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.

Short Sale No Protection Against Bank

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Editor’s Comment:

As if on queue this story appears. I have been warning buyers of short sales that they face strong headwinds in maintaining ownership of the house, keeping possession, and the general fact that buying a short sale probably is buying into litigation now or later.

This guy is a true innocent buyer without any real notice of the problems he was buying into. His realtor obviously didn’t tell him because the realtor’s compensation is based upon the sale closing. The title agent didn’t tell him for the same reason. And the bank selected as the ” designated hitter” to receive money and execute papers showing the old mortgage was satisfied and the foreclosure was over probably didn’t even know who to call or why because, like the originator at the original closing on the loan, was just a fee for service “satisfied” instead of a fee for service originator.

So the designated forecloser keeps proceeding — and in this case apparently foreclosed on the house without the new short sale buyer knowing a thing about it, evicted the tenants, which now included the shortsale buyer, and then broke in, removed all the personal belongings leaving this guy with a lawsuit for trespass and the loss of his furniture and personal belongings.

This will continue until we accept and act upon the fact that the foreclosures and the would-be originators of foreclosures have no right to even be at the table — same as when the old old loan was created.

KC Man Sues Bank Over Foreclosure Error

Claim: JPMorgan Chase Changed Locks, Seized New Owner’s Property

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas City man is taking on banking giant JPMorgan Chase, accusing the company of something that he said would have landed anyone else in handcuffs.

Allan Danforth bought a house in a short sale in fall 2010. JPMorgan Chase held the previous owner’s mortgage. Danforth said two months later, without notice, the bank changed the locks and hauled away $25,000 worth of furniture, appliances and family heirlooms.

“I had to bust in through the basement window here,” Danforth said, pointing to the house that he was forced to break into more than 18 months ago.

He said JPMorgan Chase’s contractor, Safeguard Properties, ignored “No Trespassing” signs on the garage, changed the locks on his home and cleaned it out two months after he paid cash for the property.

“It was basically stuff that was 150 years of family history,” Danforth said. “I feel violated and I felt like the house wasn’t even safe to go into for a while.”

Danforth said Safeguard Properties could find his family heirlooms. He said JPMorgan Chase just gave him a runaround.

“They’re the big bank and they don’t care,” he said.

“It’s a wrong built upon wrongs,” said attorney Tony Stein.

He said it’s a wrongful foreclosure.

“We fully intend to go into court and have a Jackson County jury try to decide the eventual outcome of this case in the only language JPMorgan Chase understands,” Stein said. “The language of money.”

In his lawsuit, Stein accuses JPMorgan Chase of theft, trespassing and reckless indifference.

Jackson County court records show that on Sept. 9, the previous homeowners transferred the house to Danforth. The bank signed off 12 days later.

“For the very company to release their deed of trust and thereby release all their rights against this property, and then two months later, send in a company to clean this thing out? You’ll have to ask them why they’d do something like that,” Stein said. “It defies logic.”

Danforth and his attorney said the bank has ignored their letters. When KMBC investigated the case, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase had a response.

“We made a paperwork mistake when the property was sold, which resulted in our service partner changing the locks and winterizing the property to ensure its security,” the statement said.

The company did not comment how it plans to settle the dispute.

“I’m not the first one. I will not be the last, unfortunately,” Danforth said.

He said he has installed a security system in case of another “paperwork mistake.”

“If it were you or I doing it, we’d be sitting in jail right now,” Danforth said. “Why isn’t JPMorgan in jail?”

Safeguard Properties deferred comment to the bank.

Danforth’s lawsuit is before the Jackson County Court and claims actual damages in excess of $25,000. Under law, Stein said members of Danforth’s family could be entitled to recover as much as $1.5 million in punitive damages.

Danforth’s copies of important documents were inside the house and were taken by Safeguard Properties. Experts said in case of a fire or burglary, it’s a good idea to have copies of important documents in a digital form or a safety deposit box.


Another Ruse: Realtors Gleeful over Equator Short Sale Platform

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Editor’s Comment:

Banks have adopted a technology platform to process short sale applications. It is called Equator, presumably to imply that it equates one thing with another, and produces a result that either gives a pass or fail to the application. In theory it is a good thing for those people who want to save their homes, save their credit (up to a point) and move on. In practice it essentially licenses the real estate broker to take control over the negotiations and police the transactions so that the new “network” rules are not violated. This reminds me of VISA and MasterCard who control the payment processing business with the illusion of being a quasi governmental agency. Nothing could be further from the truth, but bankers react to net work threats as though the IRS was after them.

Equator is meant as another layer of illusion to the title problem that realtors and title companies are trying to cover up. The short sale is getting be the most popular form of real estate sale because it is a form of principal reduction where there is some face-saving by the banks and the borrowers. The problem is that while short sales are a legitimate form of workout,  they leave the elephant in the living room undisturbed — short sales approved by banks and servicers who have neither the authority nor the interest in the loan to even be involved except as an agent of Equator but NOT as an agent of the lenders,  if they even exist anymore.

So using the shortsale they get the signature of the borrower as seller which gives them a layer of protection if they are the bank or servicer approving the short-sale. But it fails to cure the title defect, especially in millions of transactions in which Nominees (like MERS and dummy originators) are in the chain of title. 

The true owner of the obligation is a group of investor lenders who appear to have only one thing in common— they all gave money to an investment bank or an affiliate of an investment bank, where it was divided up and put into various accounts, some of which were used to fund mortgages and others were used to pay fees and profits to the investment bank on the closing of the “deal” with the investor lenders. As far as the county recorder is concerned, those deposits and splits are nonexistent. 

The investor lenders were then told that their money was pooled in a “Trust” when no such entity ever existed or was registered to do business and no attempt was made to fund the trust. An unfunded trust is not a trust. This, the investor lenders were told was a REMIC entity.  While a REMIC could have been established it never happened  in the the real world because the only communications between participants in the securitization chain consisted of a spreadsheet describing “closed loans.” Such communications did not include transfer, assignment or even transmittal or delivery of the closing papers with the borrower. Thus as far as the county recorder’s office is concerned, they still knew nothing. Now in the shortsales, they want a stranger the transaction to take the money and run — with no requirement that they establish themselves as creditors and no credible documentation that they are the owner of the loan.

This is another end run around the requirements of basic law in property transactions. They are doing it because our government officials are letting them do it, thus implicitly ratifying the right to foreclose and submit a credit bid without any requirement of proof or even offer of proof.

It gets worse. So we have BOA agreeing to accept dollars in satisfaction of a loan that they have no record of owning. The shortsale seller might still be liable to someone if the banks and servicers continue to have their way with creating false chains of ownership. But the real tragedy is that the shortsale seller is probably getting the shaft on a false premise — I.e, that the mortgage or deed of trust had any validity to begin with. 

The shortsale Buyer is most probably buying a lawsuit along with the house. At some point, the huge gaps in the chain of title are going to cause lawyers in increasing numbers to object to title and demand that it be fixed or that the client be adequately covered by insurance arising from securitizatioin claims. Thus when the shortsale Buyer becomes a seller, that is when the problems will first start to surface.

Realtors understand this analysis whereas buyers from Canada and other places do not understand it. But realtors see shortsales as the salvation to their diminished incomes. Thus most realtors are incentivized to misrepresent the risk factors and the title issues in favor of controlling the buyer and the seller into accepting pre-established criteria published by the members of Equator. It is securitization all over again, it is MERS all over again, it is a further corruption of our title system and it is avoiding the main issue — making the victims of this fraud whole even if it takes every penny the banks have. Realtors who ignore this can expect that they and their insurance carriers will be part of the gang of targeted deep pockets when lawyers smell the blood on the floor and go after the perpetrators.

