Don’t Admit the Default

Kudos again to Jim Macklin for sitting in for me last night. Excellent job — but don’t get too comfortable in my chair :). Lots of stuff in another mini-seminar packed into 28 minutes of talk.

A big point made by the attorney guest Charles Marshall, with which I obviously agree, is don’t admit the default in a foreclosure unless that is really what you mean to do. I have been saying for 8 years that lawyers and pro se litigants and Petitioners in bankruptcy proceedings have been cutting their own throats by stating outright or implying that the default exists. It probably doesn’t exist, even though it SEEMS like it MUST exist since the borrower stopped paying.

There is not a default just because a borrower stops paying. The default occurs when the CREDITOR DOESN’T GET PAID. Until the false game of “securitization started” there was no difference between the two — i.e., when the borrower stopped paying the creditor didn’t get paid. But that is not the case in 96% of all residential loan transactions between 2001 and the present. Today there are multiple ways for the creditor to get paid besides the servicer receiving the borrower’s payment. the Courts are applying yesterday’s law without realizing that today’s facts are different.

Whether the creditor got paid and is still being paid is a question of fact that must be determined in a hearing where evidence is presented. All indications from the Pooling and Servicing Agreements, Distribution Reports, existing lawsuits from investors, insurers, counterparties in other hedge contracts like credit default swaps — they all indicate that there were multiple channels for payment that had little if anything to do with an individual borrower making payments to the servicer. Most Trust beneficiaries get paid regardless of whether the borrower makes payment, under provisions of the PSA for servicer advances, Trustee advances or some combination of those two plus the other co-obligors mentioned above.

Why would you admit a default on the part of the creditor’s account when you don’t have access to the money trail to identify the creditor? Why would you implicitly admit that the creditor has even been identified? Why would you admit a payment was due under a note and mortgage (or deed of trust) that were void front the start?

The banks have done a good job of getting courts to infer that the payment was due, to infer that the creditor is identified, to infer that the payment to the creditor wasn’t received by the creditor, and to infer that the balance shown by the servicer and the history of the creditor’s account can be shown by reference only to the servicer’s account. But that isn’t true. So why would you admit to something that isn’t true and why would you admit to something you know nothing about.

You don’t know because only the closing agent, originator and all the other “securitization” parties have any idea about the trail of money — the real transactions — and how the money was handled. And they are all suing the broker dealers and each other stating that fraud was committed and mismanagement of the multiple channels of payments received for, or on behalf of the trust or trust beneficiaries.

In the end it is exactly that point that will reach critical mass in the courts, when judges realize that the creditor has no default in its business records because it got paid — and the foreclosure by intermediaries in the false securitization scheme is a sham.

In California the issue they discussed last night about choice of remedies is also what I have been discussing for the last 8 years, but I must admit they said it better than I ever did. Either go for the money or go for the property — you can’t do both. And if you  elected a remedy or assumed a risk, you can’t back out of it later — which is why the point was made last night that the borrower was a third party beneficiary of the transaction with investors which is why it is a single transaction — if there is no borrower, there wold be no investment. If there was no investment, there would have been no borrower. The transaction could not exist without both the investor and the borrower.

Bravo to Jim Macklin, Dan Edstrom and Charles Marshall, Esq. And remember don’t act on these insights without consulting with a licensed attorney who knows about this area of the law.

Foreclosures on Nonexistent Mortgages

I have frequently commented that one of the first things I learned on Wall Street was the maxim that the more complicated the “product” the more the buyer is forced to rely on the seller for information. Michael Lewis, in his new book, focuses on high frequency trading — a term that is not understood by most people, even if they work on Wall Street. The way it works is that the computers are able to sort out buy or sell orders, aggregate them and very accurately predict an uptick or down-tick in a stock or bond.

Then the same investment bank that is taking your order to buy or sell submits its own order ahead of yours. They are virtually guaranteed a profit, at your expense, although the impact on individual investors is small. Aggregating those profits amounts to a private tax on large and small investors amounting to billions of dollars, according to Lewis and I agree.

As Lewis points out, the trader knows nothing about what happens after they place an order. And it is the complexity of technology and practices that makes Wall Street behavior so opaque — clouded in a veil of secrecy that is virtually impenetrable to even the regulators. That opacity first showed up decades ago as Wall Street started promoting increasing complex investments. Eventually they evolved to collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) and those evolved into what became known as the mortgage crisis.

in the case of mortgage CDO’s, once again the investors knew nothing about what happened after they placed their order and paid for it. Once again, the Wall Street firms were one step ahead of them, claiming ownership of (1) the money that investors paid, (2) the mortgage bonds the investors thought they were buying and (3) the loans the investors thought were being financed through REMIC trusts that issued the mortgage bonds.

Like high frequency trading, the investor receives a report that is devoid of any of the details of what the investment bank actually did with their money, when they bought or originated a mortgage, through what entity,  for how much and what terms. The blending of millions of mortgages enabled the investment banks to create reports that looked good but completely hid the vulnerability of the investors, who were continuing to buy mortgage bonds based upon those reports.

The truth is that in most cases the investment banks took the investors money and didn’t follow any of the rules set forth in the CDO documents — but used those documents when it suited them to make even more money, creating the illusion that loans had been securitized when in fact the securitization vehicle (REMIC Trust) had been completely ignored.

There were several scenarios under which property and homeowners were made vulnerable to foreclosure even if they had no mortgage on their property. A recent story about an elderly couple coming “home” to find their door padlocked, possessions removed and then the devastating news that their home had been sold at foreclosure auction is an example of the extreme risk of this system to ALL homeowners, whether they have or had a mortgage or not. This particular couple had paid off their mortgage 15 years ago. The bank who foreclosed on the nonexistent mortgage and the recovery company that invaded their home said it was a mistake. Their will be a confidential settlement where once again the veil of secrecy will be raised.

That type of “mistake” was a once in a million possibility before Wall Street directly entered the mortgage loan business. So why have we read so many stories about foreclosures where there was no mortgage, or was no default, or where the mortgage loan was with someone other than the party who foreclosed?

The answer lies in how these properties enter the system. When a bank sells its portfolio of loans into the system of aggregation of loans, they might accidentally or intentionally include loans for which they had already received full payment. Maybe they issued a satisfaction maybe they didn’t. It might also include loans where life insurance or PMI paid off the loan.

Or, as is frequently the case, the “loan” was sold after the homeowner was merely investigating the possibility of a mortgage or reverse mortgage. As soon as they made application, since approval was certain, the “originator” entered the data into a platform maintained by the aggregator, like Countrywide, where it was included in some “securitization package.

If the loan closed then it was frequently sold again with the new dates and data, so it would like like a different loan. Then the investment banks, posing as the lenders, obtained insurance, TARP, guarantee proceeds and other payments from “co-obligors” on each version of the loan that was sold, thus essentially creating the equivalent of new sales on loans that were guaranteed to be foreclosed either because there was no mortgage or because the terms were impossible for the borrower to satisfy.

The LPS roulette wheel in Jacksonville is the hub where it is decided WHO will be the foreclosing party and for HOW MUCH they will claim is owed, without any allowance for the multiple sales, proceeds of insurance, FDIC loss sharing, actual ownership of the loans or anything else. Despite numerous studies by those in charge of property records and academic studies, the beat goes on, foreclosing by entities who are “strangers to the transaction” (San Francisco study), on documents that were intentionally destroyed (Catherine Ann Porter study at University of Iowa), against homeowners who had no idea what was going on, using the money of investors who had no idea what was going on, and all based upon a triple tiered documentary system where the contractual meeting of the minds could never occur.

The first tier was the Prospectus and Pooling and Servicing Agreement that was used to obtain money from investors under false pretenses.

The second tier consisted of a whole subset of agreements, contracts, insurance, guarantees all payable to the investment banks instead of the investors.

And the third tier was the “closing documents” in which the borrower, contrary to Federal (TILA), state and common law was as clueless as the investors as to what was really happening, the compensation to intermediaries and the claims of ownership that would later be revealed despite the borrower’s receipt of “disclosure” of the identity of his lender and the terms of compensation by all people associated with the origination of the loan.

The beauty of this plan for Wall Street is that nobody from any of the tiers could make direct claims to the benefits of any of the contracts. It has also enabled then to foreclose more than once on the same home in the name of different creditors, making double claims for guarantee from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FDIC loss sharing, insurance and credit default swaps.

The ugly side of the plan is still veiled, for the most part in secrecy. even when the homeowner gets close in court, there is a confidential settlement, sometimes for millions of dollars to keep the lawyer and the homeowner from disclosing the terms or the reasons why millions of dollars was paid to a homeowner to keep his mouth shut on a loan that was only $200,000 at origination.

This is exactly why I tell people that most of the time their case will be settled either in discovery where a Judge agrees you are entitled to peak behind the curtain, or at trial where it becomes apparent that the witness who is “familiar” with the corporate records really knows nothing and ahs nothing about the the real history of the loan transaction.

Who Has the Power to Execute a Satisfaction and Release of Mortgage?

 The answer to that question is that probably nobody has the right to execute a satisfaction of mortgage. That is why the mortgage deed needs to be nullified. In the typical situation the money was taken from investors and instead of using it to fund the REMIC trust, the broker-dealer used it as their own money and funded the origination or acquisition of loans that did not qualify under the terms proposed in the prospectus given to investors. Since the money came from investors either way (regardless of whether their money was put into the trust) the creditor is that group of investors. Instead, neither the investors or even the originator received the original note at the “closing” because neither one had any legal interest in the note. Thus neither one had any interest in the mortgage despite the fact that the nominee at closing was named as “lender.”

This is why so many cases get settled after the borrower aggressively seeks discovery.

The name of the lender on the note and the mortgage was often some other entity used as a bankruptcy remote vehicle for the broker-dealer, who for purposes of trading and insurance represented themselves to be the owner of the loans and mortgage bonds that purportedly derive their value from the loans. Neither representation was true. And the execution of fabricated, forged and unauthorized assignments or endorsements does not mean that there is any underlying business transaction with offer, acceptance and consideration. Hence, when a Court order is entered requiring that the parties claiming rights under the note and mortgage prove their claim by showing the money trail, the case is dropped or settled under seal of confidentiality.

The essential problem for enforcement of a note and mortgage in this scenario is that there are two deals, not one. In the first deal the investors agreed to lend money based upon a promise to pay from a trust that was never funded, has no assets and has no income. In the second deal the borrower promises to pay an entity that never loaned any money, which means that they were not the lender and should not have been put on the mortgage or note.

Since the originator is an agent of the broker-dealer who was not acting within the course and scope of their relationship with the investors, it cannot be said that the originator was a nominee for the investors. It isn’t legal either. TILA requires disclosure of all parties to the deal and all compensation. The two deals were never combined at either level. The investor/lenders were never made privy to the real terms of the mortgages that violated the terms of the prospectus and the borrower was not privy to the terms of repayment from the Trust to the investors and all the fees that went with the creation of multiple co-obligors where there had only been one in the borrower’s “closing.”.

The identity of the lender was intentionally obfuscated. The identity of the borrower was also intentionally obfuscated. Neither party would have completed the deal in most cases if they had actually known what was going on. The lender would have objected not only to the underwriting standards but also because their interest was not protected by a note and mortgage. The borrower  would have been alerted to the fact that huge fees were being taken along the false securitization trail. The purpose of TILA is to avoid that scenario, to wit: borrower should have a choice as to the parties with whom he does business. Those high feelings would have alerted the borrower to seek an alternative loan elsewhere with less interest and greater security of title —  or not do the deal at all because the loan should never have been underwritten or approved.

The Reporter Who Saw it Coming

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Editor’s Comment:

By Dean Starkman

Mike Hudson thought he was merely exposing injustice, but he also was unearthing the roots of a global financial meltdown.

Mike Hudson began reporting on the subprime mortgage business in the early 1990s when it was still a marginal, if ethically challenged, business. His work on the “poverty industry” (pawnshops, rent-to-own operators, check-cashing operations) led him to what were then known as “second-lien” mortgages. From his street-level perspective, he could see the abuses and asymmetries of the market in a way that the conventional business press could not. But because it ran mostly in small publications, his reporting was largely ignored. Hudson pursued the story nationally, via a muckraking book, Merchants of Misery (Common Courage Press, 1996); in a 10,000-word expose on Citigroup-as-subprime-factory, which won a Polk award in 2004 for the small alternative magazine Southern Exposure; and in a series on the subprime leader, Ameriquest, co-written as a freelancer, for the Los Angeles Times in 2005. He continued to pursue the subject as it metastasized into the trillion-dollar center of the Financial Crisis of 2008—briefly at The Wall Street Journal and now at the Center for Public Integrity. Hudson, 52, is the son of an ex-Marine and legendary local basketball coach. He started out on rural weeklies, covering championship tomatoes and large fish and such, even produced a cooking column. But as a reporter for The Roanoke Times he turned to muckraking and never looked back. CJR’s Dean Starkman interviewed Hudson in the spring of 2011.

