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Questions Raised About Chairman Issa’s Three-Year Campaign to Investigate Members of Congress Who Received Countrywide “VIP” Loans

Questions Raised About Chairman Issa’s Three-Year Campaign to Investigate Members of Congress Who Received Countrywide “VIP” Loans


Washington, DC (Jan. 17, 2012)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Chairman Darrell Issa seeking information about how he plans to proceed with his investigation of Members of Congress who received mortgage loans from Countrywide Financial Corporation under its VIP loan program, also known as the “Friends of Angelo” program after the company’s embattled CEO, Angelo Mozilo. 

In one of his first official acts after becoming Chairman last year, Rep. Issa issued a unilateral subpoena demanding the mortgage files of the Members of Congress who received Countrywide VIP loans.  He stated that “the American people have a right to know the totality of who participated in the Countrywide’s VIP program and what they did in return for access to it,” and that his goal was to “find a way to disclose it all and then get the American people outraged enough to make sure that it never happens again.”

Below is the full letter (click the link for footnotes):

January 17, 2012

The Honorable Darrell E. Issa
Chairman
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

     I am writing to request information about how you plan to proceed with the Committee’s investigation of Members of Congress who received mortgage loans from Countrywide Financial Corporation under its VIP loan program, also known as the “Friends of Angelo” program after the company’s CEO, Angelo Mozilo.

     Over the past three years, you have waged a high-profile campaign to obtain the mortgage files of Members of Congress who received VIP loans from Countrywide.  You have referred to these loans as “bribes,” “influence buying,” and “public corruption.”  Although two previous Chairmen of the Oversight Committee followed the longstanding practice of referring matters involving Members of Congress directly to the Ethics Committee, you abandoned this practice last February when you issued a unilateral subpoena—your first as Chairman—demanding to see these Member files yourself.

     The documents produced in response to your subpoena reveal four previously undisclosed instances in which Members of Congress received Countrywide VIP loans.  All four instances involve Republican Members, including three current Republican House Members and one former Republican House Member.

     When you issued your subpoena last February, you explained that you had two purposes in demanding these files.  The first was to determine whether any official actions were taken by policymakers to benefit Countrywide.  The second was to make public all of the information obtained by the Committee in order to deter future wrongdoing.  In one of your first public interviews after issuing your subpoena, you stated that your goal was to “find a way to disclose it all and then get the American people outraged enough to make sure that it never happens again.”

     Last month, however, you reversed course.  Rather than publicly identifying the four additional Members who received Countrywide loans or attempting to determine whether they took any official actions on behalf of Countrywide, you chose instead to refer their cases to the Ethics Committee.  This is exactly the approach you criticized when used for Democratic Senators Kent Conrad and Christopher Dodd and precisely the approach you abandoned when you issued your subpoena last February. 

    On January 13, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon and Rep. Elton Gallegly reported publicly that you referred them to the House Ethics Committee, although both denied taking inappropriate actions on behalf of Countrywide.  To date, you have declined to publicly identify the two other Republicans who also received Countrywide VIP loans. 

    Despite your decision to refer these cases to the House Ethics Committee, you have now scheduled two transcribed interviews with Countrywide officials to take place this week.  Both of these transcribed interviews will be with the Countrywide officials who oversaw and processed Chairman McKeon’s VIP loan.

    Since you failed to consult with me before taking these actions, I have several questions about how you plan to proceed with this investigation, which are set forth below.

Campaign to Obtain Files on Members of Congress

    You launched your campaign to obtain the files of Members who received loans under the Countrywide VIP loan program on June 17, 2008, when you wrote to former Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman requesting that “the Committee investigate and hold hearings on allegations that mortgage lenders may have made special deals with Members of Congress.”  Chairman Waxman denied your request, responding that the longstanding practice of the Committee had been to allow the House Ethics Committee to handle allegations regarding Members of Congress.

    Rather than defer to the Ethics Committee, you argued that the Oversight Committee must investigate Members of Congress who were part of a wider conspiracy of “influence buying” and “public corruption.”    You stated:

We’re talking about a vast business enterprise that was buying, currying favor with politicians throughout the country and in fact probably distorted the laws that you and I had to live under.

    You also stated:

We cannot close the book without criminal investigations and likely indictments against Countrywide officials and people who knowingly took subsidized below-cost loans and in return produced, if you will, a deal for Countrywide.

    Even when the Ethics Committee conducted investigations, you dismissed them as limited and inadequate.  After the Senate Ethics Committee found no credible evidence that Senators Kent Conrad or Christopher Dodd knowingly accepted discounted loans, you stated:

This story does not change my approach to the investigation of the Countrywide VIP program.  I will continue to press forward with this investigation and strongly believe that a subpoena to Bank of America [which purchased Countrywide] is a necessary next step to fully expose how Countrywide attempted to use its VIP program to buy influence.

Similarly, on September 30, 2009, you stated:

We’re beyond ethics here.  We are at a point where the American people at least should know who they gave money to or benefit to, how they did it, and so on. … What we do know is there is a level of intended corruption by Countrywide that clearly had an effect on government’s decisions for years, and we are ignoring it.