Latest Changes to The Bank of America Short Sale Process

by Melissa Zavala

When processing short sales, it’s important to know about how each of the lending institutions handles loss mitigation and paperwork processing. If you have done a few short sales in Equator with different lenders, you may see what while your same Equator account is used for all your short sales at all the lending institutions, each of the servicers uses the platforms in a different manner.

Using the Equator system

When processing short sales, it’s important to know about how each of the lending institutions handles loss mitigation and paperwork processing. Many folks already know that Equator is the online platform used by 5 major lenders (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Nationstar, GMAC, and Service One). If you have done a few short sales in Equator with different lenders, you may see what while your same Equator account is used for all your short sales at all the lending institutions, each of the servicers uses the platforms in a different manner.

And, my hat goes off to Bank of America for really raising the bar when it comes to short sale processing online. And, believe me, after processing short sales with Bank of America in 2007, this change is much appreciated.

New Bank of America Short Sale Process

Effective April 13, 2012, Bank of America made a few major changes that may make our short sale processing times more efficient.  The goal of these changes is to make short sale processing through Equator (the Internet-based platform) at Bank of America so efficient that short sale approval can be received in less than one month.

First off, Bank of America now requires their new third party authorization for all short sales being processed through the Equator system. Additionally, the folks at Bank of America will be working to improve task flow for short sales in Equator by making some minor changes to the process.

According to the Bank of America website,

Now you are required to upload five documents (which you can obtain at http://www.bankofamerica.com/realestateagent) for short sales initiated with an offer:

  • Purchase Contract including Buyer’s Acknowledgment and Disclosure
  • HUD-1
  • IRS Form 4506-T
  • Bank of America Short Sale Addendum
  • Bank of America Third-Party Authorization Form

And, now, you will have only 5 days to submit a backup offer if your buyer has flown the coop.

The last change is a curious one, especially for short sale listing agents, since it often takes awhile to find a new buyer after you learn that the current buyer has changed his or her mind.

Short sale listings agents should be familiar with these changes in order to assure that they are providing their client with the most efficient short sale experience possible.


Foreclosure Strategists: Phx. Meet tonight: Make the record in your case

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Editor’s Comment:

Contact: Darrell Blomberg  Darrell@ForeclosureStrategists.com  602-686-7355

Meeting: Tuesday, May 15th, 2012, 7pm to 9pm

Make the Record

It appears the most rulings against homeowners are predicated on some arcane and minute failure of the homeowner to make the record.  We’ll be discussing how to make sure you cover all of those points by Making the Record as your case moves along.  We’ll also look at how the process of Making the Record starts long before you even think of going to court

We meet every week!

Every Tuesday: 7:00pm to 9:00pm. Come early for dinner and socialization. (Food service is also available during meeting.)
Macayo’s Restaurant, 602-264-6141, 4001 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012. (east side of Central Ave just south of Indian School Rd.)
COST: $10… and whatever you want to spend on yourself for dinner, helpings are generous so bring an appetite.
Please Bring a Guest!
(NOTE: There is a $2.49 charge for the Happy Hour Buffet unless you at least order a soft drink.)

FACEBOOK PAGE FOR “FORECLOSURE STRATEGIST”

I have set up a Facebook page. (I can’t believe it but it is necessary.) The page can be viewed at www.Facebook.com, look for and “friend” “Foreclosure Strategist.”

I’ll do my best to keep it updated with all of our events.

Please get the word out and send your friends and other homeowners the link.

MEETUP PAGE FOR FORECLOSURE STRATEGISTS:

I have set up a MeetUp page. The page can be viewed at www.MeetUp.com/ForeclosureStrategists. Please get the word out and send your friends and other homeowners the link.

May your opportunities be bountiful and your possibilities unlimited.

“Emissary of Observation”

Darrell Blomberg

602-686-7355

Darrell@ForeclosureStrategists.com

Everything Built on Myth Eventually Fails

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Editor’s Comment:

The good news is that the myth of Jamie Dimon’s infallaibility is at least called into question. Perhaps better news is that, as pointed out by Simon Johnson’s article below, the mega banks are not only Too Big to Fail, they are Too Big to Manage, which leads to the question, of why it has taken this long for Congress and the Obama administration to conclude that these Banks are Too Big to Regulate. So the answer, now introduced by Senator Brown, is to make the banks smaller and  put caps on them as to what they can and cannot do with their risk management.

But the real question that will come to fore is whether lawmakers in Dimon’s pocket will start feeling a bit squeamish about doing whatever Dimon asks. He is now becoming a political and financial liability. The $2.3 billion loss (and still counting) that has been reported seems to be traced to the improper trading in credit default swaps, an old enemy of ours from the mortgage battle that continues to rage throughout the land.  The problem is that the JPM people came to believe in their own myth which is sometimes referred to as sucking on your own exhaust. They obviously felt that their “risk management” was impregnable because in the end Jamie would save the day.

This time, Jamie can’t turn to investors to dump the loss on, thus drying up liquidity all over the world. This time he can’t go to government for a bailout, and this time the traction to bring the mega banks under control is getting larger. The last vote received only 33 votes from the Senate floor, indicating that Dimon and the wall Street lobby had control of 2/3 of the senate. So let ius bask in the possibility that this is the the beginning of the end for the mega banks, whose balance sheets, business practices and public announcements have all been based upon lies and half truths.

This time the regulators are being forced by public opinion to actually peak under the hood and see what is going on there. And what they will find is that the assets booked on the balance sheet of Dimon’s monolith are largely fictitious. This time the regulators must look at what assets were presented to the Federal Reserve window in exchange for interest free loans. The narrative is shifting from the “free house” myth to the reality of free money. And that will lead to the question of who is the creditor in each of the transactions in which a mortgage loan is said to exist.

Those mortgage loans are thought to exist because of a number of incorrect presumptions. One of them is that the obligation remains unpaid and is secured. Neither is true. Some loans might still have a balance due but even they have had their balances reduced by the receipt of insurance proceeds and the payoff from credit default swaps and other credit enhancements, not to speak of the taxpayer bailout.

This money was diverted from investor lenders who were entitled to that money because their contracts and the representations inducing them to purchase bogus mortgage bonds, stated that the investment was investment grade (Triple A) and because they thought they were insured several times over. It is true that the insurance was several layers thick and it is equally true that the insurance payoff covered most if not all the balances of all the mortgages that were funded between 1996 and the present. The investor lenders should have received at least enough of that money to make them whole — i.e., all principal and interest as promissed.

Instead the Banks did the unthinkable and that is what is about to come to light. They kept the money for themselves and then claimed the loss of investors on the toxic loans and tranches that were created in pools of money and mortgages — pools that in fact never came into existence, leaving the investors with a loose partnership with other investors, no manager, and no accounting. Every creditor is entitled to payment in full — ONCE, not multiple times unless they have separate contracts (bets) with parties other than the borrower. In this case, with the money received by the investment banks diverted from the investors, the creditors thought they had a loss when in fact they had a claim against deep pocket mega banks to receive their share of the proceeds of insurance, CDS payoffs and taxpayer bailouts.

What the banks were banking on was the stupidity of government regulators and the stupidity of the American public. But it wasn’t stupidity. it was ignorance of the intentional flipping of mortgage lending onto its head, resulting in loan portfolios whose main characteristic was that they would fail. And fail they did because the investment banks “declared” through the Master servicer that they had failed regardless of whether people were making payments on their mortgage loans or not. But the only parties with an actual receivable wherein they were expecting to be paid in real money were the investor lenders.