Follow the ex-employees

The great thing about The Roanoke Times was that there was an emphasis on investigation but there was also an emphasis on storytelling and writing. And they would bring in lots of people like Roy Peter Clark and William Zinsser, the On Writing Well guy. The Providence Journal book, the How I Wrote the Story, was a bit of a Bible for me.

As I was doing a series on poverty in Roanoke, one of the local legal aid attorneys was like, “It’s not just the lack of money—it’s also what happens when they try to get out of poverty.” He said basically there are three ways out: they bought a house, so they got some equity; they bought a car so they could get some mobility; or they went back to school to get a better job. And in every case, he had example after example of folks, who because they were doing just that, had actually gotten deeper in poverty, trapped in unbelievable debt.

His clients often dealt with for-profit trade schools, truck driving schools that would close down; medical assistant’s schools that no one hired from; and again and again they’d be three, four, five, eight thousand dollars in debt, and unable to repay it, and then of course prevented from ever again going back to school because they couldn’t get another a student loan. So that got me thinking about what I came to know as the poverty industry.

I applied for an Alicia Patterson Fellowship and proposed doing stories on check-cashing outlets, pawn shops, second-mortgage lenders (they didn’t call themselves subprime in those days). This was ’91. We didn’t have access to the Internet, but I came across a wire story about something called the Boston “second-mortgage scandal,” and got somebody to send me a thick stack of clips. It was really impressive. The Boston Globe and other news organizations were taking on the lenders and the mortgage brokers, and the closing attorneys, and on and on.

I was trying to make the story not just local but national. I had some local cases involving Associates [First Capital Corp., then a unit of Ford Motor Corp.]. Basically, it turned out that Ford Motor Company, the old-line carmaker, was the biggest subprime lender in the country. The evidence was pretty clear that they were doing many of the same kinds of bait-and-switch salesmanship and, in some cases, pure fraud, that we later saw take over the mortgage market. I felt like this was a big story; this is the one! Later, investigations and Congressional hearings corroborated what I was finding in ’94, ’95, and ’96. And it seems so self-evident now, but I learned that finding ex-employees often gives you a window into what’s really going on with a company. The problem has always been finding them and getting them to talk.

I spent the better part of the ‘90s writing about the poverty industry and about predatory lending. As a reporter you don’t want to be defined by one subject. So I was actually working on a book about the history of racial integration in sports, interviewing old Negro-league baseball players. I was really trying to change a little bit of how I was moving forward career-wise. But it’s like the old mafia-movie line: every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

Subprime goes mainstream

In the fall of 2002, the Federal Trade Commission announced a big settlement with Citigroup, which had bought Associates, and at first I saw it as a positive development, like they had nailed the big bad actor. I’m doing a 1,000-word freelance thing, but of course as I started to report I started hearing from people who were saying that this settlement is basically giving them absolution, and allowed them to move forward with what was, by Citi standards, a pretty modest settlement. And the other thing that struck me was the media was treating this as though Citigroup was cleaning up this legacy problem, when Citi itself had its own problems. There had been a big magazine story about [Citigroup Chief Sanford I.] “Sandy” Weill. It was like “Sandy’s Comeback.” I saw this and said, ‘Whoa, this is an example of the mainstreaming of subprime.’

I pitched a story about how these settlements weren’t what they seemed, and got turned down a lot of places. Eventually I went to Southern Exposure and called the editor there, Gary Ashwill, and he said, “That’s a great story, we’ll put it on the cover.” And I said, “Well how much space can we have?” and he said, “How much do we need?” That was not something you heard in journalism in those days.

I interviewed 150 people, mostly borrowers, attorneys, experts, industry people, but the stuff that really moves the story are the former employees. Many of them had just gotten fired for complaining internally. They were upset about what had gone on—to some degree about how the company treated them, but usually very upset about how the company had pressured them and their co-workers to mistreat their customers.

As a result of the Citigroup stuff, I got a call from a filmmaker [James Scurlock] who was working on what eventually became Maxed Out, about credit cards and student loans and all that kind of stuff. And he asked if I could go visit, and in some cases revisit, some of the people I had interviewed and he would follow me with a camera. So I did sessions in rural Mississippi, Brooklyn and Queens, and Pittsburg. Again and again you would hear people talk about these bad loans they got. But also about stress. I remember a guy in Brooklyn, not too far from where I live now, who paused and said something along the lines of: ‘You know I’m not proud of this, but I have to say I really considered killing myself.’ Again and again people talked about how bad they felt about having gotten into these situations. It was powerful and eye-opening. They didn’t understand, in many cases, that they’d been taken in by very skillful salesmen who manipulated them into taking out loans that were bad for them.

If one person tells you that story, you say okay, well maybe it’s true, but you don’t know. But you’ve got a woman in San Francisco saying, “I was lied to and here’s how they lied to me,” and then you’ve got a loan officer for the same company in suburban Kansas saying, “This is what we did to people.” And then you have another loan officer in Florida and another borrower in another state. You start to see the pattern.

People always want some great statistic [proving systemic fraud], but it’s really, really hard to do that. And statistics data doesn’t always tell us what happened. If you looked at some of the big numbers during the mortgage boom, it would look like everything was fine because of the fact that they refinanced people over and over again. So essentially a lot of what was happening was very Ponzi-like—pushing down the road the problems and hiding what was going on. But I was not talking to analysts. I was not talking to high-level corporate executives. I was not talking to experts. I was talking to the lowest level people in the industry— loan officers, branch managers. I was talking to borrowers. And I was doing it across the country and doing it in large numbers. And when you actually did the shoe-leather reporting, you came up with a very different picture than the PR spin you were getting at the high level.

One day Rich Lord [who had just published the muckraking book, American Nightmare: Predatory Lending and the Foreclosure of the American Dream, Common Courage Press, 2004) and I went to his house. We were sitting in his study. Rich had spent a lot of time writing about Household [International, parent of Household Finance], and I had spent a lot of time writing about Citigroup. Household had been number one in subprime, and then CitiFinancial/Citigroup was number one. This was in the fall of 2004. We asked, well, who’s next? Rich suggested Ameriquest.

I went back home to Roanoke and got on the PACER—computerized court records—system and started looking up Ameriquest cases, and found lots of borrower suits and ex-employee suits. There was one in particular, which basically said that the guy had been fired because he had complained that Ameriquest business ethics were terrible. I just found the guy in the Kansas City phone book and called him up, and he told me a really compelling story. One of the things that really stuck out is, he said to me, “Have you ever seen the movie Boiler Room [2000, about an unethical pump-and-dump brokerage firm]?”

By the time I had roughly ten former employees, most of them willing to be on the record, I thought: this is a really good story, this is important. In a sense I feel like I helped them become whistleblowers because they had no idea how to blow the whistle or what to do. And Ameriquest at that point was on its way to being the largest subprime lender. So, I started trying to pitch the story. While I had a full-time gig at the Roanoke Times, for me the most important thing was finding the right place to place it.

The Los Angeles Times liked the story and teamed me with Scott Reckard, and we worked through much of the fall of 2004 and early 2005. We had thirty or so former employees, almost all of them basically saying that they had seen improper, illegal, fraudulent practices, some of whom acknowledged that they’d done it themselves: bait-and-switch salesmanship, inflating people’s incomes on their loan applications, and inflating appraisals. Or they were cutting and pasting W2s or faking a tax return. It was called the “art department”—blatant forgery, doctoring the documents. You know, it was pretty eye-opening stuff. One of the best details was that many people said they showed Boiler Room—as a training tape! And the other important thing about the story was that Ameriquest was being held up by politicians, and even by the media, as the gold standard—the company cleaning up the industry, reversing age-old bad practices in this market. To me, theirs was partly a story of the triumph of public relations.

Leaving Roanoke

I’d been in Roanoke almost 20 years as a reporter, and so, what’s the next step? I resigned from the Roanoke Times and for most of 2005 I was freelancing fulltime. I made virtually no money that year, but by working on the Ameriquest story, it helped me move to the next thing. I interviewed with The Wall Street Journal [and was hired to cover the bond market]. Of course I came in pitching mortgage-backed securities as a great story. I could have said it with more urgency in the proposal, but I didn’t want to come off as like an advocate, or half-cocked.

Daily bond market coverage is their bread-and-butter, and it’s something that needs to be done. And I tried to do the best I could on it. But I definitely felt a little bit like a point guard playing small forward. I was doing what I could for the team but I was not playing in a position where my talents and my skills were being used to the highest.

I wanted to do a documentary. I wanted to do a book [which would become The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America—and Spawned a Global Crisis, Times Books, 2010]. I felt like I had a lot of information, a lot of stuff that needed to be told, and an understanding that many other reporters didn’t have. And I could see a lot of the writing focused on deadbeat borrowers lying about their income, rather than how things were really happening.

Through my reporting I knew two things: I knew that there were a lot of predatory and fraudulent practices throughout the subprime industry. It wasn’t isolated pockets, it wasn’t rogue lenders, it wasn’t rogue employees. It was really endemic. And I also knew that Wall Street played a big role in this, and that Wall Street was driving or condoning and/or profiting from a lot of these practices. I understood that, basically, the subprime lenders, like Ameriquest and even like Countrywide, were really just creatures of Wall Street. Wall Street loaned these companies money; they then made loans; they off-loaded the loans to Wall Street; Wall Street then sold them [as securities to investors]. And it was just this magic circle of cash flowing. The one thing I didn’t understand was all the fancy financial alchemy—the derivatives, the swaps, that were added on to put them on steroids.

It’s clear that people inside a company, one or two or three people, could commit fraud and get away with it, on occasion, despite the best efforts of a company. But I don’t think it can happen in a widespread way when a company has basic compliance systems in place. The best way to connect the dots from the sleazy practices on the ground to people at high levels was to say, okay, they did have these compliance people in place; they had fraud investigators, loan underwriters, and compliance officers. Did they do their jobs? And if they did, what happened to them?

In late 2010, at the Center for Public Integrity, I got a tip about a whistleblower case involving someone who worked at a high level at Countrywide. This is Eileen Foster, who had been an executive vice president, the top fraud investigator at Countrywide. She was claiming before OSHA that she was fired for reporting widespread fraud, but also for trying to protect other whistleblowers within the company who were also reporting fraud at the branch level and at the regional level, all over the country. The interesting thing is that no one in the government had ever contacted her! [This became “Countrywide Protected Fraudsters by Silencing Whistleblowers, say Former Employees,” September 22 and 23, 2011, one of CPI’s best-read stories of the year; 60 Minutes followed with its own interview of Foster, in a segment called, “Prosecuting Wall Street,” December 14, 2011.] It was very exciting. We worked really hard to do follow-up stories. I did about eight stories afterward, many about General Electric, a big player in the subprime world. We found eight former mortgage unit employees who had tried to warn about abuses and whom management had shunted aside.

I just feel like there needs to be more investigative reporting in the mix, and especially more investigative reporting—of problems that are going on now, rather than post-mortems or tick-tocks about financial disasters or crashes or bankruptcies that have already happened.

And that’s hard to do. It takes a real commitment from a news organization, and it can be a high-wire thing because you’re working on these stories for a long time, and market players you’re writing about yell and scream and do some real pushback. But there needs to be more of the sort of early warning journalism. It’s part of the big tent, what a newspaper is.

Hiding Behind Advice of Counsel No Better Than Ratings

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Editor’s Comment:

In an article entitled “Legal Beagles in Cross Hairs” WSJ reports that the SEC and many others in law enforcement have on-going investigations into the role of attorneys not misconduct of their clients. For the most part it is an attorney’s solemn duty to represent and advocate the position of his or her client to the utmost of their ability without violating the law. Everyone is entitled to a lawyer no matter how reprehensible their conduct might have been when they committed the act.

But the SEC seems to be leading the way, starting with indictments and convictions of attorneys that kicks aside the clients’ defense of “I did it on advice of counsel.” in wide ranging probes law enforcement agencies are after the attorneys who said it was OK — upon receiving lavish payments, that what the Banks did in setting the securitization structure for the cash trail and setting up the securitization procedure for the document trail and then setting up the contents of the documents that would provide coverage for intentional acts of theft, forgery, fabrication and a variety of other acts.

The attorneys who gave letters of opinion to the investment banks blessing securitization of home and commercial mortgages as they were presented and launched are in deep hot water. This is especially true since the law firms that engaged in these “blessings” had lawyers quitting their jobs leaving behind memorandums to the partners that the law firm itself was committing crimes. The similarity between the blessing of the law firm and the ratings of Moody’s, S&P, Fitch is surprising to some people.

And the attorneys who suggested severance settlements conditioned on employed lawyers or other witnesses on a sudden onset of amnesia are also in the cross-hairs, getting stiff long-term sentences. These are all potential witnesses in what could be come nationwide probes that were blocked by “advice of counsel” claims and brings to mind those many cases where the lawyer for Wells, US Bank, or BOA was fined and sanctioned for lying to the court about facts which they most certainly knew or should have known — like the name of their client.

