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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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Iowa AG Expected to Press California AG to Join Foreclosure Settlement

Iowa AG Expected to Press California AG to Join Foreclosure Settlement


My mother always said “Don’t have nothing good to say, Don’t say anything at all”

FOX BUSINESS-

The impasse over the nationwide mortgage foreclosure settlement continues, but could a meeting Tuesday provide the much needed breakthrough that brings the California Attorney General into the settlement and paves the way for a deal?

Some people close the negotiations say yes. That is because California Attorney General Kamala Harris will be attending a meeting with Iowa’s Attorney General, Tom Miller, who is leading the negotiations with the banks over faulty mortgage foreclosures and who is likely to press Harris to join the broader group.

.
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Foreclosure settlement talks push ahead without California, One proposal pegs deal at around $19 billion

Foreclosure settlement talks push ahead without California, One proposal pegs deal at around $19 billion


Absolutely no respect for the AG’s who are doing their jobs. Absolutely no consideration for the valid reasons why they simply will not settle to the greatest heist in American History.

WSJ-

Bank representatives and government officials are working on a broad settlement of most state and federal foreclosure-practices investigations that could move forward without the participation of California, long considered a key to any deal, people familiar with the negotiations said.

The terms of the deal remain fluid. Banks have proposed a deal excluding California that would carry a value of $18.5 billion, though the final outcome remains uncertain, people familiar with the discussion said.

Negotiators are continuing to make a push to persuade California to join a settlement valued at $25 billion among federal officials, state attorneys general and the …

[WALL STREET JOURNAL]

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Rep. Maxine Waters: California Deserves a Better Deal

Rep. Maxine Waters: California Deserves a Better Deal


HuffPO-

A recent editorial in the LA Times, “California Should Make that Mortgage Deal,” admonishes California Attorney General Kamala Harris for her insistence on ensuring that the big banks that caused the foreclosure crisis in our state pay their fair share to our homeowners. The editors urge Attorney General Harris to take the deal that’s currently on the table, even though she knows–and California’s homeowners know–that the deal isn’t good enough.

[HUFFINGTONPOST]

 

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Lawmakers call for hearings on robo-signing

Lawmakers call for hearings on robo-signing


By MICHELLE CONLIN, AP Business Writers –

NEW YORK (AP) — Lawmakers and enforcement agencies called for hearings and further investigation Tuesday after learning that the illegal practice known as robo-signing has continued in the mortgage industry.

The Associated Press reported on Monday that county officials in at least three states — Massachusetts, North Carolina and Michigan — say they have received thousands of mortgage documents with questionable signatures since last fall. That’s when forged signatures and false affidavits — also called robo-signing — led to a temporary halt to foreclosures. Banks and mortgage processers promised to stop the practice. But the findings of the county officials indicate that robo-signing is still a widespread problem.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio., chair of the Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, said the subcommittee will hold a hearing on the robo-signing issue.

“Wall Street and some in Washington want us to believe that robo-signing is a thing of the past,” said Brown. “But the same risky practices that put our economy on the brink of collapse continue to infect the housing market.”

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., a senior member of the House Committee on Financial Services said the lenders who continue the practice “need to be investigated and prosecuted.” She told The Associated Press that she believed regulators should step in and that the absence of stronger regulation is “the reason why the system broke down in the first place.” She said the county officials’ findings show lenders will not stop practices like robo-signing on their own.

“(The lenders) have complete disregard for the damage they have already caused and have no intention of changing their ways,” said Waters, who also called for more hearings on the issue.

County officials who are responsible for keeping land records, including property deeds, say that they have received thousands of robo-signed documents filed in their offices since October.

In Essex County, Mass., the office that handles property deeds has received almost 1,300 documents since October with the signature of “Linda Green,” but in 22 different handwriting styles and with many different titles.

In Guilford County, N.C., the office that records deeds says it received 456 documents with suspect signatures from Oct. 1, 2010, through June 30. And in Michigan, a fraud investigator who works on behalf of homeowners says he has uncovered documents filed this year bearing the purported signature of Marshall Isaacs, an attorney with foreclosure law firm Orlans Associates.

Early Tuesday, an official from the office of Minnesota attorney general, Lori Swanson, contacted the Essex County’s John O’Brien to get more information for its own investigation into robo-signing. The Massachusetts attorney general’s office also confirmed that it is meeting with several of the state’s 21 registers of deeds to assess the extent of robo-signing in the state.