Had the investor lenders received the money that was taken by their agents, they would have been required to reduce the balances due from borrowers. Any other position would negate their claim to status as a REMIC. But the banks and servicers take the position that there exists an entitlement to get paid in full on the loan AND to take the house because the payment didn’t come from the borrower.

This reduction in the balance owed from borrowers would in and of itself have resulted in the equivalent of “principal reduction” which in many cases was to zero and quite possibly resulting in a claim against the participants in the securitization chain for all of the ill-gotten gains. remember that the Truth In Lending Law states unequivocally that the undisclosed profits and compensation of ANYONE involved in the origination of the loan must be paid, with interest to the borrower. Crazy you say? Is it any crazier than the banks getting $15 million for a $300,000 loan. Somebody needs to win here and I see no reason why it should be the megabanks who created, incited, encouraged and covered up outright fraud on investor lenders and homeowner borrowers.

Making Banks Small Enough And Simple Enough To Fail

By Simon Johnson

Almost exactly two years ago, at the height of the Senate debate on financial reform, a serious attempt was made to impose a binding size constraint on our largest banks. That effort – sometimes referred to as the Brown-Kaufman amendment – received the support of 33 senators and failed on the floor of the Senate. (Here is some of my Economix coverage from the time.)

On Wednesday, Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair and Efficient Banking Act, or SAFE, which would force the largest four banks in the country to shrink. (Details of this proposal, similar in name to the original Brown-Kaufman plan, are in this briefing memo for a Senate banking subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, available through Politico; see also these press release materials).

His proposal, while not likely to immediately become law, is garnering support from across the political spectrum – and more support than essentially the same ideas received two years ago.  This week’s debacle at JP Morgan only strengthens the case for this kind of legislative action in the near future.

The proposition is simple: Too-big-to-fail banks should be made smaller, and preferably small enough to fail without causing global panic. This idea had been gathering momentum since the fall of 2008 and, while the Brown-Kaufman amendment originated on the Democratic side, support was beginning to appear across the aisle. But big banks and the Treasury Department both opposed it, parliamentary maneuvers ensured there was little real debate. (For a compelling account of how the financial lobby works, both in general and in this instance, look for an upcoming book by Jeff Connaughton, former chief of staff to former Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware.)

The issue has not gone away. And while the financial sector has pushed back with some success against various components of the Dodd-Frank reform legislation, the idea of breaking up very large banks has gained momentum.

In particular, informed sentiment has shifted against continuing to allow very large banks to operate in their current highly leveraged form, with a great deal of debt and very little equity.  There is increasing recognition of the massive and unfair costs that these structures impose on the rest of the economy.  The implicit subsidies provided to “too big to fail” companies allow them to boost compensation over the cycle by hundreds of millions of dollars.  But the costs imposed on the rest of us are in the trillions of dollars.  This is a monstrously unfair and inefficient system – and sensible public figures are increasingly pointing this out (including Jamie Dimon, however inadvertently).

American Banker, a leading trade publication, recently posted a slide show, “Who Wants to Break Up the Big Banks?” Its gallery included people from across the political spectrum, with a great deal of financial sector and public policy experience, along with quotations that appear to support either Senator Brown’s approach or a similar shift in philosophy with regard to big banks in the United States. (The slide show is available only to subscribers.)

According to American Banker, we now have in the “break up the banks” corner (in order of appearance in that feature): Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; Tom Hoenig, a board member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Jon Huntsman, former Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Utah; Senator Brown; Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England; Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont; and Camden Fine, president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. (I am also on the American Banker list).

Anat Admati of Stanford and her colleagues have led the push for much higher capital requirements – emphasizing the particular dangers around allowing our largest banks to operate in their current highly leveraged fashion. This position has also been gaining support in the policy and media mainstream, most recently in the form of a powerful Bloomberg View editorial.

(You can follow her work and related discussion on this Web site; on twitter she is @anatadmati.)

Senator Brown’s legislation reflects also the idea that banks should fund themselves more with equity and less with debt. Professor Admati and I submitted a letter of support, together with 11 colleagues whose expertise spans almost all dimensions of how the financial sector really operates.

We particularly stress the appeal of having a binding “leverage ratio” for the largest banks. This would require them to have at least 10 percent equity relative to their total assets, using a simple measure of assets not adjusted for any of the complicated “risk weights” that banks can game.

We also agree with the SAFE Banking Act that to limit the risk and potential cost to taxpayers, caps on the size of an individual bank’s liabilities relative to the economy can also serve a useful role (and the same kind of rule should apply to non-bank financial institutions).

Under the proposed law, no bank-holding company could have more than $1.3 trillion in total liabilities (i.e., that would be the maximum size). This would affect our largest banks, which are $2 trillion or more in total size, but in no way undermine their global competitiveness. This is a moderate and entirely reasonable proposal.

No one is suggesting that making JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo smaller would be sufficient to ensure financial stability.

But this idea continues to gain traction, as a measure complementary to further strengthening and simplifying capital requirements and generally in support of other efforts to make it easier to handle the failure of financial institutions.

Watch for the SAFE Banking Act to gain further support over time.

AP Fannie, Freddie and BOA set to Reduce Principal and Payments

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Editor’s Comment:

Partly as a result of the recent settlement with the Attorneys General and partly because they have run out of options and excuses, the banks are reducing principal and offering to reduce payments as well. What happened to the argument that we can’t reduce principal because it would be unfair to homeowners who are not in distress? Flush. It was never true. These loans were based on fake appraisals at the outset, the liens were never perfected and the banks are staring down a double barreled shotgun: demands for repurchase from investors who correctly allege and can easily prove that the loans were underwritten to fail PLUS the coming rash of decisions showing that the mortgage lien never attached to the land. The banks have nothing left. BY offering principal reductions they get new paperwork that allows them to correct the defects in documentation and they retain the claim of plausible deniability regarding origination documents that were false, predatory, deceptive and fraudulent. 

Fannie, Freddie are set to reduce mortgage balances in California

The mortgage giants sign on to Keep Your Home California, a $2-billion foreclosure prevention program, after state drops a requirement that lenders match taxpayer funds used for principal reductions.

By Alejandro Lazo

As California pushes to get more homeowners into a $2-billion foreclosure prevention program, some Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers may see their mortgages shrunk through principal reduction.

State officials are making a significant change to the Keep Your Home California program. They are dropping a requirement that banks match taxpayers funds when homeowners receive mortgage reductions through the program.

The initiative, which uses federal funds from the 2008 Wall Street bailout to help borrowers at risk of foreclosure, has faced lackluster participation and lender resistance since it was rolled out last year. By eliminating the requirement that banks provide matching funds, state officials hope to make it easier for homeowners to get principal reductions.

The participation by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, confirmed Monday, could provide a major boost to Keep Your Home California.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own about 62% of outstanding mortgages in the Golden State, according to the state attorney general’s office. But since the program was unveiled last year, neither has elected to participate in principal reduction because of concerns about additional costs to taxpayers.

Only a small number of California homeowners — 8,500 to 9,000 — would be able to get mortgage write-downs with the current level of funds available. But given the previous opposition to these types of modifications by the two mortgage giants, housing advocates who want to make principal reduction more widespread hailed their involvement.

“Having Fannie and Freddie participate in the state Keep Your Home principal reduction program would be a really important step forward,” said Paul Leonard, California director of the Center for Responsible Lending. “Fannie and Freddie are at some level the market leaders; they represent a large share of all existing mortgages.”

The two mortgage giants were seized by the federal government in 2008 as they bordered on bankruptcy, and taxpayers have provided $188 billion to keep them afloat.

Edward J. DeMarco, head of the federal agency that oversees Fannie and Freddie, has argued that principal reduction would not be in the best interest of taxpayers and that other types of loan modifications are more effective.