    Over the past three years, you have stated repeatedly that the Oversight Committee should determine the full scope of the loan program and make this information public.  According to a Washington Post story on March 19, 2009, you stated:  “The full story of Countrywide’s efforts to buy influence hasn’t been told and shouldn’t be swept under the rug because no chairman is prepared to issue a subpoena.”  Similarly, on June 24, 2009, you stated in a press release:  “The American people deserve to know the extent that special benefits co-opted public servants who were supposed to be watchdogs of the mortgage industry.”  And on September 29, 2009, you stated on Fox Business:  “[I]f we don’t get to these individuals and figure out what they did in their official capacity, we’re not going to be able to reasonably undo some of what was done.” 

Information About Additional Republican Members

    In one of your first official acts as Chairman, you issued a unilateral subpoena on February 16, 2011, demanding a wide array of documents, emails, and other communications relating to mortgages offered through the “VIP and/or Friends of Angelo program.”  Unlike the subpoena issued by former Chairman Edolphus Towns, your subpoena demanded that mortgage files for Members of Congress—even those of current Members—be delivered directly to your offices instead of the House Ethics Committee. 

    You reiterated that your goals were to determine whether any official actions were taken by policymakers to benefit Countrywide and to make public information you obtained in order to deter future wrongdoing.  You stated:

This subpoena will allow us to obtain the information needed to answer the outstanding public interest questions regarding the full size and scope of the VIP program.  The American people have a right to know the totality of who participated in the Countrywide’s VIP program and what they did in return for access to it.  Our role is to get all of the facts so that the American people can judge for themselves who should be held responsible and accountable.

     Prior to the issuance of your subpoena, three Democratic Members of Congress had been identified publicly as potentially having received VIP loans from Countrywide:  Senator Kent Conrad, Senator Christopher Dodd, and Congressman Edolphus Towns.  Senators Conrad and Dodd were both cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee, which concluded on August 7, 2009, that there was “no credible evidence” that either Senator “knowingly accepted a gift, including a loan not available to the public.”  Congressman Towns issued several public statements denying that he knowingly received any preferential treatment from Countrywide.

    In response to your subpoena, the Committee obtained information about four previously unknown instances in which Members of Congress received VIP loans, including three current Republican House Members and one former Republican House Member.  After discovering that all of these Members are Republicans, you sent a letter on December 16, 2011, referring their cases to the House Ethics Committee.

    On Friday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon and Rep. Elton Gallegly acknowledged publicly that they are two of the Republican Members you referred to the House Ethics Committee in December.  In particular, a spokesperson for Chairman McKeon said he was “pretty shocked and angry” when you informed him about the VIP loan documents obtained by the Committee.

Interviews with Countrywide Officials Who Processed Chairman McKeon’s VIP Loan

    Although you referred cases involving Members to the House Ethics Committee in December, you have now scheduled two transcribed interviews with Countrywide officials to take place this week.  In particular, Committee investigators are scheduled to conduct transcribed interviews with two officials who oversaw and processed Chairman McKeon’s VIP loan:  Stephen Brandt, a Countrywide Executive Vice President who oversaw the VIP program, and Maritza Cruz, a Countrywide Loan Manager for VIP loans.

     The documents obtained pursuant to your subpoena indicate that Ms. Cruz is listed as the contact person for several of Chairman McKeon’s VIP loan documents.  In addition, she prepared his Uniform Underwriting and Transmittal Summary.  Her signature, as well as Chairman McKeon’s signature, appear on his Notification of Underwriting Approval and Closing Conditions. 

     These documents also indicate that Chairman McKeon appears to have obtained a significant discount on his VIP loan as a direct result of personal intervention by Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo.  Specifically, an internal email from Mr. Brandt to Countrywide employees handling this loan states explicitly:

Per Angelo – “take off 1 point, no garbage fees, approve the loan and make it a no
doc”.

     Last week, a spokesperson for Chairman McKeon stated that he had “no inkling” that he received a VIP loan and that, “as far as he knew, never received any special favors on the home loan.”  The documents obtained pursuant to your subpoena do not indicate whether Chairman McKeon was informed about his discount.  However, the documents describe at least three conversations Chairman McKeon had with Countrywide employees, including with an account executive instructed to provide the preferential rate.  That employee’s notes of these conversations state:

FOA [Friends of Angelo] referral, Please order appraisal ASAP.  You may call the borrower at his Washington office [number redacted] and get the Sons phone number for the appraiser contact.  The borrower would like to hear from the appraiser this week. 

The borrower is a bit difficult to deal with.  He seems on the edgy side.

Called Mr. McKeon at work [redacted name] his secretary said she would ask “B” for son’s phone #.  Mr. McKeon called said we could call 1) his home [number redacted] his wifes work [number redacted] campaign office

Borrower wants to close ASAP.  Explained to him demands are not here yet.

     In addition, a follow-up letter sent to Chairman McKeon provided forms for him to sign and stated:  “Thank you for allowing COUNTRYWIDE’s VIP TEAM to assist you with your financing needs on the above referenced property.”

    Finally, the documents obtained pursuant to your subpoena indicate that Chairman McKeon was referred to the VIP program by “Mike Farrell/MBA.”  This notation appears to be a reference to Michael J. Ferrell, who was then the chief lobbyist of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBA).  According to his biography, Mr. Ferrell led MBA’s successful campaign to lobby Congress to block the imposition of higher fees on mortgage lenders.

