SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – An outcry over questionable foreclosures by GMAC Mortgage and other lenders is likely to hit some states more than others because of major differences in real estate law across the nation.
But ramifications for federal taxpayers and investors will depend on the costs of clearing up the problem, the latest fallout from the bursting of the U.S. real estate bubble.
GMAC Mortgage announced last week that it had suspended evictions and post-foreclosure closings in 23 states due to concerns over paperwork. In order for a lender to foreclose on a property, it must prove that it actually checked the borrower’s loan agreements, and that the homeowner defaulted.
But the unit of Ally Financial, which is 56.3 percent owned by the U.S. government after a $17 billion bailout, said employees preparing foreclosures had submitted affidavits to judges containing information they did not personally verify.
“It’s a real mess,” said Justice Arthur Schack, a jurist on foreclosure issues who sits on the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.
GMAC’s announcement has raised doubts about whether some people lost their homes without good reason. Attorneys general in several states, including California, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio, are investigating.
“The law demands that lenders prove their case in foreclosure actions,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said last week.
But Ally characterizes the problem as merely technical, arguing that the underlying facts in each foreclosure are accurate.
“We are confident that the processing errors did not result in any inappropriate foreclosures,” it said in a statement last week.
GMAC landed in its predicament after one of its employees testified in a December 2009 deposition that he signed off on tens of thousands of affidavits containing information he did not verify.
The company said it has “substantially increased” the number of employees to verify documents, provided additional training, and suspended evictions out of an “abundance of caution.”
Ally isn’t the only firm under the microscope.
JPMorgan Chase & Co is delaying its current foreclosure proceedings and has begun to systematically re-examine related documents after discovering that some employees may have signed affidavits in some cases without personally reviewing the files.
Lawyers in Florida are questioning JPMorgan’s practices after discovering one of its executives did not check the details of its claims against a homeowner.
The executive said she had been part of an eight-person team that signs 18,000 documents a
Dear Judge XXXXX, I write you, and the other presiding and administrative judges of the Ohio Courts of Common Pleas, to draw your attention to an issue that may be of interest to you.
As you are aware, when a plaintiff in a foreclosure case moves for default or summary judgment, it will attach an affidavit from the lender or mortgage servicer attesting to the ownership and default status of loan. During the last week, questions have arisen about the validity of the foreclosure affidavits filed by a large servicer, GMAC Mortgage. GMAC (also operating as “Ally Financial”) issued a press release on September 20, 2010 announcing that it had directed certain of its vendors to suspend evictions and REO closings because of “a potential issue that was raised in a number of existing foreclosures challenging the internal procedure we used for executing one or more judicially required forms.”
A number of media outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, reported on this statement. The news articles suggest that GMAC’s actions are related to a Florida deposition and a Maine deposition given by one of its employees, Jeffrey Stephan. Mr. Stephan signed thousands of foreclosure affidavits for GMAC, but in his depositions stated that he does not have knowledge of how the information in the affidavit is determined (Deposition of Jeffrey Stephan, June 7, 2010, p 30), does not know how the accuracy of the information is verified (Id.), does not review the exhibits attached to the affidavit (Id., p 54), does not read every paragraph of the affidavit (Id. p 61), and does not have the affidavit notarized in his presence (Id., p 56).
The depositions were not taken by my office, so I do not opine on their accuracy, but I wanted to draw your attention to this issue. At least one court has found that filing affidavits that falsely claim personal knowledge is a violation of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act when filed in connection with consumer transactions. Midland Funding, LLC v. Brent, 644 F. Supp. 2d 961, 977 (N.D. Ohio, 2009).
More broadly, I urge you as administrators to share this letter with your colleagues and urge them to exercise caution when approving any foreclosure orders involving GMAC. Further, I encourage you to consider whether additional administrative procedures need to be established to protect homeowners who are facing the threat of foreclosure. Issues similar to those surrounding GMAC have arisen in Ohio. For example, my office filed an amicus brief in an appellate case where a foreclosure affidavit averred that it was executed in Florida but the jurat and notarization stated that it was executed in New Jersey. The 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by striking the faulty affidavit. HSBC Bank USA v. Thompson, 2010-Ohio-4158.
Please feel free to contact me or my Consumer Protection Section Chief, Susan Choe, at 614.466.1305, if we can be of any assistance regarding this letter.
Ohio Attorney General
Sarah Lynn, Deputy Chief Counsel, Ohio Attorney General
Susan Choe, Consumer Protection Section Chief, Ohio Attorney General
Chase Home Finance, LLC
Lender Processing Services
Long Beach Mortgage
Washington Mutual Bank
Action Date: September 30, 2010
Location: New York, NY
On September 29, 2010, financial giant JP Morgan Chase announced it was suspending 56,000 foreclosures because its documents may have been “submitted without proper review.” To assist JPMorgan Chase, Fraud Digest suggests that it dismiss those actions where the Affidavits or Mortgage Assignments were signed by the following robo-signers: Beth Cottrell, Whitney Cook, Christina Trowbridge and Stacy Spohn from the Chase Home Finance office in Franklin County, OH; Margaret Dalton and Barbara Hindman from the Jacksonville, FL office of JPMorgan Chase; and any of the Lender Processing Services robo-signers from the Dakota County, MN office including Christina Allen, Liquenda Allotey, Christine Anderson, Alfonzo Greene, Laura Hescott, Bethany Hood, Cecelia Knox, Topako Love, Jodi Sobotta, Eric Tate, Amy Weis and Rick Wilken. In particular, JP Morgan Chase should look at those cases where the bank has supposedly assigned mortgages to WaMu, WMALT, Long Beach Mortgage Company and NovaStar trusts years after the closing dates of these trusts. The number of questionable or fraudulent documents is likely to be much closer to 560,000 than to 56,000, and that will only be a good beginning.