Also on Tuesday, nine recorders of deeds in Illinois held a press conference to say they will assist the state’s attorney general Lisa Madigan who is investigating robo-signing in her state.

Rep. Waters, meanwhile, says the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, or the OCC, is the main federal regulator for banks. As such, it’s the OCC’s responsibility to investigate the banks.

The OCC has been criticized by lawmakers and consumer advocates for going easy on banks in the past. The same criticism has resurfaced since the robo-signing scandal broke in September. Last fall, The Associated Press found that robo-signed documents led to banks wrongfully foreclosing on people who had paid their mortgages in full. When asked about the issue, an OCC spokesman flatly denied that any such thing had ever occurred.

The OCC partnered with other federal regulators and conducted a review of bank procedures including robo-signing in December. In April, the 14 largest national banks entered into a consent decree with the OCC in which they vowed to submit action plans as to how they would address such systemic issues as robo-signing.

Last week, the banks delivered those action plans to the OCC, which is now reviewing them, a spokesman said.

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Maxine Waters Congresswoman Troubled by Reported Foreclosure Fraud Deal

Maxine Waters Congresswoman Troubled by Reported Foreclosure Fraud Deal


Press Releases

Contact: Sean Bartlett (202) 225-2201

Congresswoman Waters Troubled by Reported Foreclosure Fraud Deal

Reiterates Need for Servicing Standards, Raises Concerns about Settlement Figure & OCC Protecting Banks Over Borrowers

Washington, Feb 25

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Financial Services Committee, issued the following statement today after reports of a deal between the Obama Administration and mortgage servicers to settle systemic fraud issues in the servicing and foreclosure industry:

Reporting from yesterday and today indicates that federal regulators are close to reaching a settlement over what they describe as “shortcomings in foreclosure governance and document preparation processes,” or what I have plainly referred to as “foreclosure fraud.”  The settlement, as described by the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and other media outlets, leaves me deeply concerned about whether homeowners will receive the due process and fair treatment they deserve.

Particularly, I am concerned about the $20 billion settlement figure, spread across 14 servicers, that has been noted in various reports.  Though this figure sounds like a large settlement to those unfamiliar with the scale of the foreclosure crisis, we must remember that over 3 million homes have been lost to foreclosure since 2006, and some analysts expect an additional 11 million foreclosure filings in the near future.  Moreover, the Center for Responsible Lending estimates that foreclosures between 2009 and 2012 will result in $1.86 trillion in lost wealth for families.

We must also contrast this $20 billion settlement figure, shared by 14 servicers, with the $8.6 billion settlement paid by Countrywide Finance Corp. in 2008 as a result of origination fraud.  I have every reason to believe that today’s improper servicing is likely just as pervasive as origination fraud a few years ago.

This settlement is too small, and will likely have one of two results:  either borrowers will receive insignificant principal reductions, or reductions will only be available to a small subset of troubled borrowers.

I am also concerned about the fact that this settlement, as reported, contains no discussion of mortgage servicing standards going forward.  Though I was pleased that the Administration briefly mentioned the need for servicing changes in their Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform proposal, we have yet to see the details of their plan for servicing reform.  As I have reiterated for years, meaningful servicing standards are absolutely necessary to protect the millions of borrowers vulnerable to foreclosure.  My bill from the last Congress, The Foreclosure Prevention and Sound Mortgage Servicing Act of 2009 (H.R. 3451), which I plan to reintroduce, contained borrower protections that I believe could have prevented many of the servicing failures we see today.  I urge regulators to insist on meaningful borrower protections that satisfy all of the servicing reforms described below:

• Provide that servicers have a duty to engage in reasonable loss mitigation activities, as outlined in H.R. 3451;
• Adopt servicer compensation structures that result in servicers having an interest as to whether the loan remains current, and separates simple transaction processing from actual loss mitigation activities;
• Require that a formula govern how second lien holders are required to modify second liens in the event of a first lien modification;
• Mandate that servicers establish a single-point-of-contact for each borrower seeking a loan modification, and provide that single-point-of-contact with actual decision making authority;
• Require that an independent master servicer provide oversight and resolve disputes regarding servicers’ actions;
• End the foreclosure “dual track,” which often results in borrowers being foreclosed upon by one division of a servicer while they are simultaneously attempting to negotiate a loan modification with another division of the servicer;
• Require servicers to foreclose in their own names;
• Change payment structures for law firms and other servicer contractors so that compensation is not tied to the speed at which these contractors foreclose; and
• Require servicers to disclose the complete chain of title as well as a full accounting of all fees (both upon request and in the Notice of Default), and the use of lost note affidavits in their foreclosures.