But pressure has mounted on DeMarco to alter his position. In a recent letter to DeMarco, congressional Democrats cited Fannie Mae documents that they say showed a 2009 pilot program by Fannie would have cost only $1.7 million to implement but could have provided more than $410 million worth of benefits. They decried the scuttling of that program as ideological in nature.

Fannie and Freddie last year made it their policy to participate in state-run principal reduction programs such as Keep Your Home California as long as they or the mortgage companies that work for them don’t have to contribute funds.

Banks and other financial institutions have been reluctant to participate in widespread principal reductions. Lenders argue that such reductions aren’t worth the cost and would create a “moral hazard” by rewarding delinquent borrowers.

As part of a historic $25-billion mortgage settlement reached this year, the nation’s five largest banks agreed to reduce the principal on some of the loans they own.

Since then Fannie and Freddie have been a major focus of housing advocates who argue that shrinking the mortgages of underwater borrowers would boost the housing market by giving homeowners a clear incentive to keep paying off their loans. They also say that principal reduction would reduce foreclosures by lowering the monthly payments for underwater homeowners and giving them hope they would one day have more equity in their homes.

“In places that are deeply underwater, ultimately those loans where you are not reducing principal, they are going to fail anyway,” said Richard Green of USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. “So you are putting off the day of reckoning.”

The state will allocate the federal money, resulting in help for fewer California borrowers than the 25,135 that was originally proposed. The $2-billion program is run by the California Housing Finance Agency, with $790 million available for principal reductions.

Financial institutions will be required to make other modifications to loans such as reducing the interest rate or changing the terms of the loans.

The changes to the program will roll out in early June, officials with the California agency said. The agency will increase to $100,000 from $50,000 the amount of aid borrowers can receive.

Spokespeople for the nation’s three largest banks — Wells Fargo & Co., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — said they were evaluating the changes. BofA has been the only major servicer participating in the principal reduction component of the program.

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.

Foreclosure Strategists: Phx. Meet tomorrow with AZ AG Tom Horne

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Editor’s Comment:

Contact: Darrell Blomberg  Darrell@ForeclosureStrategists.com  602-686-7355

Meeting: Tuesday, May 8th, 2012, 7pm to 9pm

Special guest speaker:  Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne

We will be discussing among other things:

Brief bio / history

Arizona v Countrywide / Bank of America lawsuit settlement

National Attorneys’ General Mortgage Settlement

Appropriation of National Mortgage Settlement Funds

Attorney General’s Legislative Efforts pertaining to foreclosures

Submitted and submitting complaints to the Attorney General’s office

Joint efforts between the Attorney General’s office and other agencies

Adding effectiveness to homeowner’s OCC Complaints

Please send me your thoughts and questions you’d like to ask Tom Horne.

We meet every week!

Every Tuesday: 7:00pm to 9:00pm. Come early for dinner and socialization. (Food service is also available during meeting.)
Macayo’s Restaurant, 602-264-6141, 4001 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012. (east side of Central Ave just south of Indian School Rd.)
COST: $10… and whatever you want to spend on yourself for dinner, helpings are generous so bring an appetite.
Please Bring a Guest!
(NOTE: There is a $2.49 charge for the Happy Hour Buffet unless you at least order a soft drink.)

FACEBOOK PAGE FOR “FORECLOSURE STRATEGIST”

I have set up a Facebook page. (I can’t believe it but it is necessary.) The page can be viewed at www.Facebook.com, look for and “friend” “Foreclosure Strategist.”

I’ll do my best to keep it updated with all of our events.

Please get the word out and send your friends and other homeowners the link.

MEETUP PAGE FOR FORECLOSURE STRATEGISTS:

I have set up a MeetUp page. The page can be viewed at www.MeetUp.com/ForeclosureStrategists. Please get the word out and send your friends and other homeowners the link.

May your opportunities be bountiful and your possibilities unlimited.

“Emissary of Observation”

Darrell Blomberg

602-686-7355

Darrell@ForeclosureStrategists.com

Mortgage Rates in U.S. Decline to Record Lows With 30-Year Loan at 3.84%

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Editor’s Comment:

It appears as though Bloomberg has joined the media club tacit agreement to ignore housing and more particularly Investment Banking or relegate them to just another statistic. The possibilities of a deep, long recession created by the Banks using consumer debt are avoiđed and ignored regardless of the writer or projection based upon reliable indexes.

Why is it that Bloomberg News refuses to tell us the news? The facts are that median income has been flat for more than 30 years. The financial sector convinced the government to allow banks to replace income with consumer debt. The crescendo was reached in the housing market where the Case/Schiller index shows a flash spike in prices of homes while the values of homes remained constant. The culprit is always the same — the lure of lower payments with the result being the oppressive amount of debt burden that can no longer be avoided or ignored. The median consumer has neither the cash nor credit to buy.

Each year we hear predictions of a recovery in the housing market, or that green shoots are appearing. We congratulate ourselves on avoiding the abyss. But the predictions and the congratulations are either premature or they will forever be wrong.

The financial sector is allowed to play in our economy for only one reason— to provide capital to satisfy the needs of business for innovation, growth and operations. Instead, we find ourselves with bloated TBTF myths, the capital drained from our middle and lower classes that would be spent supporting an economy of production and service. That money has been acquired and maintained by the financal sector giants, notwithstanding the reports of layoffs.

From any perspective other than one driven by ideology one must admit that the economy has undergone a change in its foundation — and that these changes are ephemeral and cannot be sustained. With GDP now reliant on figures from the financial sector which for the longest time hovered around 16%, our “economy” would be 50% LESS without the financial sector reporting bloated revenues and profits just as they contributed to the false spike in prices of homes. Bloated incomes inflated the stampede of workers to Wall Street.

Investigative reporting shows that the tier 2 yield spread premium imposed by the investment bankers — taking huge amounts of investment capital and converting the capital into service “income” — forced a structure that could not work, was guaranteed not to work and which ultimately did fail with the TBTF banks reaping profits while the rest of the economy suffered.

The current economic structure is equally unsustainable with income and wealth inequality reaching disturbing levels. What happens when you wake up and realize that the real economy of production of goods and service is actually, according to your own figures, worth 1/3 less than what we are reporting as GDP. How will we explain increasing profits reported by the TBTF banks? where did that money come from? Is it real or is it just what we want to hear want to believe and are afraid to face?


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.


Breakthrough Whistleblowers for Sale?

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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


How Did H & R Block Get into the Subprime Mortgage Business?

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Tax Preparer Slammed with $24 Million in Fines on Toxic Mortgages

Editor’s Comment:  You really have to think about some of these stories and what they mean. 

1. Where is the synergy in a merger between Option One and H&R Block? The answers that they were both performing services for fees and neither one was ever a banker, lender or even investor sourcing the funds that were used to lure borrowers into deals that were so convoluted that even Alan Greenspan admits he didn’t understand them.

2. The charge is that they didn’t reveal that they could not buy back all the bad mortgages — meaning they did buy back some of them. which ones? And were some of those mortgages foreclosed in the name of a stranger to the transaction? WORSE YET — how many satisfactions of mortgages were executed by Ocwen, which was not the creditor, never the lender, and never the successor to any creditor. Follow the money trail. The only trail that exists is the trail leading from the investor’s banks accounts into the escrow agent’s trust account with instructions to refund any excess to parties who were complete strangers to the transaction disclosed to the borrower. The intermediary account in which the investor money was deposited was used to pay pornographic fees and profits to the investment banker and close affiliates as “participants” in a scheme of ” securitization” that never took place.

3. Under what terms were the loans purchased? Was it the note, the mortgage or the obligation? There are differences between all three.