As these probes continue it may be seen as scapegoating the attorneys or as chilling the confidentiality of the relationship between lawyer and client. But that rule of confidentiality and the defines of advice of counsel vanishes when the conduct of the attorney or indeed a whole law firm is that of a co-conspirator. It is especially unavailable when you have a foreclosure mill that is forging, fabricating and filing documents on behalf of extremely well paying clients.

It would therefore seem to be an appropriate time to file complaints with law enforcement including police and regulatory authorities that are well-written, honed down to a sharp point and which attach at least some evidence beyond the mere allegation of wrong-doing on the part of the attorney or law firm. If appropriate lay people can file the same complaints as grievances with the state Bar Association that is required to regulate and discipline the behavior of lawyers. And attorneys for homeowners and judges who hear these cases are under an obligation to report evidence of wrongdoing or else face disciplinary charges of their own resulting in suspension or disbarment.

Legal Eagles in Cross Hairs

By JEAN EAGLESHAM

The Securities and Exchange Commission is intensifying its scrutiny of lawyers who gave a green light to certain mortgage-bond deals before the financial crisis or have tried to thwart investigations by the agency, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move is at an early stage and might not result in any enforcement action by the SEC because of the difficulty proving lawyers went beyond their legal duty to clients, these people cautioned. In the past, SEC officials generally have gone after lawyers only when accusing them of active involvement in securities fraud or serious misconduct, such as faking documents in a probe.

In recent months, though, some SEC officials have grown frustrated by what they claim is direct obstruction of a few investigations and a larger number of probes where lawyers coach clients in the art of resisting and rebuffing. The tactics include witnesses “forgetting” what happened and companies conducting internal investigations that scapegoat junior employees and let senior managers off the hook, agency officials say. “The problem of less-than-candid testimony … is a serious one,” Robert Khuzami, the SEC’s director of enforcement, said at a conference last month. The stepped-up scrutiny is aimed at both internal and outside lawyers.

Claudius Modesti, enforcement chief at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, an accounting watchdog created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, said at the same event: “We’re encountering lawyers who frankly should know better.”

The SEC enforcement staff has recently reported more lawyers to the agency’s general counsel, who can take administrative action against lawyers for alleged professional misconduct.

The SEC hasn’t disclosed the number of referrals. Only one lawyer has ever been banned for life from representing clients before the agency because of professional misconduct.

Earlier this year, Kenneth Lench, head of the SEC’s structured-products enforcement unit, said the agency needed to “seriously consider” charges against lawyers in “appropriate cases.” Mr. Lench said he saw “some factual situations where I seriously question whether the advice that was given was done in good faith.”

In July, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission gained the new power to take civil action against anyone, including lawyers, who makes “any false or misleading statement of a material fact.”

The agency, which oversees the futures and options market, hasn’t taken any action yet under the expanded power, according to a person familiar with the matter. A CFTC spokesman declined to comment.

“Frankly, I wish we had the power the CFTC has,” Mr. Khuzami said.

The SEC’s focus on advice provided by lawyers in mortgage-bond deals is part of the wider push by officials to punish alleged wrongdoing tied to the financial crisis. So far, the SEC has filed crisis-related civil suits against 102 firms and individuals, and more cases are coming, according to people familiar with matter.

Some former government officials say stepping up regulatory scrutiny of lawyers for their work on cases snared in investigations by the SEC could send a chilling message. “The government needs to be careful not to deter lawyers from being zealous advocates for their clients,” says John Wood, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri.

The only lawyer hit with a lifetime ban by the SEC for his work on behalf of a client is Steven Altman of New York. The client was a witness in an SEC investigation, and the agency alleged that Mr. Altman suggested in a recorded phone conversation that the client’s recollection of certain events might “fade” if she got a year of severance pay.

Last year, an appeals court rejected Mr. Altman’s bid to overturn the 2010 ban. Jeffrey Hoffman, a lawyer for Mr. Altman, couldn’t be reached for comment.

In December, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted lawyer David Tamman on 10 criminal counts related to helping a former client cover up an alleged $20 million fraud. Prosecutors claim Mr. Tamman changed and backdating documents, removed incriminating documents from investor files and lied to SEC investigators in sworn testimony.

“The truth is that my client was set up and made a scapegoat,” says Stanley Stone, a lawyer for Mr. Tamman, adding that his client acted under the advice and guidance of senior lawyers at his former law firm, Nixon Peabody LLP. “We’re going to prove at trial that what was done was not criminal,” Mr. Stone says.

A Nixon Peabody spokeswoman says Mr. Tamman was fired in 2009 “as soon as we learned that he was under SEC investigation and he failed to explain his actions to us.” The law firm has asked a judge to throw out a wrongful-termination suit filed by Mr. Tamman.

A criminal trial last year shows how the SEC could face daunting hurdles in bringing enforcement actions against lawyers for providing bad advice.

“A lawyer should never fear prosecution because of advice that he or she has given to a client who consults him or her,” U.S. District Judge Roger Titus in Maryland ruled when dismissing all six charges against Lauren Stevens, a former lawyer at drug maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC. GSK +0.19%

Ms. Stevens was accused by prosecutors of lying to the FDA and concealing and falsifying documents related to an investigation by the U.S. agency. The federal judge refused to let a jury decide the case, saying that would risk a miscarriage of justice.

Reid Weingarten, a lawyer for Ms. Stevens, couldn’t be reached. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Despite the government’s defeat, “the mere fact she was charged sends a strong signal to other lawyers about the risks of being seen as less than forthcoming in their representation s to the government,” says Mr. Wood, the former federal prosecutor in Missouri. He now is a partner at law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP.


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Editor’s Comment:

Executive departures at Fannie, Freddie and Investment Banks

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are all buzzing about the departures and layoffs of high placed investment bankers at Fannie and Freddie and the huge layoffs at BOA, Citi, Chase, and Wells of formerly high-priced (stupidly high salaries and bonuses) of major players in their investment banking divisions. These people have intimate knowledge of the actual flow of money, securities and the alleged  securitization of millions of loans.

If you are looking for fact and expert witnesses, this group of people contains at least a few hundred whistle blowers despite contracts they signed for their benefits package on leaving the GSEs and the Banks. Many of them are waiting to be contacted and believe they can make far more money busting the banks or agencies that hired them than the bloated severance package they received.

If you ask the right questions and follow up with them, you will learn that from the very start the documents used at closing with borrowers were even more misleading than the documents used at closing with the lender investors. They will also tell you names of investors and investor “pools” and the fund manager of each. And of course they will tell you that the pools are either empty, non-existent or hydrogenated so that their existence and contents are a complete mystery even ton those who sold repackaged mini bonds or mortgage bonds using the dissolution of the old “trust” that purportedly claimed ownership over the entire loan.

Most important is that these people can tell you why “bankruptcy remote” thinly capitalised entities were used to originate the loans rather than the lending pools. And they can tell you where to find the money that was received, but not allocated to reduce the loan balances or the balances due on the mortgage bonds.


People Have Answers, Will Anyone Listen?

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Editor’s Comment: 

Thanks to Home Preservation Network for alerting us to John Griffith’s Statement before the Congressional Progressive Caucus U.S. House of Representatives.  See his statement below.  

People who know the systemic flaws caused by Wall Street are getting closer to the microphone. The Banks are hoping it is too late — but I don’t think we are even close to the point where the blame shifts solidly to their illegal activities. The testimony is clear, well-balanced, and based on facts. 

On the high costs of foreclosure John Griffith proves the point that there is an “invisible hand” pushing homes into foreclosure when they should be settled modified under HAMP. There can be no doubt nor any need for interpretation — even the smiliest analysis shows that investors would be better off accepting modification proposals to a huge degree. Yet most people, especially those that fail to add tacit procuration language in their proposal and who fail to include an economic analysis, submit proposals that provide proceeds to investors that are at least 50% higher than the projected return from foreclosure. And that is the most liberal estimate. Think about all those tens of thousands of homes being bull-dozed. What return did the investor get on those?

That is why we now include a HAMP analysis in support of proposals as part of our forensic analysis. We were given the idea by Martin Andelman (Mandelman Matters). When we performed the analysis the results were startling and clearly showed, as some judges around the country have pointed out, that the HAMP loan modification proposals were NOT considered. In those cases where the burden if proof was placed on the pretender lender, it was clear that they never had any intention other than foreclosure. Upon findings like that, the cases settled just like every case where the pretender loses the battle on discovery.

Despite clear predictions of increased strategic defaults based upon data that shows that strategic defaults are increasing at an exponential level, the Bank narrative is that if they let homeowners modify mortgages, it will hurt the Market and encourage more deadbeats to do the same. The risk of strategic defaults comes not from people delinquent in their payments but from businesspeople who look at the principal due, see no hope that the value of the home will rise substantially for decades, and see that the home is worth less than half the mortgage claimed. No reasonable business person would maintain the status quo. 

The case for principal reductions (corrections) is made clear by the one simple fact that the homes are not worth and never were worth the value of the used in true loans. The failure of the financial industry to perform simple, long-standing underwriting duties — like verifying the value of the collateral created a risk for the “lenders” (whoever they are) that did not exist and was present without any input from the borrower who was relying on the same appraisals that the Banks intentionally cooked up so they could move the money and earn their fees.

Many people are suggesting paths forward. Those that are serious and not just positioning in an election year, recognize that the station becomes more muddled each day, the false foreclosures on fatally defective documents must stop, but that the buying and selling and refinancing of properties presents still more problems and risks. In the end the solution must hold the perpetrators to account and deliver relief to homeowners who have an opportunity to maintain possession and ownership of their homes and who may have the right to recapture fraudulently foreclosed homes with illegal evictions. The homes have been stolen. It is time to catch the thief, return the purse and seize the property of the thief to recapture ill-gotten gains.

Statement of John Griffith Policy Analyst Center for American Progress Action Fund

Before

The Congressional Progressive Caucus U.S. House of Representatives

Hearing On

Turning the Tide: Preventing More Foreclosures and Holding Wrong-Doers Accountable

Good afternoon Co-Chairman Grijalva, Co-Chairman Ellison, and members of the caucus. I am John Griffith, an Economic Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, where my work focuses on housing policy.

It is an honor to be here today to discuss ways to soften the blow of the ongoing foreclosure crisis. It’s clear that lenders, investors, and policymakers—particularly the government-controlled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—must do all they can to avoid another wave of costly and economy-crushing foreclosures. Today I will discuss why principal reduction—lowering the amount the borrower actually owes on a loan in exchange for a higher likelihood of repayment—is a critical tool in that effort.

Specifically, I will discuss the following:

1      First, the high cost of foreclosure. Foreclosure is typically the worst outcome for every party involved, since it results in extraordinarily high costs to borrowers, lenders, and investors, not to mention the carry-on effects for the surrounding community.

2      Second, the economic case for principal reduction. Research shows that equity is an important predictor of default. Since principal reduction is the only way to permanently improve a struggling borrower’s equity position, it is often the most effective way to help a deeply underwater borrower avoid foreclosure.

3      Third, the business case for Fannie and Freddie to embrace principal reduction. By refusing to offer write-downs on the loans they own or guarantee, Fannie, Freddie, and their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, or FHFA, are significantly lagging behind the private sector. And FHFA’s own analysis shows that it can be a money-saver: Principal reductions would save the enterprises about $10 billion compared to doing nothing, and $1.7 billion compared to alternative foreclosure mitigation tools, according to data released earlier this month.

4      Fourth, a possible path forward. In a recent report my former colleague Jordan Eizenga and I propose a principal-reduction pilot at Fannie and Freddie that focuses on deeply underwater borrowers facing long-term economic hardships. The pilot would include special rules to maximize returns to Fannie, Freddie, and the taxpayers supporting them without creating skewed incentives for borrowers.

Fifth, a bit of perspective. To adequately meet the challenge before us, any principal-reduction initiative must be part of a multipronged

To read John Griffith’s entire testimony go to: http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/2012/04/pdf/griffith_testimony.pdf


Lawyers Take Note: Wells Fargo Slammed With $3.1 Million Punitive Damages on One Wrongful Foreclosure

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Editor’s Comment: 

The most perplexing part of this mortgage mess has been the unwillingness of the legal community to take on the Banks. Besides the intimidation factor the primary source of resistance has been the lack of confidence that any money could be made, ESPECIALLY on contingency. If you were the lawyer in the case reported below, you would be getting a check for fees alone of over $1.2 million on a single case. And as this article and hundreds of others have reported, based upon objective surveys, most of the 5 million homes lost since 2007 were wrongful foreclosures.

So the inventory for lawyers is 5 million homes plus the next 5 million everyone is expecting. Let’s due some simple arithmetic: if 4 million homes were wrongfully foreclosed and the punitive damages were $1 million per house the total take would be $4 Billion with contingency fees at $1.6 Billion. If each house carried $200,000 in compensatory damages, then the total would be increased by $800 Million with Lawyers taking home $320 Million. These figures exceed personal injury and malpractice awards. Why is the legal profession ignoring this opportunity to do something right and make a fortune at the same time?

