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Tracking Loans Through a Firm That Holds Millions: MERS

Tracking Loans Through a Firm That Holds Millions: MERS


Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times: Darlene and Robert Blendheim of Seattle are struggling to keep their home after their subprime lender went out of business.

By MIKE McINTIRE NYTimes
Published: April 23, 2009

Judge Walt Logan had seen enough. As a county judge in Florida, he had 28 cases pending in which an entity called MERS wanted to foreclose on homeowners even though it had never lent them any money.

Into the Mortgage NetherworldGraphicInto the Mortgage Netherworld

MERS, a tiny data-management company, claimed the right to foreclose, but would not explain how it came to possess the mortgage notes originally issued by banks. Judge Logan summoned a MERS lawyer to the Pinellas County courthouse and insisted that that fundamental question be answered before he permitted the drastic step of seizing someone’s home.

Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times R. K. Arnold, MERS president, said the company helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on the industry.

“You don’t think that’s reasonable?” the judge asked.

“I don’t,” the lawyer replied. “And in fact, not only do I think it’s not reasonable, often that’s going to be impossible.”

Judge Logan had entered the murky realm of MERS. Although the average person has never heard of it, MERS — short for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems — holds 60 million mortgages on American homes, through a legal maneuver that has saved banks more than $1 billion over the last decade but made life maddeningly difficult for some troubled homeowners.

Created by lenders seeking to save millions of dollars on paperwork and public recording fees every time a loan changes hands, MERS is a confidential computer registry for trading mortgage loans. From an office in the Washington suburbs, it played an integral, if unsung, role in the proliferation of mortgage-backed securities that fueled the housing boom. But with the collapse of the housing market, the name of MERS has been popping up on foreclosure notices and on court dockets across the country, raising many questions about the way this controversial but legal process obscures the tortuous paths of mortgage ownership.

If MERS began as a convenience, it has, in effect, become a corporate cloak: no matter how many times a mortgage is bundled, sliced up or resold, the public record often begins and ends with MERS. In the last few years, banks have initiated tens of thousands of foreclosures in the name of MERS — about 13,000 in the New York region alone since 2005 — confounding homeowners seeking relief directly from lenders and judges trying to help borrowers untangle loan ownership. What is more, the way MERS obscures loan ownership makes it difficult for communities to identify predatory lenders whose practices led to the high foreclosure rates that have blighted some neighborhoods.

In Brooklyn, an elderly homeowner pursuing fraud claims had to go to court to learn the identity of the bank holding his mortgage note, which was concealed in the MERS system. In distressed neighborhoods of Atlanta, where MERS appeared as the most frequent filer of foreclosures, advocates wanting to engage lenders “face a challenge even finding someone with whom to begin the conversation,” according to a report by NeighborWorks America, a community development group.

To a number of critics, MERS has served to cushion banks from the fallout of their reckless lending practices.

“I’m convinced that part of the scheme here is to exhaust the resources of consumers and their advocates,” said Marie McDonnell, a mortgage analyst in Orleans, Mass., who is a consultant for lawyers suing lenders. “This system removes transparency over what’s happening to these mortgage obligations and sows confusion, which can only benefit the banks.”

A recent visitor to the MERS offices in Reston, Va., found the receptionist answering a telephone call from a befuddled borrower: “I’m sorry, ma’am, we can’t help you with your loan.” MERS officials say they frequently get such calls, and they offer a phone line and Web page where homeowners can look up the actual servicer of their mortgage.

In an interview, the president of MERS, R. K. Arnold, said that his company had benefited not only banks, but also millions of borrowers who could not have obtained loans without the money-saving efficiencies it brought to the mortgage trade. He said that far from posing a hurdle for homeowners, MERS had helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on a sprawling industry where, in the past, lenders might have gone out of business and left no contact information for borrowers seeking assistance.

“We’re not this big bad animal,” Mr. Arnold said. “This crisis that we’ve had in the mortgage business would have been a lot worse without MERS.”

