costs for wrongful foreclosures and the costs incurred by municipalities and homeowners from unnecessarily vacant foreclosed properties. Given that Nevada has so many foreclosures, the total liability could range higher than the original $8.4 billion settlement, and that’s just for Nevada alone.

So much else to say here. Masto’s lawsuit is as much about the current settlement talks as it is about the 2008 Countrywide settlement. She is saying, in no uncertain terms, that you simply cannot trust the banks to actually abide by settlement terms. As Masto says in the complaint, Bank of America’s “misconduct cut across virtually every aspect of the Defendant’s operations,” and they “materially and almost immediately violated the Consent Judgment” agreed upon in the settlement. At the time, Jerry Brown, then Attorney General of California, said that the settlement would “be closely monitored and enforced in the months ahead.” It clearly wasn’t. BofA didn’t wait for the ink to dry before violating the terms. And Masto has not only the accounts of borrowers to back this up, but also testimony from Bank of America employees.

Knowing this, seeing it fully documented in Nevada, how could there still be any negotiations on a settlement with the same people? The negotiation should be about whether there will be a public or private perp walk for BofA executives.

So why hasn’t any other state done the same basic investigation as Nevada, and sought to pull out of the Countrywide settlement? Arizona actually joined this lawsuit back in 2010, but that was when Democrat Terry Goddard was the AG. Republican Tom Horne became the AG after the 2010 elections, and he’s too busy literally trying to overturn the Voting Rights Act to worry about whether or not his constituents are being systematically ripped off by a bank, I guess. (Horne, by the way, is still on the executive committee of the foreclosure fraud settlement, I assume because he doesn’t want to do an investigation, and that’s the prerequisite, it seems.)

As for the others, let me tell you who one of the leaders on the Countrywide settlement was: a guy named Tom Miller, the Attorney General of Iowa and the leader of the 50-state settlement talks on foreclosure fraud. Here’s what he said at the time.

Miller said the Countrywide agreement’s program of loan modifications to prevent foreclosures is a win for all parties. “Foreclosure is the enemy. Most important, loan modifications can help homeowners avoid foreclosures and keep their homes. Avoiding foreclosures also helps the companies, helps communities and neighborhoods, and helps our overall economy by stabilizing the housing market,” he said.

“This is what we have been looking for. This agreement provides for the kind of systematic and streamlined loan modification program that is critical right now,” Miller said. “I strongly urge other servicers to undertake similar aggressive programs to prevent foreclosures.”

Do you think Tom Miller, who wants a foreclosure fraud settlement in the worst way, is going to bother to check to see if BofA managed to actually give Iowans the loan modifications they promised? Of course not. And he’s likely to bully all the other states in the Countrywide agreement to shut up about how that settlement was basically unenforced, because people would get the message that this new settlement would go the same way.

He must have got to all of them, but not Masto. And she has ruined his best wishes, not to mention the best wishes of Bank of America. They are denying any wrongdoing and still claiming that “the best way to get the housing market going again in every state is a global settlement that addresses these issues fairly, comprehensively and with finality.” Bullshit. The best way to restore the housing market, the rule of law, and faith in the American system is by rounding up criminal enterprises masquerading as banks.

And the investigation that would lead to that will surely happen now. Masto, Schneiderman and colleagues like Beau Biden, Martha Coakley and anyone else who actually takes their job description seriously will ensure that.

Richard Zombeck: Mass Register John O’Brien’s Presentation Draws Crowd of Recorders in Atlantic City

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“I am stunned and appalled by the fact that America’s biggest banks have played fast and loose with people’s biggest asset — their homes. This is disgusting, and this is criminal,” O’Brien said.

Mass Register John O’Brien’s Presentation Draws Crowd of Recorders in Atlantic City

07/ 5/11 05:06 PM ET

Registers, registrars and recorders from across the country gathered in Atlantic City on Tuesday for the Annual Conference of The International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT).

Several of those attending made the trip specifically to see Massachusetts Register John O’Brien’s presentation on his findings of massive fraud he and Marie McDonnell of McDonnell Property Analytics, uncovered at the Massachusetts Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds

According to O’Brien, McDonnell discovered that 75 percent of the assignments in the registry are fraudulent.

The audit examined assignments of mortgage recorded in the Essex Southern District Registry of Deeds issued to and from JPMorgan Chase Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, and Bank of America during 2010. In total, 565 assignments related to 473 unique mortgages were analyzed.

McDonnell’s Report includes the following key findings:

  • Only 16% of assignments of mortgage are valid
  • 75% of assignments of mortgage are invalid.
  • 9% of assignments of mortgage are questionable
  • 27% of the invalid assignments are fraudulent, 35% are “robo-signed” and 10% violate the Massachusetts Mortgage Fraud Statute.
  • The identity of financial institutions that are current owners of the mortgages could only be determined for 287 out of 473 (60%)
  • There are 683 missing assignments for the 287 traced mortgages, representing approximately180,000 in lost recording fees per 1,000 mortgages whose current ownership can be traced.