Right now I’m a little under the weather (open heart surgery) but that hasn’t stopped my associates from rolling out a plan for a national anti-foreclosure firm. I’m only doing this because nobody else will. If you have had a home wrongfully foreclosed or suspect that your current foreclosure is wrongful, write to NeilFGarfield@hotmail.com (remember the “F”) and ask for help. Lawyers and victims of wrongful foreclosures should be able to pool their resources to attack the massive foreclosure attack with a massive anti-foreclosure attack.

Wells Fargo Slapped With $3.1 Million Fine For ‘Reprehensible’ Handling Of One Mortgage

Ben Hallman

A federal judge who has fiercely criticized how big banks service home loans is fed up with Wells Fargo.

In a scathing opinion issued last week, Elizabeth Magner, a federal bankruptcy judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana, characterized as “highly reprehensible” Wells Fargo’s behavior over more than five years of litigation with a single homeowner and ordered the bank to pay the New Orleans man a whopping $3.1 million in punitive damages, one of the biggest fines ever for mortgage servicing misconduct.

“Wells Fargo has taken advantage of borrowers who rely on it to accurately apply payments and calculate the amounts owed,” Magner writes. “But perhaps more disturbing is Wells Fargo’s refusal to voluntarily correct its errors. It prefers to rely on the ignorance of borrowers or their inability to fund a challenge to its demands, rather than voluntarily relinquish gains obtained through improper accounting methods.”

The opinion reflects Magner’s disgust with tactics that Wells Fargo used to fight the case — and perhaps frustration with an appeals court ruling in a separate, but similar case, that overturned her order that would have forced Wells Fargo to audit and provide a full accounting for more than 400 home loans in her jurisdiction.

As The Huffington Post previously reported in a story co-published with The Center for Public Integrity, sources familiar with the preliminary findings said that the bank made costly accounting errors in the administration of practically all of those loans.

In an emailed statement, Tom Goyda, a Wells Fargo spokesman said: “The ruling handed down by the court in an individual bankruptcy case covers allegations going back more than six years and ignores significant changes in servicing practices that have occurred since that time. We believe that there are numerous factual and legal problems with the opinion and are reviewing our options regarding an appropriate legal response.”

Goyda said that an appeal of the ruling is “one option” the bank is considering.

Despite widespread reports that the banks and other companies that service home loans engaged in a range of misconduct — from ordering unnecessary property inspections to misapplying payments in a way that can lead to wrongful foreclosure — few judges have had the time, ability or inclination to do the kind of forensic analysis necessary to uncover wrongdoing in individual cases. For a non-accountant, reading a loan history is like interpreting hieroglyphics without a Rosetta Stone, and banks are often reluctant to turn them over in the first place.

The exceptions have tended to come in federal bankruptcy courts, where justices typically have more time to dig into loan accounts, and are much more likely to have the financial expertise necessary to do so. In an earlier interview, Magner said that she analyzed the loan files of more than 20 borrowers in her court and found mistakes in every instance.

“These are loans of working-class people who bought homes they could afford and whose loans were not administered correctly from an accounting perspective,” she said. “I think that these types of problems occur in almost every [defaulted] loan in the country.”

The current case involves Michael Jones of New Orleans. In a 2007 decision, Magner ruled that Wells Fargo improperly charged Jones more than $24,000 in fees, owing to a fundamental problem in the automated methodology the bank used to account for his loan payments.

After Jones fell into default, Magner ruled, the bank improperly applied his mortgage payments to interest and fees that had accrued instead of to principal, as required by his servicing contract. This triggered a waterfall of additional fees and interest that consumer lawyers call “rolling default.” Later, after Jones applied for bankruptcy, the bank continued to misapply payments, according to Magner’s opinion.

In the most recent opinion, Magner describes Wells Fargo’s litigation tactics, which involved filing dozens of briefs, motions and other filings that slowed down the proceedings to a snail’s pace, as “particularly vexing.” The tactics suggest that any other borrower who might wish to contest a fee or charge would find a legal challenge to the bank simply too burdensome.

And yet, Magner writes, it is only through litigation that the abuses can be uncovered. Calling Wells Fargo’s conduct “clandestine,” Magner wrote that the bank refused to communicate with Jones even as it was misdirecting payments for improper purposes.

“Only through litigation was this practice discovered,” Magner writes. “Wells Fargo admitted to the same practices for all other loans in bankruptcy or default. As a result, it is unlikely that most debtors will be able to discern problems with their accounts without extensive discovery.”

Magner wrote that the bank still refuses to come clean with homeowners about mistakes it made in the accounting of home loans. This is particularly troublesome in her district, where more than 80 percent of the borrowers who file for bankruptcy have incomes of less than $40,000, and consequently are often unable to hire the kind of legal firepower necessary to counter Wells Fargo’s army of lawyers.

“[W]hen exposed, [Wells Fargo] revealed its true corporate character by denying any obligation to correct its past transgressions and mounting a legal assault ensure it never had to,” Magner wrote.

How Wall Street Perverted the 4 Cs of Mortgage Underwriting

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Editor’s Comment: 

For thousands of years since the dawn of money credit has been an integral part of the equation.  Anytime a person, company or institution takes your money or valuables in exchange for a promise that it will return your money or property or pay it to someone else (like in a check) credit is involved.  Most bank customers do not realize that they are creditors of the bank in which they deposit their money.  But all of them recognize that on some level they need to know or believe that the bank will be able to make good on its promise to honor the check or pay the money as instructed. 

Most people who use banks to hold their money do so in the belief that the bank has a history of being financially stable and always honoring withdrawals.  Some depositors may look a little further to see what the balance sheet of the bank looks like.   Of course the first thing they look at is the amount of cash shown on the balance sheet so that a perspective depositor can make an intelligent decision about the liquidity or availability of the funds they deposit. 

So the depositor is in essence lending money to the bank upon the assumption of repayment based upon the operating history of the bank, the cash in the bank and any other collateral (like FDIC guarantees).

As it turns out these are the 4 Cs of loan underwriting which has been followed since the first person was given money to hold and issued a paper certificate in exchange. The paper certificate was intended to be used as either a negotiable instrument for payment in a far away land or for withdrawal when directly presented to the person who took the money and issued the promise on paper to return it.

Eventually some people developed good reputations for safe keeping the money.  Those that developed good reputations were allowed by the depositors to keep the money for longer and longer periods.  After a while, the persons holding the money (now called banks) realized that in addition to charging a fee to the depositor they could use the depositor’s money to lend out to other people.  The good banks correctly calculated the probable amount of time for the original depositor to ask for his money back and adjusted loan terms to third parties that would be due before the depositor demanded his money.

The banks adopted the exact same strategy as the depositors.  The 4 Cs of underwriting a loan—Capacity, Credit, Cash and Collateral—are the keystones of conventional loan underwriting. 

The capacity of a borrower is determined by their ability to repay the debt without reference to any other source or collateral.  For the most part, banks successfully followed this model until the late 1990s when they discovered that losing money could be more profitable than making money.  In order to lose money they obviously had to invert the ratios they used to determine the capacity of the borrower to repay the money.  To accomplish this, they needed to trick or deceive the borrower into believing that he was getting a loan that he could repay, when in fact the bank knew that he could not repay it.  To create maximum confusion for borrowers the number of home loan products grew from a total of 5 different types of loans in 1974 to a total of 456 types of loans in 2006.  Thus the bank was assured that a loss could be claimed on the loan and that the borrower would be too confused to understand how the loss had occurred.  As it turned out the regulators had the same problem as the borrowers and completely missed the obscure way in which the banks sought to declare losses on residential loans.

Like the depositor who is trusting the bank based upon its operating history, the bank normally places its trust in the borrower to repay the loan based upon the borrowers operating history which is commonly referred to as their credit worthiness, credit score or credit history.  Like the capacity of the borrower this model was used effectively until the late 1990s when it too was inverted.  The banks discovered that a higher risk of non-payment was directly related to the “reasonableness” of charging a much higher interest rate than prevailing rates.  This created profits, fees and premiums of previously unimaginable proportions.  The bank’s depositors were expecting a very low rate of interest in exchange for what appeared as a very low risk of nonpayment from the bank.  By lending the depositor’s money to high risk borrowers whose interest rate was often expressed in multiples of the rate paid to depositors, the banks realized they could loan much less in principal than the amount given to them by the depositor leaving an enormous profit for the bank.  The only way the bank could lose money under this scenario would be if the loan was actually repaid.  Since some loans would be repaid, the banks instituted a power in the master servicer to declare a pool of loans to be in default even if many of the individual loans were not in default.  This declaration of default was passed along to investors (depositors) and borrowers alike where eventually both would in many, if not most cases, perceive the investment as a total loss without any knowledge that the banks had succeeded in grabbing “profits” that were illegal and improper regardless if one referred to common law or statutory law.

Capacity and credit are usually intertwined with the actual or stated income of the borrower.  Most borrowers and unfortunately most attorneys are under the mistaken belief that an inflated income shown on the application for the loan, subjects the borrower to potential liability for fraud.  In fact, the reverse is true.  Because of the complexity of real estate transactions, a history of common law dating back hundreds of years together with modern statutory law, requires the lender to perform due diligence in verifying the ability of the borrower to repay the loan and in assessing the viability of the loan.  Some loans had a teaser rate of a few hundred dollars per month.  The bank had full knowledge that the amount of the monthly payment would change to an amount exceeding the gross income of the borrower.   In actuality the loan had a lifespan that could only be computed by reference to the date of closing and the date that payments reset.  The illusion of a 30-year loan along with empty promises of refinancing in a market that would always increase in value, led borrowers to accept prices that were at times a multiple of the value of the property or the value of the loan.  Banks have at their fingertips numerous websites in which they can confirm the likelihood of a perspective borrower to repay the loan simply by knowing the borrower’s occupation and geographical location.  Instead, they allowed mortgage brokers to insert absurd income amounts in occupations which never generate those levels of income.  In fact, we have seen acceptance and funding of loans based upon projected income from investments that had not yet occurred where the perspective investment was part of a scam in which the mortgage broker was intimately involved.  See Merendon Mining scandal.

The Cash component of the 4 Cs.  Either you have cash or you don’t have cash.  If you don’t have cash, it’s highly unlikely that anyone would consider a substantial loan much less a deposit into a bank that was obviously about to go out of business.   This rule again was followed for centuries until the 1990s when the banks replaced the requirement of cash from the borrower with a second loan or even a third loan in order to “seal the deal”.  In short, the cash requirement was similarily inverted from past practices.  The parties involved at the closing table were all strawmen performing fees for service.  The borrower believed that a loan underwriting was taking place wherein a party was named on the note as the lender and also named in the security instrument as the secured party. The borrower believed that the closing could never have occurred but for the finding by the “underwriting lender” that the loan was proper and viable.  The people at the closing table other than the borrower, all knew that the loan was neither proper nor viable.  In many cases the borrower had just enough cash to move into a new house and perhaps purchase some window treatments.  Since the same credit game was being played at furniture stores and on credit cards, more money was given to the borrower to create fictitious transactions in which furniture, appliances, and home improvements were made at the encouragement of retailers and loan brokers.  Hence the cash requirement was also inverted from a positive to a negative with full knowledge by the alleged bank who didn’t bother to pass this knowledge on to its “depositors” (actually, investors in bogus mortgage bonds). 

Collateral is the last of the 4 Cs in conventional loan underwriting.  Collateral is used in the event that the party responsible for repayment fails to make the repayment and is unable to cure it or work out the difference with the bank.  In the case of depositors, the collateral is often viewed as the full faith and credit of the United States government as expressed by the bank’s membership in the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  For borrowers collateral refers to property which they pledge can be used or sold to satisfy obligation to repay the loan.  Normally banks send one or even two or three appraisers to visit real estate which is intended to be used as collateral.  The standard practice lenders used was to apply the lower appraisals as the basis for the maximum amount that they would lend.  The banks understood that the higher appraisals represented a higher risk that they would lose money in the event that the borrower failed to repay the loan and property values declined.  This principal was also used for hundreds of years until the 1990s when the banks, operating under the new business model described above, started to run out of people who could serve as borrowers.  Since the deposits (purchases of mortgage bonds) were pouring in, the banks either had to return the deposits or use a portion of the deposits to fund mortgages regardless of the quality of the mortgage, the cash, the collateral, the capacity or any other indicator that a normal reasonable business person would use.  The solution was to inflate the appraisals of the real estate by presenting appraisers with “an offer they couldn’t refuse”.  Either the appraiser came in with an appraisal of the real property at least $20,000 above the price being used in the contract or the appraiser would never work again.  By inflating the appraisals the banks were able to move more money and of course “earn” more fees and profits. 

The appraisals were the weakest link in the false scheme of securitization launched by the banks and still barely understood by regulators.  As the number of potential borrowers dwindled and even with the help of developers raising their prices by as much as 20% per month the appearance of a rising market collapsed in the absence of any more buyers.