About 3,000 financial services firms pay annual fees for access to MERS, which has 44 employees and is owned by two dozen of the nation’s largest lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. It was the brainchild of the Mortgage Bankers Association, along with Fannie MaeFreddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, the mortgage finance giants, who produced a white paper in 1993 on the need to modernize the trading of mortgages.

At the time, the secondary market was gaining momentum, and Wall Street banks and institutional investors were making millions of dollars from the creative bundling and reselling of loans. But unlike common stocks, whose ownership has traditionally been hidden, mortgage-backed securities are based on loans whose details were long available in public land records kept by county clerks, who collect fees for each filing. The “tyranny of these forms,” the white paper said, was costing the industry $164 million a year.

“Before MERS,” said John A. Courson, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, “the problem was that every time those documents or a file changed hands, you had to file a paper assignment, and that becomes terribly debilitating.”

Although several courts have raised questions over the years about the secrecy afforded mortgage owners by MERS, the legality has ultimately been upheld. The issue has surfaced again because so many homeowners facing foreclosure are dealing with MERS.

Advocates for borrowers complain that the system’s secrecy makes it impossible to seek help from the unidentified investors who own their loans. Avi Shenkar, whose company, the GMA Modification Corporation in North Miami Beach, Fla., helps homeowners renegotiate mortgages, said loan servicers frequently argued that “investor guidelines” prevented them from modifying loan terms.

“But when you ask what those guidelines are, or who the investor is so you can talk to them directly, you can’t find out,” he said.

MERS has considered making information about secondary ownership of mortgages available to borrowers, Mr. Arnold said, but he expressed doubts that it would be useful. Banks appoint a servicer to manage individual mortgages so “investors are not in the business of dealing with borrowers,” he said. “It seems like anything that bypasses the servicer is counterproductive,” he added.

When foreclosures do occur, MERS becomes responsible for initiating them as the mortgage holder of record. But because MERS occupies that role in name only, the bank actually servicing the loan deputizes its employees to act for MERS and has its lawyers file foreclosures in the name of MERS.

The potential for confusion is multiplied when the high-tech MERS system collides with the paper-driven foreclosure process. Banks using MERS to consummate mortgage trades with “electronic handshakes” must later prove their legal standing to foreclose. But without the chain of title that MERS removed from the public record, banks sometimes recreate paper assignments long after the fact or try to replace mortgage notes lost in the securitization process.

This maneuvering has been attacked by judges, who say it reflects a cavalier attitude toward legal safeguards for property owners, and exploited by borrowers hoping to delay foreclosure. Judge Logan in Florida, among the first to raise questions about the role of MERS, stopped accepting MERS foreclosures in 2005 after his colloquy with the company lawyer. MERS appealed and won two years later, although it has asked banks not to foreclose in its name in Florida because of lingering concerns.

Last February, a State Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn, Arthur M. Schack, rejected a foreclosure based on a document in which a Bank of New York executive identified herself as a vice president of MERS. Calling her “a milliner’s delight by virtue of the number of hats she wears,” Judge Schack wondered if the banker was “engaged in a subterfuge.”

In Seattle, Ms. McDonnell has raised similar questions about bankers with dual identities and sloppily prepared documents, helping to delay foreclosure on the home of Darlene and Robert Blendheim, whose subprime lender went out of business and left a confusing paper trail.

“I had never heard of MERS until this happened,” Mrs. Blendheim said. “It became an issue with us, because the bank didn’t have the paperwork to prove they owned the mortgage and basically recreated what they needed.”

The avalanche of foreclosures — three million last year, up 81 percent from 2007 — has also caused unforeseen problems for the people who run MERS, who take obvious pride in their unheralded role as a fulcrum of the American mortgage industry.

In Delaware, MERS is facing a class-action lawsuit by homeowners who contend it should be held accountable for fraudulent fees charged by banks that foreclose in MERS’s name.