Request for Information

    When you issued your unilateral subpoena last February, press accounts noted your aggressive approach and your high-profile demands for Member files.  For example, one press report stated that your “maiden subpoena is no-holds-barred Issa” and that the “restraint showed in the prior Congress … is nowhere to be found in this subpoena.”  It also stated:  “Issa could be launching grenades.  If the probe turns up anything and the findings become public, it could provide a degree of discomfort for lawmakers.”

    At the time, you seemed to recognize the possibility that Republicans could be among the Members of Congress who received VIP loans.  On multiple occasions over the past three years, you indicated that you planned to pursue this investigation even if Republican Members were implicated.  For example, on September 29, 2009, you stated:

There’s plenty of high profile Republicans who took these, some might call them bribes, certainly they were inappropriate to take under our laws.  Congressman, key staffers, including on the committees of jurisdiction on the Republican side are involved.   

    After initially driving the Committee down the road of investigating Members of Congress, you appeared to reverse course in December when you referred these cases to the Ethics Committee.  Now, however, you have scheduled transcribed interviews with Countrywide officials who oversaw and processed Chairman McKeon’s VIP loan.  These sudden shifts raise key questions about how you plan to proceed with this investigation:

  1. You have stated:  “The American people have a right to know the totality of who participated in the Countrywide’s VIP program and what they did in return for access to it.”  Have you instructed your staff to question Mr. Brandt and Ms. Cruz about their roles in overseeing and processing Chairman McKeon’s VIP loan?  
  2. You have stated:  “The full story of Countrywide’s efforts to buy influence hasn’t been told and shouldn’t be swept under the rug because no chairman is prepared to issue a subpoena.”  Do you intend to publicly release the identities of the remaining two Republican lawmakers, one current and one former, who your investigation has revealed were also beneficiaries of Countrywide VIP loans? And do you intend to conduct a transcribed interview with the former chief lobbyist of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America?
  3. You have stated:  “The American people deserve to know the extent that special benefits co-opted public servants who were supposed to be watchdogs of the mortgage industry.”  Do you intend to hold public hearings on these issues?  If so, do you intend to call as a witness former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo?

    Thank you in advance for your prompt answers to these critical questions.

                        Sincerely,
                        Elijah E. Cummings
                        Ranking Member

[ipaper docId=78586594 access_key=key-1wafoedmuizd8341ne0j height=600 width=600 /]

source:http://democrats.oversight.house.gov

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Matt Stoller: Treat foreclosure as a crime scene

Matt Stoller: Treat foreclosure as a crime scene


“Obama may talk of the “99 percent” but his administration is engaged in an aggressive coverup of bank crimes.”

 

Politico-

Bubbling under the surface of politics is the foreclosure crisis — where the power of big finance is brushing up against the rule of law. The party leaders seem to have decided it is essentially a giant — but unavoidable — tragedy. GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said foreclosures have to clear for the housing market to reset. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has spent only about $2 billion of the $75 billion authorized for the Home Affordable Modification Program.

But the foreclosure crisis is not only a few million personal tragedies. It is a few million crime scenes.

[POLITICO]

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Senator Maria Cantwell: MERS “should be shut down and dissolved”

Senator Maria Cantwell: MERS “should be shut down and dissolved”


H/T Matt Stoller

December 15, 2011

The Honorable Eric Holder, Jr.

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I write regarding the ongoing settlement talks between state attorneys general, federal fraud regulators, the White House, and large financial institutions over alleged illegal foreclosure and mortgage servicing practices and abuses.

I am concerned that recently reported settlement proposals will effectively absolve these financial institutions of substantial civil and criminal liability in one of the largest alleged fraud schemes during the financial crisis. Specifically, I am concerned that the proposed settlement includes a release from liability that may be far too sweeping, does not adequately compensate victims, does not require enough of banks to reform the system that led to the crisis in the first place, and is being made before all the facts are known and without the backing of a full inquiry into the size and scope of the alleged fraud.

Large financial institutions helped inflate the housing bubble through tranching and securitizing mortgages at a frenetic pace while disregarding mortgage and foreclosure laws. Collecting fees from issuing mortgages then selling to investors securities backed by these mortgages allowed the largest financial institutions to pump up profits and home prices, while dumping any potential losses on homeowners, taxpayers, and investors. When the housing bubble burst taxpayers were forced to bail out the largest financial institutions. It is estimated that the federal government disbursed over $4.7 trillion to financial institutions, and guaranteed an additional $13.87 trillion, during the financial crisis.

Without a thorough investigation, it is impossible to truly estimate just how pervasive the defects in the foreclosure and securitization process are. Continued reports of wrongful foreclosures, forged documents, and an inability of servicers and banks to prove chain of title and the legal right to foreclosure, raises the very alarming possibility that these defects were endemic to the mortgage servicing industry across the country. The sheer magnitude of the potential fallout from these defects demands that we undertake a full investigation to uncover the true scope of wrongdoing before providing blanket immunity to the perpetrators.

I am also concerned that reports of a settlement in the range of $20 billion, as recently reported, may not adequately compensate the victims of the foreclosure crisis. As a result of the pump-and-dump scheme perpetrated by the nation’s largest banks that inflated – and burst – the housing bubble, an estimated 14 million Americans are underwater, owing $700 billion more on their homes than those homes are worth. A $20 billion settlement is woefully inadequate to compensate the wrongfully evicted or homeowners struggling to stay in their homes. Much more should be required of banks to provide meaningful help underwater homeowners and compensate foreclosure fraud victims.