Since all the banks involved were holding an Ace High Straight Flush, they were able to place bets using insurance, credit default swaps and other credit enhancements wherein a movement of as little as 8% in the value of a pool would result in the collapse of the entire pool.  This created the appearance of losses to the banks which they falsely presented to the U.S. government as a threat to the financial system and the financial security of the United States.  Having succeeded in terrorizing the executive and legislative branches and the Federal Reserve system, the banks realized that they still had a new revenue generator.  By manufacturing additional losses the government or the Federal Reserve would fund those losses under the mistaken belief that the losses were real and that the country’s future was at stake.  In fact, the country’s future is now at stake because of the perversion of the basic rules of commerce and lending stated above.  The assumption that the economy or the housing market can recover without undoing the fraud perpetrated by the banks is dangerous and false.  It is dangerous because more than 17 trillion dollars in “relief” to the banks has been provided to cover mortgage defaults which are at most estimated at 2.6 trillion.  The advantage given to the megabanks who accepted this surplus “aid” has made it difficult for community banks and credit unions to operate or compete.   The assumption is false because there is literally not enough money in the world to accomplish the dual objectives of allowing the banks to keep their ill gotten gains and providing the necessary stimulus and rebuilding of our physical and educational infrastructure.  

The simple solution that is growing more and more complex is the only way that the U.S. can recover.  With the same effort that it took in 1941 to convert an isolationist largely unarmed United States to the most formidable military power on the planet, the banks who perpetrated this fraud should be treated as terrorists with nothing less than unconditional surrender as the outcome.  The remaining 7,000 community banks and credit unions together with the existing infrastructure for electronic funds transfer will easily allow the rest of the banking community to resume normal activity and provide the capital needed for a starving economy. 

See article:  www.kcmblog.com/2012/04/05/the-4-cs-of-mortgage-underwriting-2

Student Loans Are The Next Major Crack in Our Finance

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Disclosure to Student Borrowers: www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/opinion/sunday/disclosure-to-student-borrowers.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

Editor’s Comment: 

“We have created a world of finance in which it is more lucrative to lose money and get paid by the government, than to make money and contribute to society.  In the Soviet Union the government ostensibly owned everything; in America the government is a vehicle for the banks to own everything.”—Neil F Garfield LivingLies.me

While the story below is far too kind to both Dimon and JPMorgan, it hits the bulls-eye on the current trends. And if we think that it will stop at student loans we are kidding ourselves or worse. The entire student loan mess, totaling more than $1 trillion now, was again caused by the false use of Securitzation, the abuse of government guaranteed loans, and the misinterpretation of the rules governing discharge ability of debt in bankruptcy.

First we had student loans in which the government provided financing so that our population would maintain its superior position of education, innovation and the brains of the world in getting technological and mechanical things to work right, work well and create new opportunities.

Then the banks moved in and said we will provide the loans. But there was a catch. Instead of the “private student” loan being low interest, it became a vehicle for raising rates to credit card levels — meaning the chance of anyone being able to repay the loan principal was correspondingly diminished by the increase in the payments of interest.

So the banks made sure that they couldn’t lose money by (a) selling off the debt in securitization packages and (b) passing along the government guarantee of the debt.  This was combined with the nondischargability of the debt in bankruptcy to the investors who purchased these seemingly high value high yielding bonds from noncapitalized entities that had absolutely no capacity to pay off the bonds.  The only way these issuers of student debt bonds could even hope to pay the interest or the principal was by using the investors’ own money, or by receiving the money from one of several sources — only one of which was the student borrower.

The fact that the banks managed to buy congressional support to insert themselves into the student loan process is stupid enough. But things got worse than that for the students, their families and the taxpayers. It’s as though the courts got stupid when these exotic forms of finance hit the market.

Here is the bottom line: students who took private loans were encouraged and sold on an aggressive basis to borrow money not only for tuition and books, but for housing and living expenses that could have been covered in part by part-time work. So, like the housing mess, Wall Street was aggressively selling money based upon eventual taxpayer bailouts.

Next, the banks, disregarding the reason for government guaranteed loans or exemption from discharge ability of student loan debt, elected to change the risk through securitization. Not only were the banks not on the hook, but they were once again betting on what they already knew — there was no way these loans were going to get repaid because the amount of the loans far exceeded the value of the potential jobs. In short, the same story as appraisal fraud of the homes, where the prices of homes and loans were artificially inflated while the values were declining at precipitous rate.

Like the housing fraud, the securitization was merely trick accounting without any real documentation or justification.  There are two final results that should happen but can’t because Congress is virtually owned by the banks. First, the guarantee should not apply if the risk intended to be protected is no longer present or has significantly changed. And second, with the guarantee gone, there is no reason to maintain the exemption by which student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Based on current law and cases, these are obvious conclusions that will be probably never happen. Instead, the banks will claim losses that are not their own, collect taxpayer guarantees or bailouts, and receive proceeds of insurance, credit default swaps and other credit enhancements.

Congratulations. We have created a world of finance in which it is more lucrative to lose money and get paid by the government, than to make money and contribute to the society for which these banks are allowed to exist ostensibly for the purpose of providing capital to a growing economy. So the economy is in the toilet and the government keeps paying the banks to slap us.

Did JPMorgan Pop The Student Loan Bubble?

Back in 2006, contrary to conventional wisdom, many financial professionals were well aware of the subprime bubble, and that the trajectory of home prices was unsustainable. However, because there was no way to know just when it would pop, few if any dared to bet against the herd (those who did, and did so early despite all odds, made greater than 100-1 returns). Fast forward to today, when the most comparable to subprime, cheap credit-induced bubble, is that of student loans (for extended literature on why the non-dischargeable student loan bubble will “create a generation of wage slavery” read this and much of the easily accessible literature on the topic elsewhere) which have now surpassed $1 trillion in notional. Yet oddly enough, just like in the case of the subprime bubble, so in the ongoing expansion of the credit bubble manifested in this case by student loans, we have an early warning that the party is almost over, coming from the most unexpected of sources: JPMorgan.

Recall that in October 2006, 5 months before New Century started the March 2007 collapsing dominoes that ultimately translated to the bursting of both the housing and credit bubbles several short months later, culminating with the failure of Bear, Lehman, AIG, The Reserve Fund, and the near end of capitalism ‘we know it’, it was JPMorgan who sounded a red alert, and proceeded to pull entirely out of the Subprime space. From Fortune, two weeks before the Lehman failure: “It was the second week of October 2006. William King, then J.P. Morgan’s chief of securitized products, was vacationing in Rwanda. One evening CEO Jamie Dimon tracked him down to fire a red alert. “Billy, I really want you to watch out for subprime!” Dimon’s voice crackled over King’s hotel phone. “We need to sell a lot of our positions. I’ve seen it before. This stuff could go up in smoke!” Dimon was right (as was Goldman, but that’s another story), while most of his competitors piled on into this latest ponzi scheme of epic greed, whose only resolution would be a wholesale taxpayer bailout. We all know how that chapter ended (or hasn’t – after all everyone is still demanding another $1 trillion from the Fed at least to get their S&P limit up fix, and then another, and another). And now, over 5 years later, history repeats itself: JPM is officially getting out of student loans. If history serves, what happens next will not be pretty.

American Banker brings us the full story:

U.S. Bancorp (USB) is pulling out of the private student loans market and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is sharply reducing its lending, as banking regulators step up their scrutiny of the products.

JPMorgan Chase will limit student lending to existing customers starting in July, a bank spokesman told American Banker on Friday. The bank laid off 24 employees who make sales calls to colleges as part of its decision.

The official reason:

“The private student loan market is continuing to decline, so we decided to focus on Chase customers,” spokesman Thomas Kelly says.

Ah yes, focusing on customers, and providing liquidity no doubt, courtesy of Blythe Masters. Joking aside, what JPMorgan is explicitly telling us is that it can’t make money lending out to the one group of the population where demand for credit money is virtually infinite (after all 46% of America’s 16-24 year olds are out of a job: what else are they going to?), and furthermore, with debt being non-dischargable, this is about as safe a carry trade as any, even when faced with the prospect of bankruptcy. What JPM is implicitly saying, is that the party is over, and all private sector originators are hunkering down, in anticipation of the hammer falling. Or if they aren’t, they should be.

JPM is not alone:

Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank sent a letter to participating colleges and universities saying that it would no longer be accepting student loan applications as of March 29, a spokesman told American Banker on Friday.

“We are in fact exiting the private student lending business,” U.S. Bank spokesman Thomas Joyce said, adding that the bank’s business was too small to be worthwhile.

“The reasoning is we’re a very small player, less than 1.5% of market share,” Joyce adds. “It’s a very small business for the bank, and we’ve decided to make a strategic shift and move resources.”

Which, however, is not to say that there will be no source of student loans. On Friday alone we found out that in February the US government added another $11 billion in student debt to the Federal tally, a run-rate which is now well over $10 billion a month an accelerating: a rate of change which is almost as great as the increase in Apple market cap. So who will be left picking up the pieces? Why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, funded by none other than Ben Bernanke, and headed by the same Richard Cordray that Obama shoved into his spot over Republican protests, when taking advantage of a recessed Congress.

“What we are likely to see over the next few months is a lot of private education lenders rethinking the product, particularly if it appears that the CFPB is going to become more activist,” says Kevin Petrasic, a partner with law firm Paul Hastings.

“Historically there’s been a patchwork of regulation towards private student lenders,” he adds. “The CFPB allows for a more uniform and consistent approach and identification of the issues. It also provides a network, effectively a data-gathering base that is going to enable the agency to get all the stories that are out there.”

The CFPB recently began accepting student loan complaints on its website.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of emphasis and focus … in terms of what is deemed to be fair and what is over the line with collections and marketing,” Petrasic says, warning that “the challenge for the CFPB in this area is going to be trying to figure out how to set consumer protection standards without essentially eviscerating availability of the product.”

And with all private players stepping out very actively, it only leaves the government, with its extensive system of ‘checks and balances’, to hand out loans to America’s ever more destitute students, with the reckless abandon of a Wells Fargo NINJA-specialized loan officer in 2005. What will be hilarious in 2014, when taxpayers are fuming at the latest multi-trillion bailout, now that we know that $270 billion in student loans are at least 30 days delinquent which can only have one very sad ending, is that the government will have no evil banker scapegoats to blame loose lending standards on. And why would they: after all it is this administration’s sworn Keynesian duty to make every student a debt slave in perpetuity, but only after they buy a lifetime supply of iPads. Then again by 2014 we will have far greater problems (and for most in the administration, it will be “someone else’s problem”).

For now, our advice – just do what Jamie Dimon is doing: duck and hide for cover.

Oh, and if there is a cheap student loan synthetic short out there, which has the same upside potential as the ABX did in late 2006, please advise.

Oregon AG Files Amicus Brief on MERS: Will it Matter?

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Editor’s Comment: 

There seems to be virtually universal agreement that MERS was a bad thing — but still a good idea for the banks that profited from the fake securitzation scheme that hid behind the MERS curtain. The same agreement may be found with respect to fabricated, forged, Robo-signed documents in the chain of title. But I wonder if we are not being led down a rabbit hole. Saying they were bad is very different from giving homeowners actual relief. Homeowners are going to start winning cases only when they focus on what very judge knows — there are only two ways to discharge a legitimate debt — PAYMENT AND WAIVER. if you can attack the legitimacy of the debt, so much the better.

 

Millions of foreclosures have been finalised. There are two possible conclusions that Courts and Legislatures can reach regarding these foreclosures — (1) the loans were valid obligations that went unpaid and (2) the loans were not valid obligations (and perhaps they WERE paid).

 

If we assume that the obligations were both valid and unpaid at the time of the foreclosure, it seems obvious to me that the Courts and Legislatures are going to carve out some doctrine or exception that lets the wrongful Foreclosures stand and allows the future ones to proceed. And all the bad, defective and fraudulent paperwork in the world will be no impediment to creditors being paid money or property that would otherwise be lost. At most, perpetrators of such paperwork fraud will be subject to fine and forfeiture but the true creditors are not going to be deprived of repayment on the basis of the “mistakes” of intermediaries and agents in the paperwork.

 

If we assume the obligations were neither valid nor unpaid at the time of foreclosure then we have something else entirely. The wrongful foreclosures MUST be reversed and future foreclosures MUST be stopped — but only if there is no debt and therefore no default at the time of foreclosure. The faulty, fraudulent, forged, fabricated paperwork becomes part of a total case in which the debtor’s denial of the debt and denial of the default. But the reason the borrower wins is because there was no debt and there was no default. Lawyers for the homeowners are frequently making the mistake of relying upon legal argument rather than bookkeeping and accounting to show that the foreclosure is wrongful.

 

A wrongful foreclosure then should be defined not just as one in which the documentation was done poorly but because the homeowner didn’t owe the money and/or was not in default. This is easier than you might think, but it is intimidating to lawyers and borrowers. After all they know as well as anyone that they received a loan and they know they stopped making scheduled payments. How can they deny the debt? How can they deny the default?