You can Download the PDF of the report at http://www.homepreservationnetwork.com/cat_view/132-press-releases-and-memos or request a copy at www.mcdonnellanalytics.com

“My registry is a crime scene as evidenced by this forensic examination,” O’Brien said. “This evidence has made it clear to me that the only way we can ever determine the total economic loss and the amount damage done to the taxpayers is by conducting a full forensic audit of all registry of deeds in Massachusetts. I suspect that at the end of the day we are going to find that the taxpayers have been bilked in this state alone of over 400 million dollars not including the accrued interest plus costs and penalties. ”

After the presentation O’Brien was inundated by nearly 150 recorders asking questions and wanting to conduct investigations of their own.

“I’m a hard person to please,” said Kevin Harvey, O’Brien’s first Assistant. “This was nothing short of extraordinary.”

Jeff Thigpen, the register of deeds for Guilford County, North Carolina is another early trail blazer in this effort. While he did not attend the conference, I spoke with him on Wednesday.

“What [O’Brien] is pointing out in a fundamental way is that the assignments are fraudulent and people need to look at the findings. It goes to the heart of where we are in all this, Thigpen said, “These institutions were once transparent and trusted, we now have a system that stacks the deck in favor of the financial services industry.”

The report, along with the overwhelming response to it, comes in the midst of settlement talks with banks by the 50 attorney’s general. A settlement that to many homeowner advocates is unacceptable and premature based on how little is actually known about the overall depth and impact of the fraud.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is expected to lead opposition to what he called a “quick, cheap settlement” of the 50-state investigation into foreclosure practices.

Schneiderman launched his own investigation in April and has found the problem is much deeper. He said he was “stunned” to find the multi-state probe so lacking that no documents or witness depositions had been obtained.

“We have no leverage,” Schneiderman said in an interview with the Democrat and Chronicle.

O’Brien’s report could represent the catalyst to gaining that leverage.

Earlier this month O’Brien vowed not to record fraudulent documents, so the banks started submitting replacement documents, including five from Bank of America, all with new signature and notaries. An obvious and sloppy whitewash of the documents O’Brien initially refused.

“These lenders chose not to sign my affidavit, but rather to submit completely new documents,” O’Brien said. “I believe the Bank’s actions speak louder than words and show their consciousness of guilt.”

O’Brien also told homeowners in his district to check the records at his website to see if their home mortgage documentation has been robo-signed. He’s facilitating consumer protection complaints through the Massachusetts AG. He has provided letters that homeowners can print out and send to their servicers, demanding their full chain of title pursuant to federal law.

In an article today in the Boston Herald Edward Bloom of the Massachusetts Real Estate Bar Association said it’s not clear that robo-signed documents are invalid — or that O’Brien can legally reject them.

“Mr. O’Brien is grinding the real estate business to a halt and he doesn’t have any right to do that,” Bloom said.

But according to Nantucket attorney Jamie Ranney, who points out in a 15 page memo citing Massachusetts law, O’Brien not only has every right to refuse fraudulent assignments, he has a duty to his constituents to do so.

It is without question that a Register of Deeds has an important and fiduciary relationship and responsibility — especially in the Commonwealth where his position is elected — to all of his constituents, as well as to the public at large, all of whom rely and who should be able to rely on the Register’s efforts, supervision, and oversight in assuring, maintaining and promoting the integrity, transparency, accuracy, and consistency of a County’s land records.The Register’s work and supervision of his registry most often revolves around tasks and responsibilities that are generally ministerial in nature. The Register is typically concerned with the daily task of recording of legal document(s) and/or instrument(s) affecting real property where such document(s) and/or instrument(s) are properly presented to the registry for recording on the public land records.

However, the Register’s fiduciary duty goes well beyond these usual ministerial acts in circumstances where the Register has actual knowledge or a subjective good-faith belief/basis for believing that document(s) and/or instrument(s) being presented for recording or registration in the registry for which he has responsibility are fraudulent or otherwise not executed or acknowledged under applicable law. In such cases the Register may lawfully refuse to record such document(s) and/or instrument(s).

O’Brien is calling on the Massachusetts Attorney General to look into his finding and many of the attendees at last weeks conference are planning to do the same.

In a press release Wednesday, O’Brien said:

Once again I am asking Attorney General Martha Coakley and the other state Attorney’s General to follow the lead of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and stop any settlement talks with the banks. The results of this report are only for my registry, but I can assure you that this type of criminal fraud is rampant across the nation. This leaves me to question why anyone would consider settling with these banks until we know the full extent of the damage that they have caused to the homeowners chain of title across this country and the amount of money they have bilked the taxpayers for their failure to pay recording fees.

Fortunately, as Georgetown Law Professor Adam Levetin points out in a recent piece at Credit Slips Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley has no problem going after banks and mortgage servicers. In fact Levetin says, “These settlements have received very little notice in the press, but I think they provide a real template for future AG settlements and are worth examining.”

As with any settlement, one has to be a bit a skeptical when multi-billion dollar industries are willing to part with substantial chunks of change. And since the settlement with the AGs looks like it would release lenders from future claims and hinder law suits on the part of the individual states, O’ Brien’s and Thigpen’s efforts in raising the awareness of this to the other recorders across the country couldn’t come at a better time.

Much like the $8.5 billion settlement with investors Bank of America is willing to part with that doesn’t really settle anything, whatever amount they’re willing to pay the AGs doesn’t look like it’s going to come near what’s really owed to the counties, states, and certainly not to the American people.

“I am stunned and appalled by the fact that America’s biggest banks have played fast and loose with people’s biggest asset — their homes. This is disgusting, and this is criminal,” O’Brien said.

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