Sometimes, banks have held title to foreclosed homes in the name of MERS, rather than their own. When local officials call and complain about vacant properties falling into disrepair, MERS tries to track down the lender for them, and has also created a registry to locate property managers responsible for foreclosed homes.

“But at the end of the day,” said Mr. Arnold, president of MERS, “if that lawn is not getting mowed and we cannot find the party who’s responsible for that, I have to get out there and mow that lawn.”

Posted in CitiGroup, concealment, conspiracy, fannie mae, foreclosure, foreclosure fraud, foreclosure mills, forensic loan audit, forensic mortgage investigation audit, Freddie Mac, investigation, jpmorgan chase, judge arthur schack, MERS, mortgage bankers association, MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS INC., Mortgage Foreclosure Fraud, mortgage modification, note, R.K. Arnold, securitization, wells fargoComments (0)

Fla. judge reverses GMAC loan: New York Post

Fla. judge reverses GMAC loan: New York Post


Special Thanks to: RICHARD WILNER NYPOST

Fla. judge reverses GMAC loan

By RICHARD WILNER

Last Updated: 4:23 AM, April 25, 2010

Posted: 12:14 AM, April 25, 2010

GMAC Mortgage got slammed by a Florida judge this month — and that may be good news for some of the 1,234 New York homeowners hit with a foreclosure action by GMAC since the beginning of 2008.

In that case, Judge Anthony Rondolino voided a GMAC foreclosure win after he found out legal papers filed by the company with the court to steamroll its way over homeowner Debbie Visicaro were faulty. They were filed by an employee of GMAC’s law firm who had no personal knowledge of the faulty mortgage’s position.

In short, they were based entirely on hearsay.

Lawyers familiar with foreclosure actions filed by law firm mills, as was done in this case, say such instances aren’t rare.

Visicaro, like most of the New York homeowners, at first decided to fight the foreclosure action without a lawyer. She didn’t know that the law firm employee was guessing in his court papers. But Visicaro finally hired a lawyer, Michael Alex Wasylik, who pointed out the flimsy evidence to the judge who then admitted he made a mistake when he first awarded GMAC a quickie legal win.

When the GMAC lawyer couldn’t explain away the bad evidence — and could only manage a Ralph Kramden-like hamina-hamina-hamina — the judge barked: “You’re going to have to speak up. I know that when you’re getting pummeled, it’s hard to talk loudly.”

“You know what I’d really like to see?” Rondolino said. “I’d like to see in one of these cases where a defense lawyer cross-examines, takes a deposition of these people, and we can see whether they ought be charged with perjury for all these affidavits.”

The 720 homeowners still fighting active cases — of the 1,234 filed in New York over the last 28 months — should start asking questions about the affidavits submitted in their cases, lawyers said. Maybe the legal papers in their case are built on legal ground as firm as that in the Visicaro case.

Posted in concealment, conspiracy, foreclosure fraud, foreclosure mills, Law Offices Of David J. Stern P.A.Comments (0)

GMAC v Visicaro Case No 07013084CI: florida judge reverses himself: applies basic rules of evidence and overturns his own order granting motion for summary judgment

GMAC v Visicaro Case No 07013084CI: florida judge reverses himself: applies basic rules of evidence and overturns his own order granting motion for summary judgment


THIS IS WORTH REPEATING OVER AND OVER!!!!

From: Neil Garfield Livinglies

RIGHT ON POINT ABOUT WHAT WE WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT IN HEARING YESTERDAY!!

I appeared as expert witness in a case yesterday where the Judge had trouble getting off the idea that it was an accepted fact that the note was in default and that ANY of the participants in the securitization chain should be considered collectively “creditors” or a creditor. Despite the fact that the only witness was a person who admitted she had no knowledge except what was on the documents given to her, the Judge let them in as evidence.

The witness was and is incompetent because she lacked personal knowledge and could not provide any foundation for any records or document. This is the predominant error of Judges today in most cases. Thus the prima facie case is considered “assumed” and the burden to prove a negative falls unfairly on the homeowner.