 

The legal answer is that a person is ot a debtor and is not a borrower on a debt that isn’t due. And a debtor or borrower is not in default on a scheduled payment that is already paid or is not due. So how do you get the Judge’s attention on these issues?

 

The simple answer to those questions is the same answer to how can the banks lie like that and get away with it in Court or in the media? Because they can and there are no consequences to them for lying — unless the homeowner borrower has the staying power to get to the end of the case or at least into discovery where the judge enters an order demanding a full accounting starting with the creditor (not the servicer) all the way through the entire securitization chain through at least a dozen parties including (but not limited to) the borrower.

 

If the banks get stuck with a fine or sanctions, even if it is in the millions of dollars, it is only in one case. A handful of wrongful foreclosures easily pays for that.

 

The borrower too can make such allegations and deny the allegations of the other side with impunity until it is shown that the allegations were frivolous in which case the borrower will be hit with the same sanctions that have been paid by Wells, US Bank, BOA, Chase, Citi etc. The point is that if you deny the debt and the default with a straight face (same as the banks lie through their lawyers), the judge has no choice but to let the case go forward. Show the same temerity as the banks and the tables will turn.

 

So how can you deny the debt and the default with a straight face? It’s easy. Bring a third party report that can stand up under cross examination. The report should say that the transaction referred to in the note and mortgage never occurred and that the real creditor was being paid, without documentation, at the same time the pretender lenders were declaring a default.

 

You don’t try to get the judge to accept the report as true. Your point is that your side of the facts is entitled to the same repsect as the pretender side until it comes time to show real evidence. Thus you have denied the debt and denied the default. The answer to the obvious questions are that you never borrowed the money from the party shown as lender on the origination documents, you never borrowed money from the new party seeking to foreclose and there never was a transaction at any time in which a loan was purchased for actual money exchanging hands.

 

These are factual matters and you will prove them in most cases with the help of the Combo title and securitization report, the loan level accounting and the forensic analysis. If the “lender” was a straw-man you have a right to pursue the basis or authority for an assignment, allonge, endorsement, substitution of trustee and most of all a “credit bid” at auction. Our experience shows that every time a judge enters an order requiring the other side to fess up and show cash transactions and the whole money trail, they collapse.

 

The singular fact that few people have noted is that none of these cases go to trial. If the pretender banks and pretender servicers actually had the evidence to prove their case you would think they would be chomping at the bit to prove their case. Doing so would downgrade all the wrongful foreclosure complaints to mere technical arguments designed to get a dead beat debtor out a legitimate debt. But they can’t.

 

They claimed ownership when it came to receiving insurance proceeds, and the rewards of bailouts and credit default swaps. They claim agency when it comes to sanctions and counterclaims for predatory lending, appraisal fraud, and identity theft. So when it comes to receiving money, they claim to be the “principal” but when it comes to liability they claim to be only the “agent”. The debts — including those that might never go into “default” have been paid in full, renegotiated, settled to the satisfaction of the creditors. Or the creditors have elected to pursue payment from the investment bankers instead of the homeowners.

 

Either way, the debt is non-existent, paid, settled, or waived which means there is no legitimate basis for collection or foreclosure against the homeowner borrower. But if you allege that there is no right to foreclose because of bad paperwork, nobody is going to listen. Why should they?

MERS | Orgegon DOJ Attorney General John Kroger files an amicus brief in an Oregon foreclosure lawsuit pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Amicus Curae-Oregon AG

 

 

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

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY, STUPID!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are the terms of the securitization documentation important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deutsch Bank Inquiry Reveals Insider Influence by Paulson

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Editor’s Comment: At the end of the day, everyone knows everything. The billions that Paulson made are directly attributable to his ability to instruct Deutsch and others as to what should be put into the Credit Default Swaps and other hedge products that comprised his portfolio. He did this because they let him — and then he traded on what he not only knew, he was trading on what he had done — all to the detriment of the investors who had purchased mortgage bonds and other exotic instruments.
The singular question that comes out of all this is what happened to the money? Judges are fond of saying that there was a loan, it wasn’t paid and the borrower is the one who didn’t pay it. Everything else is just window dressing that can be addressed through lawsuits amongst the securitization participants so why should a lowly Judge sitting in on a foreclosure case mess with any of that?
The reason is that the debt, contrary to the Judges assumption (with considerable encouragement from the banks and servicers) was never owed to the originator or the intermediaries who were conduits in the funding of the loan. The debt was owed to the investor-lender. And those who are attempting to foreclose are illegally inserting themselves into mortgage documentation in which they have no interest directly or indirectly.
If they are owed money, which many of them are not because they waived the right of recovery from the homeowner, it is through an action for restitution or unjust enrichment, not mortgage foreclosure. Banks and servicers are intentionally blurring the distinction between the actual creditor-lender and those other parties who were co-obligees on the mortgage bond in order to get the benefit of of foreclosure on a loan they did not fund or purchase.
So how does that figure in to what happened here. Paulson an outside to the transaction with investors and an outside to the investors in the bogus loan products sold to homeowners, arranges a bet that the mortgages were fail. He is essentially selling the loans short with delivery later after they fail and are worth pennies. But the Swap doesn’t require delivery, so he just gets the money. The fees he paid for the SWAP are buried into the income statement of Deutsch in this case. So it looks like a transaction like a horse-race where you place a bet — win or lose you don’t get the horse and you don’t have to feed him either.
But in order for this transaction to occur, the money received by Deutsch and the money paid to Paulson must be the subject of a detailed accounting. Without a COMBO Title and Securitization search and Loan Level Accounting, you won’t see the whole picture — you only see the picture that the servicer presents in foreclosure which is snapshot of only the borrower payments, not the payments and receipts relating to the mortgage loan, which as we all know were never owned by Deutsch or anyone else because the transfer papers were never executed, delivered or recorded without fabrication and forgery.
Paulson is an extreme case where claw-back of that money will be fought tooth and nail. But that money was ill-gotten gains arranged by Paulson based upon insider information, that directly injured the investor-lenders who were still buying this stuff and directly injured the borrowers who were never credited with the money that either was received by the investor creditors, or should have been received or credited tot hem because the money was received on their behalf.
Once you factor in the third party obligee payments as set forth in the PSA and Prospectus, you will find that we have a choice: either the banks get to keep the money they stole from investors and borrowers, or the money must be returned. If it must be returned, then a portion of that should go to reducing the debt, as per the requirements of the note, for payment received by the creditor, whether or not it was paid by the borrower.
BOTTOM LINE: Securitization never happened. And the money that was passed around like a whiskey bottle (see Mike Stuckey’s article in 2009) has never been subject to an accounting. Your job, counselor, is not to prove that all this true, but to prove that you have a reasonable belief that the debt has been paid in whole or in part to the creditor and that the default doesn’t exist. This creates the issue of fact that allows you to proceed the next stage of litigation, including discovery where most of these cases settle. They settle because the intermediaries who are bringing these actions are doing so without authority or even interest from the investor-creditors.
What is needed, is a direct path between investor creditors and homeowners debtors to settle up and compare notes. This is what the banks and servicers are terrified about. When the books are compared, everyone will know how much is missing, that the investors should be paid in full and that the therefore  the debt does not exist as set forth in the closing papers with the borrower. Watch this Blog for an announcement for a program that provides just such a path — where investors and borrowers can get together, compare notes, settle up, modify or mediate their claims, leaving the investors in MUCH better position and a content homeowner who no longer needs to fear that his world, already turned upside down, will get worse.
It may still be that the homeowner borrower has on obligation, but it isn’t to the creditor that loaned the money that funded the mortgage loan. Any such debt is with a third party obligee whose cause of action has been intentionally blurred so that the pretenders can pretend that they have rights under a mortgage or deed of trust in which they have no interest on a deal where they was no transfer or sale.

SEC looks into Deutsche Bank CDO shorted by Paulson

Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Deutsche Bank is facing an SEC investigation for its role in structuring a synthetic CDO, according to a report by Der Spiegel. The German publication states that the bank’s actions in raising a CDO under its Start programme will come under question after it allegedly allowed hedge fund Paulson to select assets to go into the fund. The bank is then said to have neglected to have told investors about Paulson’s role in the transaction as well as concealing the fact that the hedge fund had taken a short position on the assets, allowing it to profit as the deal collapsed.
According to the article, Goldman Sachs settled a similar case with the SEC for $500 million regarding Goldman’s role in arranging an Abacus CDO.

 

Reuters: Ex-Credit Suisse Manager Pleads Guilty in Subprime Bond Probe

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Editor’s Comment: So SOMEONE is going to jail for up to five years. But the meat of this lies between the lines.
First, it was a conspiracy charge. You can’t run a PONZI scheme the size of the Madoff scheme without channels that are sending “marks” to you to “invest.” The securitization scam is several hundred times the size of the Madoff scam, and that means there were literally thousands of traders and managers who knew that they were acting improperly — illegally, that is.
Second, Higgs told a Federal Judge that his criminal behavior consisted of manipulation and inflation of the cash bond position markings in his tradings book (called ABNI), in order to hide the losses. Most people will never know what that means. It simply means that the trades were kept out of the system where losses would be easily apparent.
There are numerous reports that the book was kept literally in pencil on paper, so they could change the contents or destroy the book if that became necessary. This is why tracking the the actual money trail becomes challenging but it can be done through what one of our senior analysts calls “reverse engineering. IN other words, take the money going into the system and see where it went or where the trail ends. This will give you sufficient clues to determine whether payments in part or in whole were made to REMICS upon whose behalf foreclosures are being filed. In most cases, the figures are wrong, the debt to the investor has been paid in whole or in part, and there is no default. That is why we do the loan level accounting for those readers who are willing to fight about it.
Sadly, this guy seems like the fall guy for what was ordered by his managers. HIs statement that he fooled Credit Suisse management rings hollow when you compare the facts and the the history of the business. It simply isn’t possible for these events to occur without senior management knowing what was going on. Their mantra is plausible deniability. Soon you will see other people, like Higgs, who “flip” and testify against the large Banks upon which they depended for employment at rates of compensation that were too high — unless you factor in the hush money.

Ex-Credit Suisse manager pleads guilty in subprime probe

NEW YORK |

(Reuters) – A former London-based Credit Suisse trader pleaded guilty to a criminal conspiracy charge on Wednesday, and he is cooperating with a U.S. government investigation on writedowns of subprime mortgage derivatives at the height of the financial crisis.

David Higgs told a federal judge in New York that while he was a managing director in the investment banking division of Credit Suisse in 2007 and 2008, he and others manipulated and inflated the cash bond position markings of a trading book, called ABNI, in order to hide losses.

“As a result of my actions, senior management of Credit Suisse was given the false impression that the ABNI book was profitable and caused Credit Suisse to report false year-end numbers for 2007 in their books and records,” Higgs said in court. “I did this because I wanted to remain in good favor with my boss, Kareem Seregeldin, and enhance my job performance.”

Higgs said Seregeldin and others he did not identify had known about the manipulation and assisted in it.

Higgs faces a maximum possible prison sentence of up to 5 years on the charge of conspiracy to commit falsification of books and records and to commit wire fraud. He was released on a $500,000 bond and will be allowed to return to his home in Britain while the investigation continues.

(Reporting By Grant McCool; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Nevada AG Asks Pointed Questions to DOJ and HUD

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See Full Letter from Masto to DOJ and HUD Here 1-27-12

Hawaii did it, Nevada did it and now other states are doing it. Seeing the devastating effect on the state economy and the ensuing effects on the nation’s economy and the world finance, State Attorney generals are taking matters into their own hands, and pressing the points that hurt. The Banks don’t like it because it undermined their narrative. This year, 2012, is the year when most of the truth will come out and it will blow your mind to find out just how pernicious and pervasive this false, faked, securitization has been.

The number of foreclosures has plummeted in those states that have put up a fight. Why? Not because they were banned but because those states that require proof of authority to foreclose, proof of the accounting and the proof of settlement or the ability to mediate, have all but eliminated foreclosures. Now the question is how do we correct the corruption of the the title registries, get people restored to their homes and force the pretenders to compensate victims of fraud, forgery, and outright theft.

Catherine Cortez Masto has mastered the basics of securitization and she, like Beau Biden in Delaware, Schneiderman in New York, Coakley in Maine and others don’t like what they see — corroboration of some of the worst nightmares of conspiracy theorists.

It won’t be long before the investigations get traction and start picking up steam. Indictments will follow but not for a few months, at least.

You will hear words from these prosecutors that you never thought you would hear about the banks conduct, the transfer of wealth through theft, and the commission of crimes  too numerous to list here. As the momentum picks up, you will see thousands convicted, jailed, defrocked from their law license, notary license, appraisal license, title license and even the license to do business in the states where they thought they had a lock on the whole thing. People are wide awake right now and when Americans awaken, things happen fast.

Here are some of the more important questions and my comments that were posed in a recently released letter to Thomas J. Perrelli at the U.S. Department of Justice and Shaun Donovan as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It would be a good idea to take out those template discovery forms you have for clients and start your revisions. Stop assuming that anything the Banks said was true and start assuming the everything they said was false — including the losses they claimed to get the bailouts.

