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.

LPS: So We Fabricated and Forged Documents… So what? Here’s what!!

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, STUPID!

Editor’s Analysis: This is the moment I have been waiting for. After years of saying the documents were real, they admit, in the face of a mountain of irrefutable evidence, that the documents were not real, but that as a convenience they should still be allowed to use them. Besides the obvious criminality and slander of tile and all sorts of other things that are attendant to these practices, there is a certain internal logic to their assertion and you should not dismiss it without thinking about it. Otherwise you will be left with your jaw hanging open wondering how an admitted criminal gets to keep the spoils of illegal activities.

I have been pounding on this subject for weeks because I could see in the motions being filed by banks and servicers that they had changed course and were now pursuing a new strategy that plays on the simple logic that you took a loan, you signed a note, you didn’t make the payments as stated in the note — everything else is window dressing and for the various parties in securitization to sort amongst themselves.

All foreclosure actions are actually, when they boil them down, just collection actions. It is about money owed. So far, the arguments that have worked have been those occasions where the conduct of the Bank has been so egregious that the Judge wasn’t going to let them have the money or the house even if they stood on their heads.

But to coordinate an attack on these foreclosures, you need to defeat the presumption that the collection effort is simple, that the homeowner didn’t pay a debt that was due, and that the arguments concerning the forged, fabricated, fraudulent documents are paperwork issues that can be taken up with law enforcement or civil suits between the various undefined participants in the non-existent securitization chain.

Now we have LPS admitting false assignments. The question that must be both asked and answered by you because you have enough data and expert opinions to raise the material fact that there was a reason why the false paperwork was fabricated and forged and it wasn’t because of volume. Start with the fact that they didn’t have any problem getting the paperwork signed they wanted in the more than 100 million mortgage transactions “closed” during this mortgage meltdown period. Volume doesn’t explain it.

Your first assertion should be payment and waiver because the creditor who loaned the money got paid and waived any remainder. You use the Securitization and title report from a credible expert who can back up what you are saying. That gets you past the motions to dismiss and into discovery, where these cases are won.

Your assertion should be that the paperwork was fabricated because there was no transaction to support the contents of any of the assignments. And from that you launch the basic attack on the loan closing itself. First, following the above line of reasoning, they used the same tactics to create false paperwork at closing that identified neither the lender (contrary to the requirements of TILA and state lending statutes), nor ALL of the terms of the transaction, as contained in the prospectus and PSA given to investors.

But let us be clear. There are only two ways you can get out of a debt: (1) payment and (2) waiver. There isn’t any other way so stop imagining that some forgery in the documents is going to give you the house. It won’t. But if you can show payment or waiver or both, then you have a material issue of fact that completely or at least partially depletes the presumption of the Judge that you simply don’t want to pay a legitimate debt from a loan you now regret.

Why are the terms of the securitization documentation important?

  1. Because it was the investor who came up with the money and it was the borrower who took it. The money transaction was between the investors and the homeowners, with everyone else an intermediary or conduit.
  2. It is ONLY the securitization documents that provide power or authority for the servicer or trustee to act as servicer or trustee of the mortgage backed security pool.
  3. If the deal was between the investor who put up the money and the homeowner who took it, where are the documents between the investor and the homeowner? They can only exist if we connect the closing documents with the homeowner with the closing documents with the investor. 
  4. But if the transfer or assignment documents were defective, faulty, forged and fabricated, as well as fraudulent attempts to transfer bad loans into pools that investors said they would only accept good loans, then the there is nothing in the REMIC, there is no trust, there is no trustee of the pool and the servicer has authority to service nothing. 
  5. That breaks the connection between the so-called closing documents with the homeowner and the so-called closing documents with the investor. No connection means no nexus. No nexus means the investors have a claim arising from the fact that they loaned money but they don’t get the benefit of a secured loan and they especially don’t get anything unless THEY make the claim.
  6. If the investors choose not to make the claim for collection or foreclosure, there is nothing anywhere in any law that allows an interloper to insert himself into the process and say that if the investor doesn’t want it, I’ll take it.
  7. Your position should address the reality: appraisal fraud, deceptive lending practices, violations of TILA all contributed to the acceptance of a faulty loan product. But that isn’t why your client doesn’t owe the money. Your client does owe the money, but it has been paid to the creditor and the balance has been waived in the insurance and credit default swap contracts as well as the the Federal bailouts.
  8. The source of funding has been paid in whole or in part, they received the monthly payments even while they declared a default against your client homeowner, and they waived any right to pursue the rest from homeowners because they wish to avoid the exposure to defenses and affirmative defenses that the homeowner will  bring in the mortgage origination process.
  9. The failure to identify the true creditor contrary to the requirements of law and the failure to describe in the note and mortgage the full terms of the loans creates a fatal defect when applied to THIS case on its facts, which you will be able to prove if you are allowed to proceed in discovery.
  10. Allowing interlopers into the process to pretend as though they were the mortgage lenders or successors leaves the homeowner with nobody to sue for offset, and no defenses to raise against a party who had nothing to do with either the investor or the homeowner in the closing with the investor wherein mortgage bonds were purchased, and the closing with the homeowner in which a portion of the funds collected were used to fund a loan to the homeowner.