4. Since they didn’t have the money to buy back the loans it might be inferred that they never had that money. In other words, they appeared on the “closing papers” as lender when in fact they never had the money to loan and they merely had performed a fee for service — I.e., acting as though they were the lender when they were not.

5. Who was the lender? If the money came from investors, then we know how to identify the creditor. but if we assume that the loan might have been paid or purchased by Option One, then isn’t the lender’s obligation paid? let’s see those actual repurchase transactions.

6. If that isn’t right then Option One must be correctly identified as the lender on the note and mortgage even though they never loaned any money and may or may not have purchased the entire loan, just the receivable, the right to sell the property — but how does anyone purchase the right to submit a credit bid at the foreclosure auction when everyone knows they were not the creditor?

7. How could any of these entities have any loans on their books when they were never the source of funds and why are they being allowed to claim losses obviously fell on the investors who put up the money on toxic mortgages believing them to be triple A rated. 

8. Why would anyone underwrite a bad deal unless they knew they would not lose any money? These mortgages were bad mortgages that under normal circumstances would never have been  offered by any bank loaning its own money or the it’s depositors. 

9. The terms of the deal MUST have been that nobody except the investors loses money on this deal and the kickers is that the investors appear to have waived their right to foreclose. 

10. So the thieves who cooked up this deal get paid for creating it and then end up with the house because the befuddled borrower doesn’t realise that either the debts are paid (at least the one secured by the mortgage) or that the debt has been paid down under terms of the loan (see PSA et al) that were never disclosed to the borrower — contrary to TILA.

11. The Courts must understand that there is a difference between paying a debt and buying the debt. The Courts must require any “assignment” to be tested b discovery where the money trail can be examined. What they will discover is that there is no money trail and that the assignment was a sham.  

12. And if the origination documents show the wrong creditor and fail disclose the true fees and profits of all parties identified with the transaction, the documents — note, mortgage and settlement statements are fatally defective and cannot create a perfected lien without overturning centuries of common law, statutory law and regulations governing the banking and lending industries.

H&R Block Unit Pays $28.2M to Settle SEC Claims Regarding Sale of Subprime Mortgages

By Kansas City Business Journal

H&R Block Inc. subsidiary Option One Mortgage Corp. agreed to pay $28.2 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission    charges that it had misled investors, federal officials announced Tuesday.

The SEC alleged that Option One promised to repurchase or replace residential mortgage-backed securities it sold in 2007 that breached representations and warranties. The subsidiary did not disclose that its financial situation had degraded such that it could not fulfill its repurchase promises.

Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a release that Option One’s subprime mortgage business was hit hard by the collapse of the housing market.

“The company nonetheless concealed from investors that its perilous finances created risk that it would not be able to fulfill its duties to repurchase or replace faulty mortgages in its (residential mortgage-backed securities) portfolios,” Khuzami said in the release.

The SEC said Option One was one of the nation’s largest subprime mortgage lenders, with originations of $40 billion in its 2006 fiscal year. When the housing market began to decline in 2006, the unit was faced with falling revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of margin calls from creditors.

Parent company H&R Block (NYSE: HRB) provided financing for Option One to meet margin calls and repurchase obligations, but Block was not obligated to do so. Option One did not disclose this reliance to investors.

Option One, now Sand Canyon Corp., did not admit or deny the allegations. It agreed to pay disgorgement of $14.25 million, prejudgment interest of nearly $4 million and a penalty of $10 million.

Kansas City-based H&R Block reported that it still had $430.19 million of mortgage loans on its books from Option One as of Jan. 31. That’s down 16.2 percent from the same period the previous year.

How the Goldman Vampire Squid Just Captured Europe

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Editor’s Comment:

Guest Writer:  Ellen Brown

Ellen is an attorney and the author of eleven books, including Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System and How We Can Break Free. Her websites are webofdebt.com and ellenbrown.com.  She is also chairman of the Public Banking Institute.

How the Goldman Vampire Squid Just Captured Europe

By Ellen Brown, Truthout | News Analysis

The Goldman Sachs coup that failed in America has nearly succeeded in Europe – a permanent, irrevocable, unchallengeable bailout for the banks underwritten by the taxpayers.

In September 2008, Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, managed to extort a $700 billion bank bailout from Congress. But to pull it off, he had to fall on his knees and threaten the collapse of the entire global financial system and the imposition of martial law; and the bailout was a one-time affair. Paulson’s plea for a permanent bailout fund – the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP – was opposed by Congress and ultimately rejected.

By December 2011, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, former vice president of Goldman Sachs Europe, was able to approve a 500 billion euro bailout for European banks without asking anyone’s permission. And in January 2012, a permanent rescue funding program called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) was passed in the dead of night with barely even a mention in the press. The ESM imposes an open-ended debt on EU member governments, putting taxpayers on the hook for whatever the ESM’s eurocrat overseers demand.

The bankers’ coup has triumphed in Europe seemingly without a fight. The ESM is cheered by euro zone governments, their creditors and “the market” alike, because it means investors will keep buying sovereign debt. All is sacrificed to the demands of the creditors, because where else can the money be had to float the crippling debts of the euro zone governments?

There is another alternative to debt slavery to the banks. But first, a closer look at the nefarious underbelly of the ESM and Goldman’s silent takeover of the ECB….

The Dark Side of the ESM

The ESM is a permanent rescue facility slated to replace the temporary European Financial Stability Facility and European Financial Stabilization Mechanism as soon as member states representing 90 percent of the capital commitments have ratified it, something that is expected to happen in July 2012. A December 2011 YouTube video titled “The shocking truth of the pending EU collapse!” originally posted in German, gives such a revealing look at the ESM that it is worth quoting here at length. It states:

The EU is planning a new treaty called the European Stability Mechanism, or ESM: a treaty of debt…. The authorized capital stock shall be 700 billion euros. Question: why 700 billion?… [Probable answer: it simply mimicked the $700 billion the US Congress bought into in 2008.][Article 9]: “,,, ESM Members hereby irrevocably and unconditionally undertake to pay on demand any capital call made on them … within seven days of receipt of such demand.” … If the ESM needs money, we have seven days to pay…. But what does “irrevocably and unconditionally” mean? What if we have a new parliament, one that does not want to transfer money to the ESM?…

[Article 10]: “The Board of Governors may decide to change the authorized capital and amend Article 8 … accordingly.” Question: … 700 billion is just the beginning? The ESM can stock up the fund as much as it wants to, any time it wants to? And we would then be required under Article 9 to irrevocably and unconditionally pay up?

[Article 27, lines 2-3]: “The ESM, its property, funding and assets … shall enjoy immunity from every form of judicial process…. ” Question: So the ESM program can sue us, but we can’t challenge it in court?

[Article 27, line 4]: “The property, funding and assets of the ESM shall … be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation, or any other form of seizure, taking or foreclosure by executive, judicial, administrative or legislative action.” Question: … [T]his means that neither our governments, nor our legislatures, nor any of our democratic laws have any effect on the ESM organization? That’s a pretty powerful treaty!

[Article 30]: “Governors, alternate Governors, Directors, alternate Directors, the Managing Director and staff members shall be immune from legal process with respect to acts performed by them … and shall enjoy inviolability in respect of their official papers and documents.” Question: So anyone involved in the ESM is off the hook? They can’t be held accountable for anything? … The treaty establishes a new intergovernmental organization to which we are required to transfer unlimited assets within seven days if it so requests, an organization that can sue us but is immune from all forms of prosecution and whose managers enjoy the same immunity. There are no independent reviewers and no existing laws apply? Governments cannot take action against it? Europe’s national budgets in the hands of one single unelected intergovernmental organization? Is that the future of Europe? Is that the new EU – a Europe devoid of sovereign democracies?