A settlement with mortgage servicers must also require reforms to ensure such abuses do not happen again. The goal of servicing mortgages must be accuracy and adherence to the law, not expediency and corner-cutting. Confidence must be restored that proper transference of notes and mortgages was followed and clear chains of titles are available for all mortgages. Until then, the burden of proof must be on financial institutions to prove that they have the legal authority to foreclose. The Mortgage Electronic Registration System should be dissolved and shut down, and the shortcut that allowed banks to avoid hundreds of millions, if not billions, in local fees to local registrars of deeds be closed off. It is critical that large banks not be allowed to shirk their tax obligations to local governments. A settlement in this case must compensate state and local governments for taxes and fees which were owed but not collected.

The crisis in our housing and financial markets has shaken the confidence of the American people in our financial system and in government. Holding banks accountable for abusive and fraudulent practices, while compensating damaged homeowners, wrongfully evicted, local governments, and defrauded investors is vital to restoring that confidence. I urge you to ensure that any settlement with mortgage servicers over alleged foreclosure abuses does not absolve liability for crimes and wrongdoing that has yet to be fully investigated, and ensures just compensation for victims.

I appreciate your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell

###

[ipaper docId=75811029 access_key=key-3akr4fq4pq5lfwoyir3 height=600 width=600 /]

 

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Banks Press for CFPB Waivers in Foreclosure Talks

Banks Press for CFPB Waivers in Foreclosure Talks


Little by little they are working their way up to freedom.

All their eggs are almost in the basket…

WSJ-

Banks are demanding that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau relinquish the right to sue over certain flawed mortgage originations, in exchange for their participation in a proposed multibillion-dollar settlement of alleged foreclosure abuses.

The banks say their inability to secure a sufficiently broad release from the new bureau, which was sidelined in earlier discussions as it launched, would be a deal breaker. The five biggest U.S. mortgage banks, state attorneys general and Obama administration officials are pushing to finalize a deal before the end of the year that would be worth $19 billion or more.

[WALL STREET JOURNAL]

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Borrowers may give up future claims in foreclosure reviews

Borrowers may give up future claims in foreclosure reviews


We already knew this and if you expect any real restitution, you’re in for a surprise!

HW-

A mortgage servicer will be granted a waiver from future claims depending on what sort of remediation a borrower gets from the foreclosure reviews conducted under federal consent orders.

Independent consultants, approved by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve, will review nearly 4.5 million foreclosure files over the next several months. They will be looking for any harm caused by improper practices uncovered last year.

[HOUSING WIRE]

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Banks, Officials Near Pact on Foreclosures

Banks, Officials Near Pact on Foreclosures


Planned…just in time for the Holidays around the corner!

Here’s hoping you forget when you get back from celebrating!

 

WSJ-

Five large lenders could be forced to make concessions worth roughly $19 billion as bank representatives and government officials push to put the finishing touches on a settlement of most state and federal investigations of alleged foreclosure improprieties.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and state officials hope to reach a deal as soon as this week, though any agreement could be delayed by unresolved issues including the naming of a monitor to oversee the agreement.

The settlement would end months-long negotiations among federal officials, state attorneys general and the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers: Ally Financial Inc., Bank …

[WALL STREET JOURNAL]

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Ex-FDIC Chief Sheila Bair Top Pick for Bank Monitor

Ex-FDIC Chief Sheila Bair Top Pick for Bank Monitor


For some background information on Sheila Bair please read Joe Nocera’s great article: Sheila Bair’s Bank Shot

 Bloomberg-

Sheila Bair, the former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman, is a leading candidate among state officials to ensure banks comply with any settlement of a nationwide foreclosure probe, a person familiar with the matter said.

Bair, who led the agency from 2006 until stepping down this year, is supported by some state officials as a third-party monitor of any settlement with mortgage servicers, including Bank of America Corp. (BAC), the person said. At least one bank in the talks, Citigroup Inc. (C), opposes her selection, said the person, who didn’t want to be named because the talks are private.

[BLOOMBERG]

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OCC Foreclosure Review Disclosures Still Disappoint

OCC Foreclosure Review Disclosures Still Disappoint


Doing something — anything — quickly but poorly is no substitute for taking the time to do what needs to be done well.

American Banker-

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) is fearful that the quick-and-poor may prevail with mortgage servicer reviews, based on what she sees planned in response to last April’s consent orders from federal regulators.

“The only thing worse than no accountability for the banks,” according to Waters, “is for regulators to create the illusion of accountability, while putting no enforcement power behind their efforts.”

[AMERICAN BANKER]

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Cummings Calls for Unredacted Copies of “Engagement Letters” Between Mortgage Servicing Companies and Private Consultants

Cummings Calls for Unredacted Copies of “Engagement Letters” Between Mortgage Servicing Companies and Private Consultants


Washington, DC (Nov. 22, 2011)—Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings released the following statement today regarding the public release of highly redacted “engagement letters” between mortgage servicing companies and independent consultants they hired to review past foreclosure abuses:

“Although I am encouraged that some information is being made public today, our Committee should issue subpoenas to obtain full, unredacted copies of these documents so we can ensure that homeowners are being fully and appropriately compensated.  Six months is too long to wait to conduct oversight of mortgage servicing companies that illegally foreclosed against homeowners.”