  1. What origination conduct did the federal agencies not release? [That's not my question, it is Masto's question. This is a direct frontal assault on the complicity of the Federal government in the mortgage mess. Inherently it addresses the issue of whether the origination process violated law, rules or regulations and whether there is a valid lien on most properties that were financed with investor money.]
  2. The State release refers to “…brother and sister corporations…” Please provide some clarity as to this particular phrase as used in the state release. [Masto is not going to be papered over by vague wording that could mean anything. She wants to know what went on. Where did the money go, and who were the parties involved?]
  3. The State release contains a provision that prevents the State AG’s and banking regulators from seeking to invalidate past assignments or foreclosures. Does this prevent States from effectively challenging future foreclosure actions that are based upon faulty prior assignments? [Masto nails it on the head. First of all this is AMNESTY for the Banks who committed crimes and want the government to ratify the crime since the government was complicit in allowing, creating and promoting the crime. It does nothing to clear up the title problems that currently exist or that will exist if the faulty assignments contain not only forgeries but fabrications of the truth of the transactions inherently referred to within the instruments.]
  4. Paraphrasing Masto, when will the results of existing investigations be made public — or do you want us to take your word for it that there are or are not weapons of mass financial destruction still hidden in the pile?
  5. Paraphrasing Masto, how will we be able toe enforce the new servicing standards or are we taking the word of the Banks and servicers who lied to us consistently up until this point in time?
  6. Paraphrasing Masto, how and when will consumers get relief if they were victims of fraud, chicanery and theft?
  7. Under what circumstances will the Monitor be able to access servicers source documents, i.e., the documents that form the underlying basis for the work papers? [Of course Masto knows that she will never see the source documents because they would contradict everything the Banks and servicers have said up until this point, one of many reasons she will not participate in the multi-state settlement.]
  8. What kind of data will the monitor be able to demand regarding the allocation and performance of servicers’ modification/other consumer relief? What compliance or enforcement provisions address the Monitor’s and States’ ability to enforce the consumer relief provisions? Before the claim of securitization of mortgage debt that never in fact was completed, there were simple formulas to determine whether the workout was good or bad for the lender. Now the servicers are using excuses like “everyone will do it” if they accept modifications, even though the proposed modifications i results in proceeds that are much higher than the results of foreclosure. So the real question is whether the consideration of modifications requires (a) authority and (b) no discretion if the proposed modification exceeds x% of fair market value of the collateral. If accepted, this change would have eliminated 2/3 of all the past foreclosures and 90% of the future ones.
  9. Please explain the assumptions on which the settlement value chart relies. It describes a maximum expected benefit; what is the minimum expected benefit? Can we get a range of values for each state.? [And what data exists showing the true liability for false, fraudulent, fabricated loans and foreclosures to compare with the settlement?]
  10. Paraphrasing Masto, how do these detailed formulas actually work in real life? What will be the effect on blighted areas and how can we as AG’s determine what risk is associated with acceptance of an agreement in which the probability of millions more foreclosures will take place under false pretenses, only to become abandoned property?

 

Fannie and Freddie Preventing Modifications and Betting Against Modifications at the Same Time

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Freddie Mac, Deutsche Bank Caught Up In Securities Allegations

By: David Dayen See Full Article on FIredoglake.com

One reason why I don’t think we should particularly accept a six-month timeline on significant action from the RMBS working group is that there’s so much already in the public record. I recognize that criminal or civil enforcement actions take voluminous legal work and due diligence, but quite a bit of it has already been done. The FCIC referred criminal fraud violations a year ago. Gretchen Morgenson notes all the evidence from private litigation that can be leveraged and used. And Pro Publica, in conjunction with NPR, offers this up today, which is somewhat tangential to what Eric Schneiderman wants to delve into because it’s post-crash conduct, but which still shows the element we’re dealing with and how many revelations are already out there:

Freddie Mac has invested billions of dollars betting that U.S. homeowners won’t be able to refinance their mortgages at today’s lower rates, according to an investigation by NPR and ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom [...]

In December, Freddie’s chief executive, Charles Haldeman, assured Congress his company is “helping financially strapped families reduce their mortgage costs through refinancing their mortgages.”

But public documents show that in 2010 and 2011, Freddie Mac set out to make gains for its own investment portfolio by using complex mortgage securities that brought in more money for Freddie Mac when homeowners in higher interest-rate loans were unable to qualify for a refinancing.

Those trades “put them squarely against the homeowner,” PIMCO’s Simon says.

Bascially, Freddie trapped its own borrowers, denying them refinances. And they stood to benefit from that, because the higher interest rates meant bigger streams of income from their MBS.

This may seem like a sidelight to the securitization bubble, but indeed, we’ve seen many instances of investment banks taking one side of a mortgage-backed securities bet, and selling investors the other side, without disclosure. That’s securities fraud. It’s been litigated. The SEC has been giving out settlements like candy for this kind of conduct. But it’s a central part of the unscrupulous behavior on Wall Street. You can see this today in the fact that the SEC is only now getting around to investigating CDOs from Deutsche Bank when Robert Khuzami, the current head of enforcement at the SEC and a co-chair of the RMBS working group, was working there as general counsel.

That brings up a whole other element about trusting the guys who swept this conduct under the rug to properly investigate it. But the larger point is that there’s a lot already on the table. In a sense, you may not need massive resources for this, because they can just pick up where others left off.

My reporting shows that Schneiderman actually has a few announcements on enforcement coming in the next few weeks. We don’t have to wait months. We can judge the seriousness of this thing pretty quickly.

 

Using UDCPA Fair Debt Collection Acts to get Money, Information and Fees

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RIPE AREA FOR STEADY INCOME FOR LAWYERS REPRESENTING HOMEOWNERS

Editor’s Comment: One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. You have both a private right of action against the debt collector and the right to apply to the FTC to set up administrative hearings, where these cases should probably be heard by experienced hearing officers who know what they are looking at.

The practice of playing the numbers on debt collection has been around for a long time. Whether the debt is real or not, there is a statute of limitations, bankruptcies and other obstacles to collection. A lot of times the debt is now owed at all, but byb pestering customers, the collection agency gets some money out of them, which they keep because they have already bought the portfolio at pennies or less on the dollar.

This is where servicers and other intermediaries in the fake securitization chain are going to get into hot water. The debt was created when the investor loaned the borrower the money. The intermediaries are by definition debt collectors under the UDCPA and they are, and have been banged for fines many times on individual cases.

This is an instance where the Obama administration is attacking the practice head-on and taking away their toys. So when the pretender lender comes knocking, it isn’t just a RESPA 6 (Qualified Written Request) that you send out, it is a UDCPA letter you send demanding to know both the identity and contact information for the creditor. As you can see from this article, failure to provide you with that information  plus the balance due and how it was computed, is a violation of that Federal Statute.

It might also be a shortcut way of identifying the pretender not as holder of the note but as agent for an undisclosed principal seeking to collect on a note that was defective in the first place because they did not identify the correct creditor (in violation of TILA) and it did not provide you with a proper accounting showing exactly what this “creditor” received that would reduce your loan balance.

The MAIN point here is that the servicer might well be the one sending you the notice of delinquency swhen they have performed zero due diligence as to the creditor’s accounting. Where the servicer itself or some other party is keeping the account current, as is often the case, the loan is neither delinquent nor susceptible to being declared in default — but they do it anyway.

Now that the FTC has declared war on debt collectors who perform illegally, and banged them with this fine, we can invoke the same administrative procedures and grievances with the FTC as to the collection efforts on mortgages where the “collector” is not the creditor and where the money demanded is not actually shown as due.

There is a presumption that if you didn’t make the payment as set forth in the note, then you must be delinquent and you must be declared (at some point) in default. But that is not true in most cases. There can only be a delinquency or default under the mortgage loan if the borrower has failed to make a payment or cure a payment that is actually due. If the payment has been made already, then no such payment is due, regardless of whether it came from the borrower or not.

This is why you need to know the four legs of the stool in order to object, sue, defend, and present genuine issues of fact before a trial court that will have no choice but to allow you to proceed to discovery. Discovery is where these cases settle because the pretenders know they didn’t fund the loan, they didn’t pay for the loan and the creditor has been paid in whole or in part, with a lower or zero balance remaining.

Just for reminders, the four legs of the stool are:

  1. The loan closing papers with the investors under which he agrees to advance funds into a pool in exchange for a note or bond from a REMIC (which is never properly constituted). Here the investors expects that the money advanced will be used for funding mortgages conforming with the standards set forth in the prospectus and pooling and servicing agreement. Note that there is no nexus or connection between the investor and the borrower because the borrower usually does not even exist at that point in time. If a nexus ever arises, it is when the loan is transferred into the pool, something which we all now know was never done until the loan went into litigation or foreclosure — obviously in violation of the cut-off date required by the IRS REMIC statute, and the concurrent cut-off date in the PSA. But more importantly is the money angle — the investors didn’t advance money for loans that were delinquent or in default. They invested their money for good quality performing loans. Thus there is no way that the loans could be transferred into the pools if they were already declared problematic, delinquent, or non-performing. The failure to provide a nexus between borrower and lender (investor) is fatal to the enforcement of the mortgage lien. The creditor has no interest in the loan and doesn’t want one. Any claim from third parties who also have no nexus with the borrower would be on causes of action that are separate or apart from the mortgage lien. (SEE COMBO TITLE AND SECURITIZATION REPORT ABOVE)
  2. The loan closing papers with the borrower(s), which are subject to roughly the same analysis with identical result. There is no nexus between the borrower and the investor because neither one knows the other, despite requirements in the TILA and RESPA laws that require disclosure of parties and their compensation. (SEE FORENSIC ANALYSIS TILA+ REPORT on Livinglies-store.com) The note does not describe the actual monetary transaction between the investor lender and the borrower. Instead it inserts a straw-man as “lender” and a straw-man as “beneficiary”. This usually takes the form of a new animal in mortgage lending called an “originator” who is a paid fee service provider whose sole duty is to pretend to be the lender, even though they never funded the loan, never bought the loan and never had any interest in the debt, the note or the mortgage. This is deemed by many in the title industry as a corrupted document that breaks the chain of title if any action was taken on such a loan in foreclosure. 
  3. The actual money trail which varies from both the requirements set forth in the paperwork with the investor lender and the paperwork with the homeowner borrower. A full accounting would show that the parties in the middle without any interest in the loan, bought, sold, transferred and used those fabricated, forged documents to initiate foreclosure and eviction proceedings. Under the investor documentation, the pretenders are allowed to use a legal PONZI scheme in which the investors money is used to pay him his interest income, although it is not reported as such. The servicer also has the option of taking money from other revenue and pools and paying certain investors in complete  violation of the explicit requirements of any standard promissory note from a borrower requiring that payments be credited to the account of the borrower. Instead, they make the payment and do not credit the borrower or they receive the money and they pay neither the investors nor the give credit to the borrowers. (see Loan Level Accounting REPORT on Livinglies-store.com). The servicers and intermediaries and attempting, with some success to take over the position of the investor without an assignment from the investor, and enforce a mortgage to which they are not a party.
  4. The Fourth legal of the stool arises from the false representations made in court or foreclosure proceedings. These representations made by people who purport to be authorized to substitute trustees, or file notice of defaults, notice of sales, notice of evictions, or lawsuits for all of those in judicial states, turn out to be at variance with all three of the other legs of the stool — the investor paperwork, the borrower’s paperwork and the actual money trail. 

Using a service like Elite Litigation Management services or others to present the matrix, which we also offer at livinglies-store.com, dial 480-405-1688, and you can present a poster-size board that shows a number of the discrepancy between all four legs of the stool, thus giving rise to the question of fact necessary to get to the next step in litigation. remember, if you go in thinking you have a magic bullet that will end your case, you are dreaming of a better worked than the one we have.

F.T.C. Fines a Collector of Debt $2.5 Million

See Full Article on New York Times and Firedoglake.com
By

The Federal Trade Commission signaled on Monday that it would continue to crack down on debt collectors who harass consumers for money they may not even be legally obligated to pay.

In the second-largest penalty ever levied on a debt collector, the F.T.C. said that Asset Acceptance, one of the nation’s largest debt collection companies, had agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty to settle charges that the company deceived consumers when trying to collect old debts.

The settlement is part of a broader effort to patrol the industry, agency officials said.

“Our attention to debt collection has increased over the past couple of years because the complaints have been on the rise,” said J. Reilly Dolan, assistant director for the F.T.C.’s division of financial practices.

Consumer complaints about debt collection companies consistently rank as the second-highest category among all complaints at the agency, behind identity theft. But in 2010, complaints jumped 17 percent to 140,036, which represented 11 percent of all complaints in the commission’s database, up from 119,540, or about 9 percent of complaints, in 2009.

Asset Acceptance, based in Warren, Mich., was charged with a variety of complaints, including failing to tell consumers that they could no longer be sued for failing to pay some debts because the debts were too old. The company’s collectors also failed to inform consumers that paying even a small portion of the amount owed would revive the debt — in other words, making a payment would extend the amount of time the collector could legally sue.