The Goldman Squid Captures the ECB

Last November, without fanfare and barely noticed in the press, former Goldman executive Mario Draghi replaced Jean-Claude Trichet as head of the ECB. Draghi wasted no time doing for the banks what the ECB has refused to do for its member governments – lavish money on them at very cheap rates. French blogger Simon Thorpe reports:

On the 21st of December, the ECB “lent” 489 billion euros to European Banks at the extremely generous rate of just 1% over 3 years. I say “lent,” but in reality, they just ran the printing presses. The ECB doesn’t have the money to lend. It’s Quantitative Easing again.The money was gobbled up virtually instantaneously by a total of 523 banks. It’s complete madness. The ECB hopes that the banks will do something useful with it – like lending the money to the Greeks, who are currently paying 18% to the bond markets to get money. But there are absolutely no strings attached. If the banks decide to pay bonuses with the money, that’s fine. Or they might just shift all the money to tax havens.

At 18 percent interest, debt doublesin just four years. It is this onerous interest burden – not the debt itself – that is crippling Greece and other debtor nations. Thorpe proposes the obvious solution:

Why not lend the money to the Greek government directly? Or to the Portuguese government, currently having to borrow money at 11.9%? Or the Hungarian government, currently paying 8.53%. Or the Irish government, currently paying 8.51%? Or the Italian government, who are having to pay 7.06%?

The stock objection to that alternative is that Article 123 of the Lisbon Treaty prevents the ECB from lending to governments. But Thorpe reasons:

My understanding is that Article 123 is there to prevent elected governments from abusing Central Banks by ordering them to print money to finance excessive spending. That, we are told, is why the ECB has to be independent from governments. OK. But what we have now is a million times worse. The ECB is now completely in the hands of the banking sector. “We want half a billion of really cheap money!!” they say. OK, no problem. Mario is here to fix that. And no need to consult anyone. By the time the ECB makes the announcement, the money has already disappeared.

At least if the ECB was working under the supervision of elected governments, we would have some influence when we elect those governments. But the bunch that now has their grubby hands on the instruments of power are now totally out of control.

Goldman Sachs and the financial technocrats have taken over the European ship. Democracy has gone out the window, all in the name of keeping the central bank independent from the “abuses” of government. Yet, the government is the people – or it should be. A democratically elected government represents the people. Europeans are being hoodwinked into relinquishing their cherished democracy to a rogue band of financial pirates, and the rest of the world is not far behind.

Rather than ratifying the draconian ESM treaty, Europeans would be better advised to reverse Article 123 of the Lisbon treaty. Then, the ECB could issue credit directly to its member governments. Alternatively, euro zone governments could re-establish their economic sovereignty by reviving their publicly owned central banks and using them to issue the credit of the nation for the benefit of the nation, effectively interest free. This is not a new idea, but has been used historically to very good effect, e.g. in Australia through the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and in Canada through the Bank of Canada.

Today, the issuance of money and credit has become the private right of vampire rentiers, who are using it to squeeze the lifeblood out of economies. This right needs to be returned to sovereign governments. Credit should be a public utility, dispensed and managed for the benefit of the people.

To add your signature to a letter to parliamentarians blocking ratification of the ESM, click here.

TBTF Banks Bigger than Ever — How is that possible in a recession?

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Editor’s Comment: 

The pernicious effect of the banks and the difficulty of regulating them across transnational and state borders has led to a growing nightmare that history will repeat itself sooner than later.

This is to rocket science — it is recognition. We have median income still declining in what is still by most measures a recession that is about to get worse. Yet the largest banks are reporting record profits. What that means is that Wall Street is making more money “trading paper” than the rest of the country is making doing actual commerce — i.,e. the making and selling of goods of services.

This is another inversion of common sense. But it is explainable. 4 years ago I predicted that as the recession depressed the earnings of most companies the banks would nonetheless show increased profits. The reason was simply that using Bermuda, Bahamas, Cayman Islands the banks siphoned off most of the credit market liquidity through the tier 2 yield spread premium. The tier 2 YSP was really the money the banks made by selling crappy loans as good loans from aggregators to the investors — and then failed to document any part of the real transactions where money exchanged hands. In some case the YSP “trading profit” exceed the amount of the loan.

So now they are able to feed those “trading profits” back into their system a little at a time reporting ever increasing profits while the the real world goes to hell. So tell, me, what is it going to take to get you to to go to the streets, write the letters and demand that justice be done and allow, for the first time, investors and borrowers to get together and reach settlements in lieu of foreclosures? Don’t you see that whether you are rich or poor, renting or owning, that all of this is going to bring down your wealth and buying power. The Federal Reserve has already tripled the U.S. Currency money supply giving all the benefit to the TBTF banks. It seems to me that as group the American citizens are far more too big to fail than any industry or company.

Evil prospers when good people do nothing. 

Big Five Banks larger than before crisis, bailout

WASHINGTON –

Two years after President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate the danger of financial institutions becoming “too big to fail,” the nation’s largest banks are bigger than they were before the credit crisis.

Five banks — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve.

Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy, sparking concern that trouble at a major bank would rock the financial system and force the government to step in as it did during the 2008 crunch.

“Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact,” said Gary Stern, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

That specter is eroding faith in Obama’s pledge that taxpayer-funded bailouts are a thing of the past. It also is exposing him to criticism from Federal Reserve officials, Republicans and Occupy Wall Street supporters, who see the concentration of bank power as a threat to economic stability.

As weaker firms collapsed or were acquired, a handful of financial giants emerged from the crisis and have thrived. Since then, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo have continued to swell, if less dramatically, thanks to internal growth and acquisitions from European banks shedding assets amid the euro crisis.

The industry’s evolution defies the president’s January 2010 call to “prevent the further consolidation of our financial system.” Embracing new limits on banks’ trading operations, Obama said then that taxpayers wouldn’t be well “served by a financial system that comprises just a few massive firms.”

Simon Johnson, a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, blames a “lack of leadership at Treasury and the White House” for the failure to fulfill that promise. “It’d be safer to break them up,” he said.

The Obama administration rejects the criticism, citing new safeguards to head off further turmoil in the banking system. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the U.S. “financial system is significantly stronger than it was before the crisis.” He credits a flurry of new regulations, including tougher capital and liquidity requirements that limit risk-taking by the biggest banks, authority to take over failing big institutions, and prohibitions on the largest banks acquiring competitors.

The government’s financial system rescue, beginning with the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program, angered millions of taxpayers and helped give rise to the tea-party movement. Banks and bailouts remain unpopular: By a margin of 52 to 39 percent, respondents in a February Pew Research Center poll called the bailouts “wrong” and 68 percent said banks have a mostly negative effect on the country.

The banks say they have increased their capital backstops in response to regulators’ demands, making them better able to ride out unexpected turbulence. JPMorgan, whose chief executive officer, Jamie Dimon, this month acknowledged public “hostility” toward bankers, boasts of a “fortress balance sheet.” Bank of America, which was about 50 percent larger at the end of 2011 than five years earlier, says it has boosted capital and liquidity while increasing to 29 months the amount of time the bank could operate without external funding.

“We’re a much stronger company than we were heading into the crisis,” said Jerry Dubrowski, a Bank of America spokesman. The bank, based in Charlotte, says it plans to shrink by year-end to $1.75 trillion in risk-weighted assets, a measure regulators use to calculate how much capital individual banks must hold.

Still, the banking industry has become increasingly concentrated since the 1980s. Today’s 6,291 commercial banks are less than half the number that existed in 1984, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The trend intensified during the crisis as JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual; Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch; and Wells Fargo took over Wachovia in deals encouraged by the government.