LPS Uses Bogus Florida IG Report on Firing of Foreclosure Fraud Investigators in Motion to Dismiss Nevada Lawsuit

By: David Dayen http://news.firedoglake.com/2012/01/31/lps-uses-bogus-florida-ig-report-on-firing-of-foreclosure-fraud-investigators-in-motion-to-dismiss-nevada-lawsuit/

We’re at T-minus four days for sign-ons to the foreclosure fraud settlement, and we know that Florida’s Pam Bondi is on board, despite pushback from advocates in her state, ground zero for the foreclosure crisis. There’s an interesting nugget buried in this article, though.

Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said in an email that their concerns are “misguided” because the settlement would provide a historic level of monetary relief and will overhaul the mortgage industry.

“Rather than engaging in political grandstanding, Attorney General Bondi is working hard to reach an agreement that gets Floridians substantial relief now and holds banks accountable for their misconduct,” Meale wrote.

The settlement is expected to provide $1,800 each for about 750,000 families across the country. It is a response to such practices as “robo-signing” by bank employees who often knew little or nothing about the mortgage documents they were hired to sign.

Nevada, New York, Delaware, New Hampshire and Massachusetts contend the deal isn’t strong enough because it would protect banks from future civil liability.

It will not, though, fully release them from future state criminal lawsuits.

Put aside Bondi’s dissembling for a second, and the idea that an $1,800 for the theft of your home represents “historic” relief. This lawyer in Utah called it what it is: “An arbitrary system of modifications administered by the same banks that knowingly perpetrated the fraud on the homeowner in the first place, and allowed to get off by paying $1800 for an illegal foreclosed home. That’s outrageous.”

But New Hampshire? That’s a new one. I know that Attorney General Michael Delaney has done some preliminary investigations of foreclosure practices in his state, and I know he was present at that meeting of 15 AGs looking for an alternative to the settlement. But Delaney has been pretty quiet overall. Since when is he listed among the holdouts?

That could just be bad information. And to be clear, liability isn’t the central issue anymore. But I don’t know how states like Massachusetts and Nevada, with active legislation against banks and document processors over the same conduct that would be released here, could possibly sign on to this deal.

There’s some news on that front. Lender Processing Services, which has been sued by Nevada for deceptive practices in generating false documents, sought to dismiss the complaint today in a filing with a state court.

The complaint by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto fails to allege any document executed by subsidiaries was incorrect or caused any borrower financial harm, Lender Processing Services said in a statement today.

The state’s claims “are a collection of suppositions, legal conclusions and inflammatory labels,” the company said in the court filing. The document couldn’t be immediately verified in court records […]

Nevada sued the company in December, claiming that it engaged in a pattern of “falsifying, forging and/or fraudulently executing” foreclosure documents, requiring employees to execute or notarize as many as 4,000 foreclosure- related documents a day, according to a statement from the attorney general. Lender Processing Services also demanded kickbacks from foreclosure firms, the office said.

Two interesting things here. First, LPS leans hard on the idea that borrowers weren’t harmed by the use of false documents. The implication here is that the borrower was delinquent anyway, so there’s no abuse going on. But the more important part of the motion to dismiss (copy at the link) comes when LPS makes the claim that robo-signing isn’t really a crime. It’s merely “signing of documents by an authorized agent,” says LPS, and that is permitted under Nevada law. Here’s one way they justify that (DocX is a subsidiary of LPS):

The State of Florida has reached an identical conclusion regarding DocX’s surrogate signed documents. Two assistant attorneys general involved in that state’s investigation of the mortgage crisis, including DocX, prepared an information power point presentation in which surrogate signing was characterized as “forgery.” The two attorneys were subsequently terminated for alleged fraud, deficient and improper investigatory practices which triggered a formal review by the Inspector General of Florida. In a recently issued official report, the propriety of the termination of the attorneys was confirmed, and specifically, the power point characterization of surrogate signing as “forgery” was determined to be unsupported by the legal definition of forgery.

Wow. So LPS used the whitewash IG report from Florida to justify the dismissal of their lawsuit in Nevada. And remember, LPS lobbyists more recently urged the Florida AG’s office to intervene on their behalf in a criminal case in Michigan. The connections between the Florida AG’s office and LPS just continue to grow.

This also happens to be BS. Pam Bondi made a recent motion in a Florida appeals court, as part of a case against the foreclosure mill David J. Stern, which stated, among other things, this:

The Attorney General’s motion asks the Fourth DCA to certify that its decision in Stern passes upon the following question of great public importance: whether the creation of invalid assignments of mortgages by a law firm and subsequent use of such documents by the firm in foreclosure litigation on behalf of the purported assignee is an unfair and deceptive trade practice which may be the subject of an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General.

This is a tacit acknowledgement of illegal assignments, which is functionally the opposite of what the IG report said. So of course LPS uses the latter in their Nevada case.

It’s completely insidious. And if the foreclosure fraud settlement goes through, LPS will surely point to that as another reason why they should be held harmless for their illegal conduct.

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.

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