Today, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency released copies of the engagement letters with significant redactions, including the removal of sections regarding past work, actual and potential conflicts of interest, and the procedures available to homeowners to file claims and complaints due to errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies in a foreclosure process.

Cummings first asked for full copies of these engagement letters on May 31, 2011, following a report issued by federal regulators finding “critical weaknesses” and “widespread risk” with 14 of the nation’s largest mortgage servicing companies’ foreclosure practices.

The regulators ordered the mortgage servicing companies to hire private consultants to conduct more comprehensive reviews of their foreclosure actions, but the regulators allowed them to propose the terms of the reviews, including the methodology of the reviews, the criteria guiding the selection of cases to be reviewed, and any proposed sampling techniques.  Some have criticized this approach for providing insufficient oversight of the banks’ actions.

In their responses to Cummings, the regulators explained that, by law, they cannot produce the full engagement letters until they are legally compelled to do so.

As a result, on October 27, Cummings wrote to Committee Chairman Darrell Issa requesting that he either issue subpoenas for the engagement letters or schedule a subpoena vote for the Committee’s business meeting on November 17, 2011.  Issa declined to take either step, stating at the business meeting that he preferred to wait until Thanksgiving to determine whether the engagement letters would be released voluntarily.

 

source: http://democrats.oversight.house.gov

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Steven J. Baum Weighs In After Uproar

Steven J. Baum Weighs In After Uproar


“Mr. Nocera — You have destroyed everything and everyone related to Steven J. Baum PC. It took 40 years to build this firm and three weeks to tear down.”

There is blood on your hands for this one, Joe,” he wrote at the end of that second e-mail. “I will never, ever forgive you for this.”

I think that’s what they call shooting the messenger.

 NYT-

Thus began a lengthy e-mail that I received, on Thursday evening, from Steven J. Baum, the owner of his eponymous law firm, the largest “foreclosure mill” in New York State. Foreclosure mills, of course, are firms that represent banks and servicers trying to foreclose on the millions of homeowners who have defaulted since the housing bubble burst.

[NEW YORK TIMES]

image: New York Times

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Dems want to know why Fannie/Freddie fined mortgage servicers for foreclosure delays (that cost taxpayers $), widespread problems with foreclosure mills

Dems want to know why Fannie/Freddie fined mortgage servicers for foreclosure delays (that cost taxpayers $), widespread problems with foreclosure mills


Mr. Edward DeMarco
Acting Director
Federal Housing Finance Agency
1700 G Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20551

Dear Acting Director DeMarco:

I am writing to request additional information about $150 million in fees that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charged mortgage servicing companies in 2010 for failing to conduct foreclosures quickly enough to meet federally imposed timelines. I am concerned that these penalties, at least some of which were ordered by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), may have contributed to widespread abuses by mortgage servicing companies and law firms attempting to meet arbitrary deadlines to expedite foreclosures.

Evidence of Abuses Prior to 2010

On February 25, 2011,1 launched a major investigation into abuses and illegal activities
by mortgage servicing companies, including wrongful foreclosures, deficient recordkeeping,
inflated fees, and fraud in lending. As part of this investigation, I wrote to the FHFA Inspector
General requesting an investigation into “widespread allegations of abuse by private attorneys
and law firms hired to process foreclosures as part of the ‘Retained Attorney Network’
established by Fannie Mae.”1

On September 30, 2011, the Inspector General issued a report in response to my request
concluding that “there were multiple indicators of foreclosure abuse risk prior to 2010 that could
have led FHFA to identify and act earlier on the issue.” According to the Inspector General,
these warnings included “consumer complaints alleging improper foreclosures; contemporaneous
media reports about foreclosure abuses by Fannie Mae’s law firms; and public court filings in
Florida and elsewhere highlighting such abuses.”2

In one instance, a review commissioned by Fannie Mae found that “foreclosure attorneys
in Florida are routinely filing false pleadings and affidavits.” Similarly, in June 2010, officials
from FHFA’s Office of Conservatorship Operations performed a two-day field visit to Florida,
after which they noted:

[Servicers, attorneys, and other supporting personnel were overloaded with the volume
of foreclosures, the average timeline for foreclosures had increased from 150 to 400 days,
documentation problems were evident, and law firms (referred to as “foreclosure mills”)
were not devoting the time necessary to their cases due to Fannie Mae’s flat fee structure
and volume-based processing model.3

Despite evidence of widespread problems among foreclosure law firms retained by
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Inspector General’s report concluded that FHFA “did not
begin to act on foreclosure abuse issues involving Fannie Mae’s RAN until mid-2010.” The
Inspector General recommended that FHFA review why it failed to heed these warnings sooner,
implement comprehensive procedures to prevent these abuses in the future, and address “poor
performance” by law firms that have contractual relationships with Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac. FHFA agreed with all of these recommendations.4

Penalties for Slow Foreclosures

In addition to finding that there were multiple indicators of foreclosure abuse prior to
2010, the Inspector General reported that during this same timeframe in 2010, FHFA “directed
Fannie Mae to impose compensatory fees against the servicers for violating foreclosure timeline
limits.”5

In fact, FHFA General Counsel Alfred M. Pollard disclosed in a letter to me on
November 1, 2011, that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac assessed penalties totaling approximately
$150 million in 2010. He wrote:

To date, the top ten servicers account for the bulk of the fees due; the total amount for all
servicers, after approving appeals and corrections, is approximately $150 million dollars
for 2010.6

Mr. Pollard also described the methodology for calculating these penalties. He
explained:

Fees are assessed based on each Enterprise’s specific allowable foreclosure timelines for
individual states as published in their Seller/Servicer Guides. Each Enterprise assesses
the servicers a per day fee—approximately $30 a day—for each day that the servicer
exceeds the established timeline.7

The size and timing of these penalties raise serious questions about whether FHFA may
be more interested in expediting foreclosures to clear its books than protecting the rights of
homeowners.