“One of the bad outcomes, the adverse outcomes of the crisis, was the mergers that were of necessity undertaken when large banks were at-risk,” said Donald Kohn, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve from 2006-2010. “Some of the biggest banks got a lot bigger, and the market got more concentrated.”

In recent weeks, at least four current Fed presidents — Esther George of Kansas City, Charles Plosser of Philadelphia, Jeffrey Lacker of Richmond and Richard Fisher of Dallas — have voiced similar worries about the risk of a renewed crisis.

The annual report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas was devoted to an essay by Harvey Rosenblum, head of the bank’s research department, “Why We Must End Too Big to Fail — Now.”

A 40-year Fed veteran, Rosenblum wrote in the report released last month: “TBTF institutions were at the center of the financial crisis and the sluggish recovery that followed. If allowed to remain unchecked, these entities will continue posing a clear and present danger to the U.S. economy.”

The alarms come almost two years after Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation act. The law required the largest banks to draft contingency plans or “living wills” detailing how they would be unwound in a crisis. It also created a financial-stability council headed by the Treasury secretary, charged with monitoring the system for excessive risk-taking.

The new protections represent an effort to avoid a repeat of the crisis and subsequent recession in which almost 9 million workers lost their jobs and the U.S. government committed $245 billion to save the financial system from collapse.

The goal of policy makers is to ensure that if one of the largest financial institutions fails in the next crisis, shareholders and creditors will pay the tab, not taxpayers.

“Two or three years from now, Goldman Sachs should be like MF Global,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of the nonprofit group Better Markets, who doubts the government would allow a company such as Goldman to repeat MF Global’s Oct. 31 collapse.

Dodd-Frank, the most comprehensive rewriting of financial regulation since the 1930s, subjected the largest banks to higher capital requirements and closer scrutiny. The law also barred federal officials from providing specific types of assistance that were used to prevent such firms from failing in 2008. Instead, the Fed will work with the FDIC to put major banks and other large institutions through the equivalent of bankruptcy.

“If a large financial institution should ever fail, this reform gives us the ability to wind it down without endangering the broader economy,” Obama said before signing the act on July 21, 2010. “And there will be new rules to make clear that no firm is somehow protected because it is too big to fail.”

Officials at the Treasury Department, the Fed and other agencies have spent the past two years drafting detailed regulations to make that vision a reality.

Yet the big banks stayed big or, in some cases, grew larger. JPMorgan, which held $2 trillion in total assets when Dodd-Frank was signed, reached $2.3 trillion by the end of 2011, according to Federal Reserve data.

For Lacker, the banks’ living wills are the key to placing the financial system on sounder footing. Done right, they may require institutions to restructure to make their orderly resolution during a crisis easier to accomplish, he said.

Neil Barofsky, Treasury’s former special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, calls the idea of winding down institutions with more than $2 trillion in assets “completely unrealistic.”

It’s likely that more than one bank would face potential failure during any crisis, he said, which would further complicate efforts to gracefully collapse a giant bank. “We’ve made almost no progress on ending too big to fail,” he said.

ANOTHER VICTORY IN OKLAHOMA

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Editor’s Comment: 

There is no doubt that the tide is turning and that Judges are increasingly uncomfortable with the presence of forged, fabricated documents containing fraudulent statements of fact on transactions that never actually occurred. As this article explains, in Oklahoma — a very conservative red state — they are beginning to realize that it isn’t the borrower seeking the free house it is the foreclosing party who has no financial stake in the outcome except a windfall if they get the house on a “credit bid.”

by Brian Mahany

We have been saying for several months that the tide is beginning to turn against big banks and mortgage lenders. Many courts are beginning to get fed up with the abusive practices of lenders. Recently several state supreme courts have been weighing in on a wide variety issues including missing paperwork, forged affidavits, questionable title and abusive foreclosure or loan modification practices.

When a state supreme court decides a case, the decision takes on considerable weight. As the highest court in the land, a state supreme court decision is generally binding on all trial courts in that state. We were happy to learn that the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided 7 cases this month in favor of homeowners.

The facts in each of the cases were similar. In each case, the court ruled that in order to bring a foreclosure action, the plaintiff must prove that it has the right to enforce the promissory note. No note means no standing to bring the complaint.

It’s in the details that the Oklahoma cases become important.

Many lenders have problems producing the note and mortgage. In recent years, most lenders sell the mortgage shortly after the closing. Banks rarely hold their own paper any more. The mortgages are often packaged, securitized and sold several times. In that process, paperworks frequently is lost. The lost or incomplete paperwork issue was addressed by the court.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court opinion is helpful to homeowners in several ways.

First, the court reaffirmed that the plaintiff must prove it has the right to enforce the note. Courts shouldn’t simply rely on an affidavit from a lawyer saying the bank or servicer has the right to enforce the note. They must prove it.

Next, the court said that the foreclosing party needs to have the note. Just having an assignment of mortgage is not enough. (Often the servicing bank will draft an assignment of mortgage. That requires the lender’s signature. The note, obviously, contains the borrowers signature. If documents are missing it is much easier for a lender to forge a mortgage assignment than to forge a homeowners signature.)

FInally, the court said that the lack of standing (missing note) can be raised at any time. That can be extremely important in foreclosure cases. Often borrowers seek legal counsel after a judgment of foreclosure has issued. Many folks don’t seek legal help until well into the foreclosure process. By the time a lawyer gets the case, discovery periods have elapsed and often there is already a judgment of foreclosure. The Oklahoma court said as long as the case isn’t closed, its not too late to challenge jurisdiction.

Postscript- There are tens of millions of homeowners under water. Many are facing foreclosure. Unfortunately, there are few lawyers that truly understand how to fight big lenders and even fewer actually willing to do so. If you are facing foreclosure, seek professional assistance as soon as possible. Don’t settle for a bankruptcy lawyer or a fly by night foreclosure “rescue” consultant. Foreclosures can be won but it’s not easy.

The average cost for a lawyer to file an answer and defend a foreclosure action is between $2500 and $5000. While there are some highly qualified lawyers that do this work, we think the only thing big banks understand is a counterclaim and aggressive lawyer.

Everyday we receive calls from homeowners across the U.S. Although we write about foreclosure defense, we rarely take such cases. Our primary purpose in writing is to provide general information and offer hope. The cases we do take are lawsuits against banks and lenders for illegal lending, loan modification and foreclosure practices. If you sufered a particularly bad experience, we certainly want to listen.

Our mortgage fraud team is currently co-counsel in the largest federal false claims act case in the nation, the $2.4 billion action on behalf of HUD against Allied Home Mortgage. Large or small, suing banks and getting justice for victims of predatory lending and foreclosure practices is what we enjoy.

Mahany & Ertl, America’s Fraud Lawyers. Offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine & Minneapolis, Minnesota. Services available in many jurisdictions.

AZ Secretary of State Ken Bennett Guest Speaker at Phoenix Foreclosure Strategists Meeting

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Foreclosure Strategists:  Phoenix Arizona

Contact: Darrell Blomberg 602-686-7355 or Darrell@ForeclosureStrategists.com

Meeting: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Special guest speaker:  Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett

Some of the topics we will be discussing are:
Duties of the Secretary of the State
Oath’s of Office
Missing pages
Complaint Process
Notaries Public
Training & Commissioning
Can the public attend?
Administration of Oath
Duties
Notarized versus Acknowledged
Electronic Notarizations
Complaint Process
Who can file
Missing dates: “My Commission Expires: ____”
Procedural process
Interaction with Attorney General’s Office
Suspensions
Revocation of notary commission
Reinstatements
Informal Settlement Conferences
Paula Gruntmeir’s three retroactive reinstatements
Validity of Documents not properly acknowledged
Interaction with Legislative Process
Current efforts
Interaction with Attorney General’s Office
Have you written a guitar parody about Arizona Foreclosures?
Comments on Foreclosure effects on fellow Arizonans
Things we can expect from your office
Things we can do to support your efforts
Thank you!