Debt collectors have only a certain number of years to sue consumers. The statute of limitations varies by state, but typically ranges from two to 15 years, Mr. Dolan said, beginning when a consumer fails to make a payment. But borrowers often do not realize that making a payment on the old debt may restart the clock.

Among other things, the complaint also contended that the company — which buys unpaid debts for pennies on the dollar from credit card companies, health clubs and telecommunications and utility providers and tries to collect them — reported inaccurate information about the consumers to the credit reporting agencies. It also said that Asset Acceptance failed to conduct a reasonable investigation when it was notified by one of the credit agencies that a debt was being disputed. Moreover, the complaint says that the company used illegal collection practices and that it continued to try to collect debts that consumers disputed even though the company failed to verify that the debt was valid.

The proposed settlement with Asset Acceptance requires the company to tell consumers whose debt may be too old to be collected that it will not sue. It also requires the company to investigate disputed debts and to ensure it has a reasonable basis for its claims before going after the consumer. It is also barred from placing debt on credit reports without notifying the consumer.

The penalty “is certainly a slap on the wrist and probably a little bit more, but it really depends on what the F.T.C. does to enforce this in the coming months and years,” said Robert Hobbs, deputy director at the National Consumer Law Center and author of “Fair Debt Collection” (National Consumer Law Center, 1987). But “it is a great step forward. It is not self-enforcing, and it has a mechanism for the F.T.C. to follow up.”

Still, while the settlement requires the company to take more responsibility for checking the statute of limitations before it contacts consumers, he said most states did not require debt collectors to do that. That means it is up to consumers to know the rules on the statute of limitations, which, he said, can be “an enormously complex legal question.”

In a statement, Asset Acceptance said that the settlement ended an F.T.C. investigation that began nearly six years ago, and that the company did not admit to any of the allegations. “We are pleased to have this matter behind us, and to have clarity on the F.T.C.’s policies and expectations of the debt collection industry,” said Rion Needs, president and chief executive of Asset Acceptance.

In March, another leading debt collection company, West Asset Management, agreed to pay $2.8 million, the largest civil penalty ever levied by the F.T.C., to settle charges that its collection techniques violated the law. The commission charged that West Asset’s collectors often called consumers multiple times a day, sometimes using rude and abusive language, about accounts that were not theirs. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the F.T.C. now share enforcement authority for debt collection companies, though the new bureau has a power that the F.T.C. did not: it can write new rules for debt collectors. But F.T.C. officials said that debt collection enforcement would remain a top priority.

 

Are the Prosecutions Real or Just PR for an Election Year?

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Private Litigants Still Doing the Heavy Lifting that Government Should be Doing

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By

PRESIDENT OBAMA told the nation last week that he was convening a task force to investigate the abusive practices in the mortgage industry that led to our economic woes. Both lending and the practice of bundling loans into securities will come under scrutiny, he said, adding: “This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.”

Some greeted this new task force — its unwieldy name is the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group — with skepticism. It is an election year, after all, and many might wonder if this is just a public-relations response to the outrage against the institutions and executives that almost wrecked the economy.

If this task force nailed some big names, and soon, it would help to allay deep suspicions that the authorities have given powerful people and institutions a pass during this awful episode.

Such bars typically last five years, but some are permanent. The S.E.C.’s settlement with Angelo Mozilo, 73, former head of Countrywide Financial, barred him from acting as a director or officer of a public company for the rest of his life.

Some cases on the list are still being litigated. Those that have been settled have generated $1.97 billion in penalties, disgorgement and other monetary relief, according to the S.E.C. Harmed investors have received $355 million of that.

Drilling into the details, though, indicates that little of this money was paid by individuals. The payments came from companies, or more precisely, their shareholders.

Talk about making the wrong people pay.

Only one of the cases seems to involve a clawback of executive compensation. It’s the 2009 case against three former top executives of New Century Financial, a quintessential Wild West lender. Together, the three paid $1.5 million when settling charges of making false and misleading statements about the company’s soundness as it imploded.

If this is justice, it’s certainly not rough. Brad Morrice, the company’s former chief executive, returned just $542,000 to regulators; he took home at least $2.9 million in incentive pay in the two years before New Century collapsed.

It seems obvious that until executives are forced to dig deep into their own pockets to pay penalties in these matters, they will be tempted to take as many risks as possible to generate fat paychecks. Then they will move on to the next opportunity.

The S.E.C. is clearly proud of its financial crisis cases. But comparing its tally with the mountainous evidence produced in private lawsuits shows how much more work there is to be done.

Consider the most recent complaint filed by the Assured Guaranty Corporation, an insurer of mortgage securities, against Bear Stearns, the defunct brokerage firm; EMC, Bear’s mortgage origination and servicing unit; and JPMorgan Chase, which bought Bear in March 2008.

Filed in November, the complaint shows what kinds of revealing material can be dug up by determined investigators.

The complaint contends that Bear Stearns knew it was stuffing its mortgage-backed securities with crummy loans. It cites an e-mail written by a former EMC analyst in the unit that dealt with these instruments. “I have been toying with the idea of writing a book about our experiences,” the analyst wrote. “Think of all of the crap that went on and how nobody outside of the company would believe us … the fact that data was constantly changing and we sold loans without the data being correct — wouldn’t investors who bought the MBS’s want to know that?”

Indeed they would.

Discovery in the case also identifies top executives who oversaw the mortgage machine that felled Bear Stearns. Thomas F. Marano, senior managing director and designated principal of the mortgage- and asset-backed securities department, was “well aware of the amount of risk that was being taken on in terms of acquiring assets and … the activities with respect to securitization,” the complaint said, citing a Bear Stearns executive’s deposition.

The complaint also contends that John Mongelluzzo, the Bear Stearns vice president for due diligence, misled investigators for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission when he described the extensive vetting the company did when it bundled mortgages.

Mr. Mongelluzzo told the commission that Bear Steams tested “all of the due diligence firms and their contract underwriters, and if they couldn’t pass the underwriting test, they weren’t permitted to work on our transactions,” the complaint said. He also told the investigators that the company “instituted a process where we went out and audited the individual diligence firms to see what their processes were and what they were doing internally as well.”

But in a subsequent deposition, Mr. Mongelluzzo conceded that Bear had not started to test its underwriters until February 2007, well after the mortgage market had begun crumbling, and that it didn’t begin its audit program of due diligence vendors until April 2007.

Mr. Marano is now chairman and chief executive of Residential Capital, the mortgage unit of Ally Financial. Mr. Mongelluzzo is an executive there as well. Both declined to comment.

It is to be expected that investigators for private law firms will turn up loads of ammunition to help them in their court battles. But in the past, law enforcement was similarly aggressive in its own pursuits.

Now, the balance seems to have shifted, with private litigants doing more legal heavy lifting than those who serve the public.

Perhaps the new working group will right this imbalance. But its members don’t have a lot of time, with the election coming. Private litigants have drawn a pretty clear road map for the places that this new group might go. Its leaders should welcome the assistance, given that the clock is ticking.

Cuomo Appoints New Cop: Homeowners Hopeful That Truth Will be Revealed

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Expanding Reach, Cuomo Creates Second Cop on Financial Beat

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ALBANY — Benjamin M. Lawsky is not the attorney general of New York State.

But one could be forgiven for being confused. Since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo installed him as superintendent of a new state agency, the Department of Financial Services, which became active in October, Mr. Lawsky has been making headlines normally associated with attorneys general.

He has forced insurers to turn over more than $100 million in unpaid death benefits to surviving family members, dispatched rafts of subpoenas to banks, and pressed lenders to curb abusive foreclosure practices.

Critics say the new financial services agency reflects Mr. Cuomo’s expansive view of his executive powers, which he has continually sought to strengthen during his 13 months in office. They also see an attempt by the governor to encroach on the turf of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a fellow Democrat with whom Mr. Cuomo has had a precarious relationship.

Supporters say it is an auspicious time to have two cops on the financial beat — after all, the agency, which subsumed the existing Banking and Insurance Departments, came into being as the Occupy Wall Street movement was finding its footing and focusing its critique on those very industries.

Mr. Lawsky, in his first few months on the job, is using a playbook that he helped write as a top lieutenant in the attorney general’s office when Mr. Cuomo held that post, gravitating toward headline-grabbing cases while looking for negotiated solutions with industry executives.

“We set our priorities here often simply based on what the big issues are,” Mr. Lawsky, 41, said in an interview. “Does that come from the world of Andrew Cuomo? Yes, because government shouldn’t be a waste of time. Government should be about making a difference in people’s lives.”

For his part, Mr. Schneiderman has not allowed himself to be rolled over.

Last year, he helped beat back an effort by Mr. Cuomo’s office to give Mr. Lawsky and the new agency even more expansive powers that would have cut into the heart of the attorney general’s jurisdiction. The governor’s proposal, which would have allowed Mr. Lawsky to investigate violations of the Martin Act, the sweeping state securities law used by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his successors to pursue financial malfeasance, alarmed Wall Street and even academics.

Writing in The New York Law Journal, Jonathan R. Macey, a Yale Law School professor, called it “a naked and highly suspicious power grab.”

And in a recent interview, John C. Coffee Jr., a law professor at Columbia University, put it this way: “Cuomo made his fame as attorney general, and he sort of treated that jurisdiction as portable and took it with him as governor.”

The Cuomo administration backed off, dropping the Martin Act provision. Nonetheless, the new agency, besides absorbing two major regulatory bodies, has gained a number of new powers. It has broader authority to fight fraud beyond the insurers and state-chartered banks it licenses, and its reach has extended to all manner of financial products, including student lending, credit cards and tax refund anticipation loans.

Eric R. Dinallo, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton and former state insurance superintendent, likened the new agency to the Securities and Exchange Commission, in the way it combines regulation and enforcement under one roof.

“It’s not common to have a combined regulatory and enforcement function,” he said, adding, “It’s effectively very competitive with the attorney general’s jurisdiction.”

The two agencies are publicly cordial, but behind the scenes they are much like two boxers feeling each other out in an opening round. Already, turfs are overlapping.

Mr. Schneiderman, a liberal-minded attorney general, made a national name for himself in his first year by spurning a settlement that the Obama administration and other attorneys general had been negotiating with the banking industry over foreclosure practices. Then last week, President Obama, vowing to get tougher on Wall Street, reached out to Mr. Schneiderman, naming him co-chairman of a new financial crimes unit to prosecute large-scale financial fraud.

At the same time, Mr. Cuomo, in his State of the State address this month, turned to Mr. Lawsky, not Mr. Schneiderman, on the issue, directing the Department of Financial Services to create a Foreclosure Relief Unit. And Mr. Lawsky has moved on his own to secure deals with smaller lenders on curbing abuses.

Asked whether he supported Mr. Schneiderman’s stance on the national negotiations, Mr. Lawsky was noncommittal.

“We’re not commenting at all on the ongoing negotiations because we are at least tangentially a part of them and could ultimately be called on to sign or not sign,” he said, adding, “We want to see what the final proposal is.”

Danny Kanner, a spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman, said in a statement that the two offices “will continue to work together toward our common purpose of protecting consumers, investors, and the integrity of New York’s global markets.”

“In the aftermath of the financial crisis,” the statement said, “we need more willing hands on deck, not less, to meet that critical objective.”

Mr. Lawsky said he was learning to balance the roles of regulator and enforcer. And during his years as a top aide to Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Lawsky has been known as one of the relatively few administration officials to play nicely with others.

“A lot of people like to paint me as a tough guy because I’m a former prosecutor,” he said, adding: “You are being handed a huge amount of power over people’s lives and their businesses. It’s not something you willy-nilly bang people over the head with.”

Mr. Lawsky grew up in New York and Pittsburgh, received his undergraduate and law degrees from Columbia, and worked under four United States attorneys for the Southern District of New York, prosecuting everything from insider trading to terror and mob cases. He is a runner, but last had time to train for and run a marathon — the Marine Corps Marathon — in 2009. (His time was 3:40:17.)

Perhaps his most notable early achievement has been putting pressure on health insurers to make public proposed rate increases. But his office also pointed to early relationships he has formed with both industry executives and consumer groups.

Theodore A. Mathas, chief executive of the New York Life Insurance Company, said, “Ben is approachable, he’s a good listener and he’s quickly grasped a lot of complex things we’ve thrown at him.” Michael P. Smith, president of the New York Bankers Association, said, “We are very pleased with his performance.”

On the consumer advocacy side, Charles Bell, programs director for Consumers Union, said, “We’ve been pleased that they have reached out,” adding that a group of consumer advocates was meeting with the agency monthly on a variety of topics.

Mr. Lawsky does know how to answer the tough questions. During a recent online question-and-answer session with the public, the first questioner asked: “Mr. Lawsky, are you copying the governor’s hairstyle? It seems you have a similar look.” He replied: “That never occurred to me. It’s very flattering. Thanks.”

 

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