Szymoniak: Honesty Pays $46.5 Million in Whistleblower Suit

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Editor’s Comment and Analysis:  

It was and remains a big lie — the securitization the loans, the origination of the loans, the assignments, alleges and endorsements. $46.5 million sounds like a lot and these whistleblowers will get a “windfall” as a result of it. But it is a drop in the bucket and we need to fill the bucket. And our bucket list should include taking down the big banks, removing money from politics, and getting back to government by the people and for the people.

Schiller, the scholar who has been leading the way in economic analysis of the housing market, has offered an audacious plan that is the last possible way for government intervention to save the economy, which is heavily dependent upon consumer spending, particularly in the housing market. Eminent domain has long been sustain as the right of government to take private property and convert it to public use. Whether it is a highway, downtown redevelopment or other reasons, eminent domain has been played by the banks and developers as a way to get land they need, at a price that could not be achieved using the power of the government behind them. 

While seemingly unusual and audacious, Schiller’s proposition has many precedents in history and should be considered as the last great hope after the 50 attorney generals agreed in the 50 state settlement that now prevents them from further investigation and prosecution against the banks. Schiller’s, the originator of the case-Schiller index showing that median income and income disparity is harmful to the economy and deadly to the housing market, proposes that we use the power of eminent domain to seize the remaining mortgages, and perhaps the property that has already been foreclosed, and remake the deals so that they make sense. Translating that means that the homeowners will get the deal that they should have received when they bought o refinanced their house. And it capitalizes on the inconvenient truth that it was the banks who created risks that neither the investors nor the homeowners signed up for.

By paying the value of the remaining mortgages — more than 30% are reported still under water and when carefully analyzed the figure is closer to 60%, the banks get no more and no less than they should, the investors still get their money — 100 cents on the dollar if they insist on payback from the banks in addition to the money from the new mortgages on the old property, and the homeowner is back in charge of his own home paying principal, interest, costs, fees and insurance and taxes that are fair market value indicators. It is better than the proceeds of foreclosures, so the banks now must argue that they have a right to take less money in order to get the foreclosure.

The banks want the foreclosure because they lied. And with the foreclosure it adds to the illusion that they funded or paid for loans in which they do not have a nickel invested. The fact that the balance sheets of the mega banks are going to take a giant hit is only an admission that the assets they are reporting are either not worth anything or are worth far less than the value shown on their public financial statements. They are still lying about that to investors, the SEC and other regulatory agencies.

So whistleblowers must pave the way and show the lies, show the inequality, show the inflated appraisals that could not stand the test of time and force government to act as it should. The chief law enforcement of the country and the chief law enforcement of each state owes his/her citizens at least that much and more. They must find ways to clear up the corruption of title records that are irretrievably lost. 

And the lawyers who keep turning down these cases because they are too complex or too weak should take a close look at these whistleblower  cases. The settlement, as always, comes before the trial because the fact remains that the banks are o the hook for  their bets on the mortgages and not the mortgages themselves. Lawyers need to show a little guts and seek some glory and wealth from these cases, while at the same time doing their country a service.

We are turning the corner and the banks are starting to lose. Keep up the fight and your effort will probably go well-rewarded.

Whistleblowers win $46.5 million in foreclosure settlement

By James O’Toole

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Getting served with foreclosure papers made Lynn Szymoniak rich.

While she couldn’t have known it at the time, that day in 2008 led to her uncovering widespread fraud on the part of some of the country’s biggest banks, and ultimately taking home $18 million as a result of her lawsuits against them. Szymoniak is one of six Americans who won big in the national foreclosure settlement, finalized earlier this year, as a result of whistleblower suits. In total, they collected $46.5 million, according to the Justice Department.

In the settlement, the nation’s five largest mortgage lenders –Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500), J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) and Ally Financial — agreed to pay $5 billion in fines and committed to roughly $20 billion more in refinancing and mortgage modifications for borrowers.

A judge signed off on the agreement in April, and in May — Szymoniak received her cut.

“I recognize that mine’s a very, very happy ending,” she said. “I know there are plenty of people who have tried as hard as I have and won’t see these kinds of results.”