Request for Information

On October 3, 2011,1 wrote to you to inquire about the extent of penalties imposed
against mortgage servicers that failed to meet federally imposed timelines to conduct
foreclosures. Specifically, I requested that you “provide a list of all servicers that have been
assessed compensatory fees, identify the total amount of fees assessed against each servicer,
identify the reasons these fees were assessed, and identify whether the fees have been paid in
f u l l . ” 8

Although the letter from Mr. Pollard disclosed that the total amount of these penalties for
2010 was $150 million, it did not provide the specific information I requested, including the
amount of fees charged to each mortgage servicing company. For these reasons, I request that
you provide the following information:

(1) a list of all servicers that have been assessed compensatory fees;
(2) the total amount of fees assessed against each servicer;
(3) the reasons these fees were assessed against each servicer;
(4) whether each servicer assessed compensatory fees has paid the assessed fees in
full; and
(5) if a servicer has not yet paid the assessed fees in full, the expected date by which
the fees will be paid in full.

I request that you provide this information by November 30, 2011. I also request that you
provide the information requested above regarding compensatory fees assessed against mortgage
servicers in 2011 when that information becomes available. Thank you for your consideration of
this request.

Sincerely,

Elihah E. Cummings

Ranking Member

 

cc: The Honorable Darrell E. Issa, Chairman
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

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High Profile Susan Chana Lask Joins Rep. Cummings on Taken Steven J. Baum Firm Down

High Profile Susan Chana Lask Joins Rep. Cummings on Taken Steven J. Baum Firm Down


Baum just messed with the wrong attorney!

Just when you thought things just couldn’t seem to get any better after Joe Nocera’s disturbing story of Steven J. Baum’s Halloween Party… it does.

Soon after Joes’ article, Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings sent a letter to the law firm of Steven J. Baum requesting records, documents, and communications relating to allegations of improper and potentially illegal actions in the processing of foreclosures.

Oops.. it gets even better…

Today, Respectable Attorney Susan Chana  Lask received a letter to help in Rep. Cummings investigation, asking for copies of all documents in your possession relating to these allegations, as well as any other documents you believe are relevant to this inquiry.

I think the Baum firm needs to brace its self, as Attorney Lask is coming to deliver one final blow!

Here is Susan Chana Lask’s video from youtube-

Letter from Rep. Cumming to Susan Lask

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image: Wall Street Journal

 

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Cummings Requests Documents from Law Firm after Allegations of Foreclosure Abuse

Cummings Requests Documents from Law Firm after Allegations of Foreclosure Abuse


Document Request Follows Disclosure of Foreclosure Party Photos

Washington, DC (Nov. 4, 2011) – Today, Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings sent a letter to the law firm of Steven J. Baum requesting records, documents, and communications relating to allegations of improper and potentially illegal actions in the processing of foreclosures. 

“Given that your firm represents some of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers,” Cummings wrote, “these revelations are disturbing.  If true, they demonstrate a culture of disdain for families suffering foreclosure and a disregard for the rule of law.”

Cummings has been investigating allegations of the firm’s misconduct since February.  His latest request follows a New York Times column revealing photographs from a Halloween party in 2010 during which employees dressed as homeless people.  According to a former employee, the photographs “showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners” and “are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set.”

The column also reported that the firm is “under investigation by the New York State Attorney General,” is a defendant in a class action suit claiming that the firm “consistently failed to file certain papers that are necessary to allow for a state-mandated settlement conference that can lead to modification,” and has been described by a New York State Supreme Court Judge as “operating in a parallel universe, unrelated to the real universe.”

On February 25, 2011, Cummings launched a major investigation of mortgage servicer abuses that included a request to the Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency to investigate allegations against this firm and others.

In his letter today, Cummings requested that the firm provide all documents relating to:

·    false or misleading foreclosure documents, “robo-signed” documents, or improper mortgage assignments;

·    attempts by the firm to foreclose on borrowers who were attempting to obtain, or who had obtained, loan modifications;

·    instances in which the firm illegally or improperly charged for foreclosure settlement conferences, overcharged on foreclosure fees, or attempted to persuade foreclosure defendants to waive their legal rights;

·    preparing for, carrying out, or communicating about the firm’s 2010 Halloween party; and

·    instances in which the firm compensated Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or a client for improper foreclosure practices.

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source: http://democrats.oversight.house.gov/

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Cummings Commends FHFA Decision to Terminate Faulty Foreclosure Attorney Networks

Cummings Commends FHFA Decision to Terminate Faulty Foreclosure Attorney Networks


Washington, DC (Oct. 18, 2011) – Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, responded to an announcement by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) that it has instructed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to begin “transitioning away” from their use of designated foreclosure attorney networks to a system under which “mortgage servicers select qualified law firms that meet certain minimum, uniform criteria.”