IF YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL TOPICS TO ADD TO THIS OUTLINE PLEASE GET THOSE TO ME NOW!

To further prepare for this meeting you may want to familiarize yourself with:

            Arizona Secretary of State’s website
            (http://www.azsos.gov)
            Annual Report of the Arizona Secretary of State
            (http://www.azsos.gov/public_services/annual_report/2011/Annual_Report.pdf) 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Qualified Written Requests (QWRs)

10-day Owner / Assignee Requests

Payoff Demand Letters

We will be discussing recent updates to Qualified Written Requests laws.  We will look at what the appropriate contents of the QWR should be.  Many people are blindly sending letters demanding every possible bit of discovery.  A QWR loaded with arbitrary demands diminishes the effectiveness of your effort.  Learn to draft a succinct, laser-focused QWR that gets you the results you want.

Well also be studying the key points for effective 10-day Owner / Assignee and Accounting Request Letters.  More details for this meeting will follow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Special guest speaker:  Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne

We will be discussing among other things:

Arizona v Countrywide / Bank of America lawsuit
National Attorneys General Mortgage Settlement
Attorney General Legislative Efforts (Vasquez?)
OCC Complaints notarizations and all that is associated with that.

Please send me your thoughts and questions you’d like to ask Tom Horne.  More details for this meeting will follow.

We meet every week!

Every Tuesday: 7:00pm to 9:00pm. Come early for dinner and socialization. (Food service is also available during meeting.)
Macayo’s Restaurant, 602-264-6141, 4001 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012. (east side of Central Ave just south of Indian School Rd.)
COST: $10… and whatever you want to spend on yourself for dinner, helpings are generous so bring an appetite.
Please Bring a Guest!
(NOTE: There is a $2.49 charge for the Happy Hour Buffet unless you at least order a soft drink.)

MEETUP PAGE FOR FORECLOSURE STRATEGISTS:

I have set up a MeetUp page. The page can be viewed at www.MeetUp.com/ForeclosureStrategists. Please get the word out and send your friends and other homeowners the link.

FACEBOOK PAGE FOR “FORECLOSURE STRATEGIST”

I have set up a Facebook page. (I can’t believe it but it is necessary.) The page can be viewed atwww.Facebook.com, look for and “friend” “Foreclosure Strategist.”

I’ll do my best to keep it updated with all of our events.

Please get the word out and send your friends and other homeowners the link.

May your opportunities be bountiful and your possibilities unlimited.

“Emissary of Observation”

Darrell Blomberg

602-686-7355

Darrell@ForeclosureStrategists.com

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

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GARFIELD PROPOSES NATIONAL LAW FIRM FOR COUNTER-ATTACK

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.

Believe It Or Not It’s Getting Worse

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Editor’s Comment: 

Foreclosures And The Bottomless Pit

Written by: Mike Whitney

“There are many good reasons to believe that the 5.5 million foreclosures we have seen are barely halfway through their full course. The United States may end up with a total of 8-10 million foreclosures before we are finished.” – Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture

It all gets down to supply and demand. The banks have been keeping millions of homes off the market until a settlement was reached in the $25 billion robosigning scandal. Now that the 49-state deal has been finalized, the banks are preparing to put more of their of distressed homes up for sale. That will lead to lower prices and the next leg down in the 6-year long housing crisis.

According to Reuters, new foreclosures “begun by Deutsche Bank were up 47 percent from 2011. Those of Wells Fargo’s rose 68 percent and Bank of America’s, including BAC Home Loans Servicing, jumped nearly seven-fold — 251 starts versus 37 in the same period in 2011.”

So BofA, which unwisely purchased Countryside following the Crash of ’08, is scrambling to get its house in order by removing the deadwood from its balance sheet. Good luck with that.

In order to avoid a sudden plunge in prices–which would be devastating for bank balance sheets–the banks will continue to control the number of homes that are released onto the market. In 2011, existing home inventory shrunk by 20 percent year over year while the shadow backlog of distressed homes continued to grow in leaps and bounds. This shows that the banks are managing inventory to minimize their losses.

But even though “visible” inventory has shrunk by as much as 30 percent in some markets, housing prices have continued their downward trek, dropping roughly 4 percent in 2011. This reflects the truly dismal condition of the underlying economy that is wracked by high unemployment, flat wages, and soaring personal debt. Absent another round of fiscal stimulus, there’s little chance that housing sales will rebound in 2012 despite historic low rates and myriad government loan modification programs.

The biggest problem facing housing now is that ordinary working people can’t make their monthly payments. An article in Reuters summed it up like this: “The subprime stuff is long gone,” said Michael Redman, founder of 4closurefraud.org. “Now the folks being affected are hardworking, everyday Americans struggling because of the economy.”

So what we’re seeing now is the knock-on effects from high unemployment, tight credit, shitty wages and deep protracted economic stagnation. This is a policy issue, but policymakers refuse to address it, so housing will bump along the bottom for years to come. Now take a look at this article in the Wall Street Journal:

“Delinquent mortgage borrowers, take note: Banks still aren’t moving very fast to kick you out of your homes. February’s foreclosure settlement between big U.S. banks and state attorneys general should have been bad news for mortgage deadbeats — and for house prices. Having resolved charges that they had filed bogus documents to speed up repossessions, the banks should have felt free to move ahead with millions of foreclosures. They should also have started selling more repossessed houses, an influx of cheap supply that would weigh on the market.

So far, though, that’s not happening. …. as a result, the average number of days since the last mortgage payment had been made on homes in the foreclosure process rose to 667, up from 660 the previous month and 253 in February 2008. In other words, the average delinquent borrower could live rent-free for nearly two years without getting evicted, assuming the borrower chose to stay in the house.” (“The Foreclosure Deal Spares the Housing Market (So Far)”, Bloomberg)

Just to be clear, we do not agree with the author that the people who were victims in this vast criminal mortgage laundering scam– that destroyed the financial system and pushed the global economy into a Depression–can be fairly characterized as “mortgage deadbeats”. Even so, the point he makes is important, because it illustrates how the banks are fiddling with supply to avoid the losses on non-performing loans. Screwball accounting regulations allow the banks to keep mortgages on their books at fictitious prices (artificially high) until the house is sold. Only then, are they required to write down the difference. Considering that they still have millions of distressed homes on their books, this is no small matter. An accurate accounting of bank real estate inventory would show that most of the biggest banks in the country are technically insolvent.

So what does this mean for people who are thinking about buying a house in the near future? Should they hang on to their money and wait for another year or so or jump at that $450,000 McMansion with the Gothic parapets and custom Swedish sauna that’s been marked-down to a mere $185,000?

That’s hard to say. It depends on one’s own priorities. But one thing is certain, housing prices won’t be going up for a very long time. Maybe never. Moody’s ratings agency forecasts that we’ll see ”an 8% to 10% decline in housing prices” due to a 25 percent uptick in repossessed properties from 1 million in 2011. Unfortunately, Moody’s calculations are far too optimistic. In fact, “top housing analyst Laurie Goodman estimates the amount of shadow inventory at between 8 and 10 million homes, and Michael Olenick, using a different methodology, comes in at just under 9 million homes.” (Moody’s Foresees 10% Drop in US Housing Prices, naked capitalism)

Even if Goodman-Olenick’s predictions are wrong by half–which is unlikely–prices have a long way to go before they hit bottom.

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

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