Related: 30% of borrowers underwater

Whistleblower suits stem from the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the U.S. when they have knowledge that the government is being defrauded. These citizens are then entitled to collect a portion of any penalties assessed in their case.

The act was originally passed in 1863, during a time when government officials were concerned that suppliers to the Union Army during the Civil War could be defrauding them.

In 1986, Congress modified the law to make it easier for whistleblowers to bring cases and giving them a larger share of any penalties collected. Whistleblowers can now take home between 15% and 30% of the sums collected in their cases. In the cases addressed in the foreclosure settlement, the whistleblowers revealed that banks were gaming federal housing programs by failing to comply with their terms or submitting fraudulent documents.

In Szymoniak’s case alone, the government collected $95 million based on her allegations that the banks had been using false documents to prove ownership of defaulted mortgages for which they were submitting insurance claims to the Federal Housing Administration.

The FHA is a self-funded government agency that offers insurance on qualifying mortgages to encourage home ownership. In the event of a default on an FHA-insured mortgage, the FHA pays out a claim to the lender.

Szymoniak’s case was only partially resolved by the foreclosure settlement, and she could be in line for an even larger payout when all is said and done.

As an attorney specializing in white-collar crime, the 63-year-old Floridian was well-placed to spot an apparent forgery on one of the documents in her foreclosure case, one she saw repeated in dozens of others she examined later.

“At this point, the banks are incredibly powerful in this country, but you just have to get up every morning and do what you can,” she said.

The other five whistleblowers in the settlement came from the industry side, putting their careers at risk by flagging the banks’ questionable practices.

Kyle Lagow, who won $14.6 million in the settlement, worked as a home appraiser in Texas for LandSafe, a subsidiary of Countrywide Financial. He accused the company in a lawsuit of deliberately inflating home appraisals in order to collect higher claims from the FHA, and said he was fired after making complaints internally.

Gregory Mackler, who won $1 million, worked for a company subcontracted by Bank of America to assist homeowners pursuing modifications through the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. Under HAMP, the government offers banks incentive payments to support modifications.

Mackler said Bank of America violated its agreement with the government by deliberately preventing qualified borrowers from securing HAMP modifications, steering them toward foreclosure or more costly modifications from which it could make more money. He, too, claims to have been fired after complaining internally.

There’s also Victor Bibby and Brian Donnelly, executives from a Georgia mortgage services firm who accused the banks of overcharging veterans whose mortgages were guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, thereby increasing their default risk. Bibby and Donnelly won $11.7 million in the settlement; their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

Shayne Stevenson, an attorney who represented both Lagow and Mackler, said the two weren’t aware of possible rewards when they first brought their evidence to his firm.

“The reality of it is that most of the time, whistleblowers don’t even know about the False Claims Act — they don’t know they can make money,” Stevenson said. Both his clients, Stevenson added, “just wanted the government to know about this fraud, so they deserve every penny that they got.”

A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on individual cases, but said the national settlement was “part of our ongoing strategy to put these issues, particularly these legacy issues with Countrywide, behind us.” BofA acquired mortgage lender Countrywide in 2008, thereby incurring the firm’s legal liabilities.

The other banks involved either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Related: Foreclosures spike 9%

While the whistleblowers in the settlement scored big paydays in the end, the road wasn’t easy. Stevenson said his clients “were pushed to the brink” after raising their concerns, struggling to find work and beset by financial problems.

“They were facing evictions, foreclosure, running away from bills, trying to deal with creditors that were coming after them,” Stevenson said. “This went on and on and on, and this is part and parcel of what happens to whistleblowers.”

For Robert Harris, a former assistant vice president in JPMorgan’s Chase Prime division, the experience was similar.

Harris accused the bank of failing to assist borrowers seeking HAMP modifications and knowingly submitting false claims for government insurance based on wrongful foreclosures. He was stymied when he tried to complain internally, and says he was fired for speaking out.

While Harris ended up with a $1.2 million payout in the settlement, the father of five says he’s been blacklisted within the industry and exhausted by the ordeal.