“Several of these law firms were able to engage in abusive and illegal behavior that violated the rights of borrowers, in part because of deficient oversight by FHFA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac,” said Cummings.  “In light of the extensive problems recently documented by the FHFA Inspector General, I urged FHFA to seriously consider terminating these attorney networks, and it appears they are implementing my request.”

“I remain concerned, however, that FHFA has not provided specific details about how mortgage servicers will select and oversee law firms to ensure that abusive behavior is prevented,” added Cummings.  “I will continue my oversight efforts to ensure that specific measures are in place to require mortgage servicers to properly oversee the actions of law firms conducting foreclosure proceedings, including those involving mortgages owned or backed by the government sponsored enterprises.”

On February 25, 2011, Ranking Member Cummings launched a major investigation into abuses and illegal activities by mortgage servicing companies, including wrongful foreclosures, inflated fees, and the filing of improperly executed legal documents during the foreclosure process.  As part of that investigation, Cummings sent a letter asking the FHFA Inspector General to examine “widespread allegations of abuse by private attorneys and law firms hired to process foreclosures as part of the ‘Retained Attorney Network’ established by Fannie Mae.”

On September 23, 2011, the FHFA Inspector General issued a report concluding that Fannie Mae and its regulators, including FHFA, were alerted repeatedly to serious problems with the legal firms in Fannie Mae’s retained attorney network (RAN) beginning as early as 2003, but failed to take corrective action.  The Inspector General reported that “FHFA did not begin to act on foreclosure abuse issues involving Fannie Mae’s RAN until mid-2010,” despite “multiple indicators of foreclosure abuse risk prior to 2010 that could have led FHFA to identify and act earlier on the issue.”

On October 3, 2011, Cummings sent a letter to FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco requesting additional documents and information regarding these oversight failures.  Cummings requested that the agency “give serious consideration to terminating the existing Fannie Mae Retained Attorney Network program.”  He also requested that “FHFA take immediate and decisive action to remedy these failures and ensure that no additional borrowers suffer similar abuses.”

source: http://democrats.oversight.house.gov

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Cummings Issues Statement on SEC IG Report on David Becker Conflict of Interest in Madoff Scandal

Cummings Issues Statement on SEC IG Report on David Becker Conflict of Interest in Madoff Scandal


Washington, DC – The SEC Inspector General has completed a six-month investigation into allegations of conflict of interest against SEC’s former general counsel, David Becker, concerning his role in the Commission’s work relating to the victims of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.  The IG’s final report was issued publicly today.  Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings issued the following statement:

“In its report, the IG’s office found sufficient evidence of Mr. Becker’s conflict of interest to call into question the integrity of the process used by the Commission to decide how to value fictitious profits made under the Madoff scheme.  The IG also found that procedures at the SEC ethics office broke down and failed to prevent a conflict of interest from potentially tainting the agency’s work.

“I believe the victims of the Madoff scheme deserve to know that the SEC’s decision in this case was not tainted by conflicts of interest.  The IG recommended that the Commission take a second look and conduct a revote of its decision.  I strongly urge the Commission to take these appropriate steps in order to give Madoff’s victims that peace of mind.

“I hope that the Commission will adopt the IG’s other recommendations as well.  I am encouraged that Chairman Schapiro asked SEC Inspector General H. David Kotz to open this investigation, which was a good faith effort on her part to get to get to the bottom of this issue.  I am also encouraged that Chairman Schapiro decided last year to revamp the office of ethics, to hire new ethics counsel for the agency, and to provide greater resources to that office.”

 

###

Source: http://democrats.oversight.house.gov/

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Cummings & Cardoza lead dozens of members in renewing call for meeting with FHFA on mortgage refinancing plan.

Cummings & Cardoza lead dozens of members in renewing call for meeting with FHFA on mortgage refinancing plan.


Members ramp up pressure on FHFA to implement President’s plan to boost economy by helping responsible homeowners refinance at historically low rates.

(Washington, DC) – Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Congressman Dennis Cardoza, Co-Chair of the Housing Stabilization Task Force, today were joined by 27 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Edward DeMarco , Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), renewing their request for a meeting to begin discussing a plan to allow more American families to refinance their mortgages at historically low interest rates.

Cummings and Cardoza originally made the request in a previous letter last Friday , but FHFA officials declined the request, asserting that it would be premature to give Congress a “briefing” on their response to the President’s proposal.

“Contrary to the assertion made by your Office of Congressional Affairs, the letter from Representatives Cummings and Cardoza did not request a ‘briefing,’” the Members wrote.  “It requested a meeting that would enable us to begin a detailed dialogue about the process by which agency officials will ‘review, evaluate, and implement the President’s proposal.’”

“Contrary to another assertion made by the Office of Congressional Affairs, this meeting would not be premature—if anything, it is overdue,” the letter stated. “On Friday, you issued a public statement in response to the President’s address indicating that your office has been ‘analyzing these issues’ and discussing them with ‘a range of stakeholders.’ As Members of Congress who have been tirelessly seeking to support renewed economic growth by stabilizing the housing market, we certainly deserve the same courtesy and consideration as other stakeholders in this process.”

Today’s letter significantly increases the pressure on FHFA to act quickly on the President’s proposal, which is similar to bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate that garnered widespread support from industry, investors, and consumer groups. 