In addition to these borrower protections and servicing industry reforms, I continue to believe that it is essential for Congress to provide bankruptcy judges with the authority to alter mortgage debt on primary residences, an ability that judges already have on vacation homes.  I also believe that the Treasury Department should pursue monetary penalties for servicers’ failure to comply with Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) guidelines.  These monetary penalties could be redirected for any number of purposes, including increasing legal services funding so that homeowners can be adequately represented by counsel in foreclosure.  Finally, if the interagency report on foreclosure fraud does not already address this issue, I would urge regulators to conduct a robust investigation into whether parties involved in mortgage securitization may have failed to follow rules regarding the creation of Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits (REMICs), and are therefore in violation of tax rules.

More generally, I remain concerned that our regulators didn’t learn the lessons outlined in the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report, which starkly laid out how a failure to protect borrowers led to an explosion in exploitive subprime mortgage products.  All the evidence we have points to the fact that history is likely repeating itself.  In fact, in a November hearing of my Subcommittee, regulators made it clear that they learned of foreclosure fraud via newspaper reports, despite having teams of examiners located within the operations of major servicers.

For this reason, I was very skeptical from the outset that this investigation would yield substantive results, given that it was led by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).  As the subprime crisis has taught us, a regulator charged with protecting banks’ safety and soundness cannot also be charged with protecting the due process rights of borrowers.

Through yesterday and today’s reporting, we learned that the OCC’s position is that only a “small number” of borrowers were improperly foreclosed upon.  I am doubtful of this claim, given what I’ve learned about servicer-driven defaults in the years since this crisis began.  For instance, National Consumer Law Center attorney Diane Thompson has noted in testimony that around 50 percent of the borrowers she represents in foreclosure cases were subject to a servicer-driven default.  Academic work from experts like Kurt Eggert at Chapman University School of Law provides additional support for claims of servicer misbehavior.  And just recently, JPMorgan Chase admitted to wrongfully foreclosing on 14 active duty military personnel and overcharging another 4,000 military borrowers on their mortgages, in contravention of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

To date, all we have are these anecdotal reports.  But through both Congressional hearings, and first-hand experience with servicers, I believe that there is substantial evidence indicating that improper fees, wrongful application of borrower payments, the use of unscrupulous foreclosure mills and other practices evidence the fact that improper foreclosures are widespread.

I eagerly await the full results of the interagency foreclosure fraud investigation.  In the meantime, I will continue to advocate for servicing reforms.  I believe that these fundamental changes to mortgage servicing are needed not only for borrowers, but to ensure a fully-functioning mortgage market that protects investors and encourages the return of private capital moving forward.

###

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U.S. Homeowners Drop Out of Foreclosure Program Amid Record Defaults

U.S. Homeowners Drop Out of Foreclosure Program Amid Record Defaults


By Lorraine Woellert and Clea Benson – Nov 18, 2010 7:26 PM ET

U.S. homeowners are dropping out of the Obama administration’s foreclosure prevention program at a faster rate than they are joining it, according to figures released today by the U.S. Treasury Department.

Borrowers aided by the Home Affordable Modification Program grew to nearly 520,000 in October, up 23,750 from a month earlier, the Treasury said in its monthly report. The increase was less than five percent. A total of 36,300 borrowers have dropped out of the plan for failing to make their payments, an increase of 24 percent from a month earlier.

At a congressional hearing earlier in the day, lawmakers said HAMP, which pays lenders to modify loans and reduce monthly payments for struggling borrowers, isn’t doing enough to help homeowners falling behind on their mortgages amid high unemployment and depressed real estate values.

“It’s safe to say that HAMP isn’t meeting its goal of preventing foreclosures,” Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, said at a House Financial Services subcommittee hearing after the Treasury provided a preview of the report.

The Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development issue monthly progress reports on HAMP, a $50 billion program authorized by Congress in 2009. The program was targeted to reach more than 3 million homeowners by paying mortgage servicers $1,000 to rewrite loan terms and $1,000 annually as long as the borrower participates, up to three years.

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