“It completely turned my life upside down,” he said. “I’m trying to raise my kids, recover from a divorce, recover from the loss of my career — it just comes to down to surviving and putting this to an end.”

“I guarantee the other whistleblowers, too, have sacrificed a lot,” he added. “But to be able to sit back and sleep at night is worth it.”


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America Is Not Broke

COMBO Title and Securitization Search, Report, Documents, Analysis & Commentary COMBO TITLE AND SECURITIZATION SEARCH, REPORT, ANALYSIS ON LUMINAQ

“For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we’d have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.” — Michael Moore

“400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer “bailout” of 2008, now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.” — Michael Moore

EDITORIAL ANALYSIS: Michael Moore GETS IT! He understands that what happened was political, not economic. It was theft and a grab for power that worked. And he understands that “we the people” in the preamble of our great  Constitution of the United States of America together with the 9th Amendment to that great instrument of human rights, that we THE PEOPLE have the right to take back both the power and the money.

AND that is because, as Thomas Jefferson said, that when in the course of human events” it becomes necessary for the people to act to break the bonds of governance and reinstate the rule of law, we have the right to do it. And in this great country we have every right and obligation to do it without changing our form of government or even resorting to violent revolution. We need only the will to take the streets because we mean it and to start voting and acting like we are in charge, to give up fear as our prime motivator and replace it with hope.

Just because Wall Street has TAKEN the money and the power doesn’t mean we are required to let them keep it. The framers of our government meant for us to correct imbalances of power, high crimes, misdemeanors and other criminal acts and to enable people to get fresh starts and to deprive freedom to those who commit sins against our humanity and our society, committing them to imprisonment, fine and forfeiture —- just like any little guy.

Michael Moore
Oscar and Emmy-winning director

 

America Is Not Broke

Speech delivered at Wisconsin Capitol in Madison, March 5, 2011
America is not broke.

Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.

Today just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.

Let me say that again. 400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer “bailout” of 2008, now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.

And I can see why. For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we’d have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.

I have nothing more than a high school degree. But back when I was in school, every student had to take one semester of economics in order to graduate. And here’s what I learned: Money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows when we make things. It grows when we have good jobs with good wages that we use to buy the things we need and thus create more jobs. It grows when we provide an outstanding educational system that then grows a new generation of inventers, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and thinkers who come up with the next great idea for the planet. And that new idea creates new jobs and that creates revenue for the state. But if those who have the most money don’t pay their fair share of taxes, the state can’t function. The schools can’t produce the best and the brightest who will go on to create those jobs. If the wealthy get to keep most of their money, we have seen what they will do with it: recklessly gamble it on crazy Wall Street schemes and crash our economy. The crash they created cost us millions of jobs.  That too caused a reduction in revenue. And the population ended up suffering because they reduced their taxes, reduced our jobs and took wealth out of the system, removing it from circulation.

The nation is not broke, my friends. Wisconsin is not broke. It’s part of the Big Lie. It’s one of the three biggest lies of the decade: America/Wisconsin is broke, Iraq has WMD, the Packers can’t win the Super Bowl without Brett Favre.

The truth is, there’s lots of money to go around. LOTS. It’s just that those in charge have diverted that wealth into a deep well that sits on their well-guarded estates. They know they have committed crimes to make this happen and they know that someday you may want to see some of that money that used to be yours. So they have bought and paid for hundreds of politicians across the country to do their bidding for them. But just in case that doesn’t work, they’ve got their gated communities, and the luxury jet is always fully fueled, the engines running, waiting for that day they hope never comes. To help prevent that day when the people demand their country back, the wealthy have done two very smart things:

1. They control the message. By owning most of the media they have expertly convinced many Americans of few means to buy their version of the American Dream and to vote for their politicians. Their version of the Dream says that you, too, might be rich some day ˆ this is America, where anything can happen if you just apply yourself! They have conveniently provided you with believable examples to show you how a poor boy can become a rich man, how the child of a single mother in Hawaii can become president, how a guy with a high school education can become a successful filmmaker. They will play these stories for you over and over again all day long so that the last thing you will want to do is upset the apple cart — because you — yes, you, too! — might be rich/president/an Oscar-winner some day! The message is clear: keep your head down, your nose to the grindstone, don’t rock the boat and be sure to vote for the party that protects the rich man that you might be some day.