According to Bill Gross, the Managing Director and co-CIO of the world’s largest bond fund, PIMCO, removing barriers to refinancing under this type of proposal could provide an economic stimulus of up to $50 or $60 billion.

There are currently more than 8 million homeowners whose mortgages are guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and that carry an interest rate at or above 6%, even though current 30-year mortgage rates are hovering at about 4.12%.

 

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READ | Letter from Representative Elijah E. Cummings to Darrell E. Issa re: Foreclosure Fraud, Subpoenas

READ | Letter from Representative Elijah E. Cummings to Darrell E. Issa re: Foreclosure Fraud, Subpoenas


June 21, 2011

The Honorable Darrell E. Issa
Chairman
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Today marks the six-month anniversary of my first letter to you requesting that the Committee investigate widespread and systemic abuses by mortgage servicing companies, including illegal foreclosures, inflated fees, and fraud against American homeowners. This is now my fourth letter to you on this subject.1

[…]

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Cummings Seeks “Engagement Letters” Due Today Between Mortgage Banks and Private Consultants

Cummings Seeks “Engagement Letters” Due Today Between Mortgage Banks and Private Consultants


May 31, 2011


Mr. John Walsh
Acting Comptroller of the Currency
Comptroller of the Currency
Administrator of National Banks
Washington, D.C. 20219

The Honorable Ben S. Bernanke
Chairman
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Washington, D.C. 20551

Mr. John E. Bowman
Office of Thrift Supervision
Department of Treasury
Washington, D.C.  20552

The Honorable Sheila Bair Acting Director
Chairman
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Washington, D.C. 20429

Dear Acting Comptroller Walsh, Chairman Bernanke, Acting Director Bowman, and Chairman Bair:

I am writing to request copies of “engagement letters” concluded between 14 mortgage servicing companies and the private consultants you directed them to hire to conduct reviews of their widespread foreclosure abuses.  Pursuant to consent orders issued by your offices on April 13, 2011, today is the date by which your offices were supposed to have approved these engagement letters.

Findings of “Critical Weaknesses” and “Widespread Risk”

On April 13, 2011, your agencies announced that you had completed an “Interagency Review” of widespread foreclosure abuses by 14 mortgage servicing companies.  You issued a public summary of your review with the following conclusions:

The reviews found critical weaknesses in servicers’ foreclosure governance processes, foreclosure document preparation processes, and oversight and monitoring of third-party vendors, including foreclosure attorneys.

Your public summary also found:

[T]he weaknesses at each servicer, individually or collectively, resulted in unsafe and unsound practices and violations of applicable federal and state law and requirements.  The results elevated the agencies’ concern that widespread risks may be presented—to consumers, communities, various market participants, and the overall mortgage market. The servicers included in this review represent more than two-thirds of the servicing market.  Thus, the agencies consider problems cited within this report to have widespread consequences for the national housing market and borrowers.

Finally, your public summary stated:

[E]xaminers did note cases in which foreclosures should not have proceeded due to an intervening event or condition, such as the borrower (a) was covered by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, (b) filed for bankruptcy shortly before the foreclosure action, or (c) qualified for or was paying in accordance with a trial modification.

Order to Hire Private Consultants to Conduct Further Review

To address these major systemic deficiencies, your agencies issued “consent orders” that required these 14 mortgage servicing companies to hire private consultants to conduct a more thorough review of the files of affected homeowners.  Rather than conducting these reviews yourselves, you directed each mortgage servicing company to “retain an independent firm to conduct a review of residential foreclosure actions that were pending at any time from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2010.”

According to your agencies, these more comprehensive reviews were necessary because your Interagency Review covered a “relatively small number of files.”  These more thorough reviews by private consultants are supposed to “identify borrowers that have been financially harmed” and “provide remediation to these borrowers.”  Specifically, you directed the mortgage servicing companies to “determine any financial injury to borrowers caused by errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies identified in the review, and to remediate, as appropriate, those deficiencies.”

As part of this process, your agencies permitted the mortgage servicing companies and their private consultants to propose “the methodology for conducting the Foreclosure Review,” the “selection of criteria for cases to be reviewed,” and “any proposed sampling techniques.”

In response to critics of your decision to allow the mortgage servicing companies to hire their own consultants to conduct these reviews, your agencies asserted that you would “ensure that the reviews are comprehensive and the results are reliable.”  As part of this oversight effort, you directed all 14 mortgage servicing companies to submit for your approval “engagement letters” establishing the terms of the review and the methodologies to be used.  These engagement letters were due within 45 days of the date of the consent orders.

Request for “Engagement Letters” with Private Consultants

Today is the date these engagement letters are due.  I request that you provide copies of all engagement letters by Friday, June 3, 2011.  If any of the 14 mortgage servicing companies has not concluded an engagement letter with a private consultant, please provide an explanation of the current status of the engagement letter.

When producing documents, please deliver copies to the Minority Staff in Room 2471 of the Rayburn House Office Building and the Majority Staff in Room 2157 of the Rayburn House Office Building.  The Committee prefers, if possible, to receive all documents in electronic format.  If you have any questions about this request, please contact Justin Kim at (202) 225-5051  (202) 225-5051. I appreciate your cooperation with this matter.

Sincerely,

Elijah E. Cummings
Ranking Member

cc:    The Honorable Darrell E. Issa, Chairman
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

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