The Judge, in a familiar refrain, had trouble with the idea of giving the homeowner a free house when the only issue before him was whether the motion to lift stay should be granted. Besides the fact that the effect of granting the motion to lift stay was the gift of a free house to ASC who admits in their promotional website that they have in interest nor involvement in the origination of the loans, and despite the obviously fabricated assignment a few days before the hearing which violated the terms of the securitization document cutoff date, the Judge seems to completely missed the point of the issue before him: whether there was a reason to believe that the movant lacked standing or that the foreclosure would prejudice the debtor or other creditors (since the house would become an important asset of the bankruptcy estate if it was unencumbered).

If you carry over the arguments here, the motion for lift stay is the equivalent motion for summary judgment.

This transcript, citing cases, shows that the prima facie burden of the Movant is even higher than beyond a reasonable doubt. It also shows that the way the movants are using business records violates all standards of hearsay evidence and due process. Read the transcript carefully. You might want to use it for a motion for rehearing or motion for reconsideration to get your arguments on record, clear up the issue of whether you objected on the basis of competence of the witness, and then take it up on appeal with a cleaned up record.

[ipaper docId=29901870 access_key=key-2igblc29w7y5gelivtak height=600 width=600 /]

RELATED ARTICLE:

Judge reversed his own ruling that had granted summary judgment to GMAC Mortgage (DAVID J. STERN)


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Posted in Law Offices Of David J. Stern P.A.Comments (1)

Judge reversed his own ruling that had granted summary judgment to GMAC Mortgage (DAVID J. STERN)

Judge reversed his own ruling that had granted summary judgment to GMAC Mortgage (DAVID J. STERN)


My am news could never arrive too early from one of my favorite person. This judge unleashed a can of WHOOP ARSE!

I think you will find this transcript very interesting.  These highlights are from a Motion for Rehearing where the Court had granted summary judgment for the lender in a foreclosure case.  The judge is Honorable Anthony Rondolino from Pinellas County, Florida.  The hearing took place on April 7, 2010.  Counsel for the homeowner/defendant, Debbie Visicaro, was  Michael Alex Wasylik.

The judge reversed his own ruling that had granted summary judgment to GMAC Mortgage.
The judge noted that in a recent foreclosure summary judgment hearing, there was a different plaintiff pursuing foreclosure on the same note and mortgage in a different county.
In both cases, there was a count to reestablish the [lost] note and “both of them had gone so far as to have affidavits filed in support of a summary judgment whereby an individual represented to the Court in the Affidavit that the separate plaintiffs had possessed the note and had lost the note while it was in their possession.”
“Interestingly, both affidavits, although they were different plaintiffs, purported the same facts and they were executed by the same individual in alleged capacity as a director of two separate corporations, one of which was ultimately found to be an assignee of the original note.
So that really increased my interest in this subject matter, because I really honestly — I don’t have any confidence that any of the documents the Court’s receiving on these mass foreclosures are valid.(p.7)…

“I guess what you’re telling me I’ve got the discretion to be – – continually be wrong.” (p.11)
Then, (on page 15) regarding the affidavit in support of summary judgment submitted by GMAC:
Attorney for GMAC: Paragraph Two of our Affidavit says that based upon their personal knowledge, they’re authorized to make certain statements therein.
The Court: You know what I’d really like to see?  I’d like to see in one of these cases where a defense lawyer cross-examines, takes a deposition of these people, and we can see whether they out to be charged with perjury for all of these affidavits.(p.16)
“I would love to see that because, I’m going to tell you the truth, I had a lawyer on the phone from Miami telling me that they’ve got somebody in their office who is authorized by reason of a power of attorney filed as a public record.  So that was supposed to be the support they have for their personal knowledge affidavits.”
The attorney for GMAC  was Steven Frasier from the Law Offices of David Stern.

[ipaper docId=29901870 access_key=key-2igblc29w7y5gelivtak height=600 width=600 /]

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Posted in conspiracy, Law Offices Of David J. Stern P.A.Comments (4)


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