2. They have created a poison pill that they know you will never want to take. It is their version of mutually assured destruction. And when they threatened to release this weapon of mass economic annihilation in September of 2008, we blinked. As the economy and the stock market went into a tailspin, and the banks were caught conducting a worldwide Ponzi scheme, Wall Street issued this threat: Either hand over trillions of dollars from the American taxpayers or we will crash this economy straight into the ground. Fork it over or it’s Goodbye savings accounts. Goodbye pensions. Goodbye United States Treasury. Goodbye jobs and homes and future. It was friggin’ awesome and it scared the shit out of everyone. “Here! Take our money! We don’t care. We’ll even print more for you! Just take it! But, please, leave our lives alone, PLEASE!”

The executives in the board rooms and hedge funds could not contain their laughter, their glee, and within three months they were writing each other huge bonus checks and marveling at how perfectly they had played a nation full of suckers. Millions lost their jobs anyway, and millions lost their homes. But there was no revolt (see #1).

Until now. On Wisconsin! Never has a Michigander been more happy to share a big, great lake with you! You have aroused the sleeping giant know as the working people of the United States of America. Right now the earth is shaking and the ground is shifting under the feet of those who are in charge. Your message has inspired people in all 50 states and that message is: WE HAVE HAD IT! We reject anyone tells us America is broke and broken. It’s just the opposite! We are rich with talent and ideas and hard work and, yes, love. Love and compassion toward those who have, through no fault of their own, ended up as the least among us. But they still crave what we all crave: Our country back! Our democracy back! Our good name back! The United States of America. NOT the Corporate States of America. The United States of America!

So how do we get this? Well, we do it with a little bit of Egypt here, a little bit of Madison there. And let us pause for a moment and remember that it was a poor man with a fruit stand in Tunisia who gave his life so that the world might focus its attention on how a government run by billionaires for billionaires is an affront to freedom and morality and humanity.

Thank you, Wisconsin. You have made people realize this was our last best chance to grab the final thread of what was left of who we are as Americans. For three weeks you have stood in the cold, slept on the floor, skipped out of town to Illinois — whatever it took, you have done it, and one thing is for certain: Madison is only the beginning. The smug rich have overplayed their hand. They couldn’t have just been content with the money they raided from the treasury. They couldn’t be satiated by simply removing millions of jobs and shipping them overseas to exploit the poor elsewhere. No, they had to have more ˆ something more than all the riches in the world. They had to have our soul. They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job — their $19,000 a year job. That’s how much some rookie pilots on commuter airlines make, maybe even the rookie pilots flying people here to Madison. But he’s stopped trying to get better pay. All he asks is that he doesn’t have to sleep in his car between shifts at O’Hare airport. That’s how despicably low we have sunk. The wealthy couldn’t be content with just paying this man $19,000 a year. They wanted to take away his sleep. They wanted to demean and dehumanize him. After all, he’s just another slob.

And that, my friends, is Corporate America’s fatal mistake. But trying to destroy us they have given birth to a movement — a movement that is becoming a massive, nonviolent revolt across the country. We all knew there had to be a breaking point some day, and that point is upon us. Many people in the media don’t understand this. They say they were caught off guard about Egypt, never saw it coming. Now they act surprised and flummoxed about why so many hundreds of thousands have come to Madison over the last three weeks during brutal winter weather. “Why are they all standing out there in the cold? I mean there was that election in November and that was supposed to be that!

“There’s something happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you…?”

America ain’t broke! The only thing that’s broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on. Never forget, as long as that Constitution of ours still stands, it’s one person, one vote, and it’s the thing the rich hate most about America — because even though they seem to hold all the money and all the cards, they begrudgingly know this one unshakeable basic fact: There are more of us than there are of them!

Madison, do not retreat.  We are with you. We will win together.

Follow Michael Moore on Twitter: MMFlint

 

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