Banks Keep Winning, But Borrowers Are Picking Up the Pace

What’s the Next Step? Consult with Neil Garfield

CHECK OUT OUR NOVEMBER SPECIAL

For assistance with presenting a case for wrongful foreclosure, please call 520-405-1688, customer service, who will put you in touch with an attorney in the states of Florida, California, Ohio, and Nevada. (NOTE: Chapter 11 may be easier than you think).

Editors’ Analysis: Based upon reports coming from around the country, and especially in Florida, Nevada, New York, and other states, it seems that while the tide hasn’t turned, borrowers are finally mounting a meaningful challenge to the improper, illegal and fraudulent practices used at loan originations , assignments and foreclosures. As I have discussed with dozens of attorneys now, the strategies I suggested 6 years ago, once thought of as “fringe” are now becoming mainstream and the banks are feeling the pinch if not the bite of homeowners’ wrath.

The expression I like to use is that “At the end of the day everyone knows everything.” By using DENY and Discover tactics or strategies like that, borrowers are shifting the urden of persuasion onto the would-be foreclosers who in most cases do not have “the goods.” They are not a creditor, they didn’t fund the loan, they didn’t buy the loan and they don’t have any legal authorization to pursue foreclosure, submit a credit bid or otherwise trade in houses that were never subject to a perfected lien, and never owned by them.

It is becoming perfectly clear that something wrong is happening when the foreclosure strategies of the Wall Street puppets results in tens of thousands of homes being abandoned, blighting entire neighborhoods, towns and even cities. The banks are not stupid, although arrogance is not far from stupidity.

In ordinary times in any ordinary recession, the banks would do almost anything to avoid foreclose. They simply don’t have the money or the desire to acquire a portfolio of properties and they certainly don’t want to foreclose where the the end result is that the value of the collateral is diminished BELOW ZERO. And they certainly would not pursue policies that they knew would tank housing prices because it would only decrease the value of the loan and the likelihood of getting repaid for the loans they made.

But these are not ordinary times. Banks DO want price declines, so they can create REITS and other vehicles to pick up cheap properties. They DO want foreclosures even where the value of a blighted neighborhood is not worth the taxes, maintenance and insurance to keep the properties.

The reason is simple: if the loan is a total failure and under applicable state law they are able to create the appearance of a valid foreclosure, then the case is closed. Investors have not questioned the foreclosure process, mostly because they think that the basic problem was in the low underwriting standards which  certainly did contribute to the mortgage meltdown. If you look at most of the mortgages they have fatal flaws which increase the likelihood that the loan will fail — especially with blacks and other minorities who have been deprived of decent education and couldn’t possibly understand the deals they were signing.

Disclosure was required — but never made in terms that the borrowers understood — that the loans were being priced too high for the income of the household, and priced higher that the rates for which the household qualified. Blacks were 3.5x more likelihood to be steered into subprime loans when they qualified for conventional loans. People of Latin decent were treated like trash too being presented with documents that not only went above their education or sophistication in real estate transactions but also used words they never learned in English.

But the real reason I learned in my interviews was unrelated to the defective foreclosures. It goes back to the study made by Katherine Ann Porter when she was at the University of Iowa. Her study of thousands of mortgages and foreclosures came to the inescapable conclusion that at least 40% of all the origination documents were intentionally destroyed or claimed as lost. Other studies have shown the figure to be higher than 65%.

In ordinary times the  promissory note executed by the borrower in a conventional residential loan is a negotiable document supported by consideration from the payee who loaned money to the borrower. These notes were given to a custodian of records whose job was to preserve and protect these papers because they were considered by all accounting standards as CASH EQUIVALENT.

So on the balance sheet of the lender the cash was added to cash equivalents as total liquidity of the lender or bank. [What you are looking for on the balance sheet of the "lenders" are "loans receivable" and corresponding entry on the liability side of a reserve for bad debt. You won't find it in the "new mortgages" because they never had the real stake or risk of loss on that loan and therefore was excluded entirely from the balance sheet or placed in a category in loans held for sale along with a footnote or entry that zeroed out the asset of loans for sale because they were committed to third parties who had table funded the loan contrary to the express rules of TILA and Reg Z which state that the loans are presumptively predatory loans if the pattern of lending was  table funded loans.] See My workbooks on www.livinglies-store.com

The notes were considered liquid because there was always a secondary market in which to sell the notes and mortgages. And there, the proper chain of authorized signatures, resolutions, and endorsements was carefully followed, same as they would require from any borrower claiming an asset as proof of their credit-worthiness.

So why would any bank or any reasonable person intentionally destroy the original documents that constituted by definition the origination of the loan collateralize by a supposedly perfected lien? In my seminars and workbooks I answer this question with an example: “If you tell someone you have a hundred dollar bill and that they can have it if they buy to from you for $100, but that you will hold onto it because you will make some more money for them by lending it out, then the fraud is complete. And there you have the beginning of a PONZI scheme.

As long as you are paying them as though they had $100 invested, they are happy. But what if you were holding a $10 bill and not a $100 bill. What if they took your word for it that you were holding a $100 bill. AND what if now they want to see the $100 bill? Now you have a problem. You have no $100 bill to show them. You never did. For a while you could take incoming investor money and then show the original investor the money but when investors stop buying new deals, then you don’t have the $100 bills to show everyone you dealt with because all you ever had was a $10 bill.

So better to say that you destroyed it under the premise that the digitized copy would suffice or lost it because of the complexity of the securitization process than to admit that you never had it to begin with. If you admit it, you go to jail and you are ordered to pay restitution, your assets seized and marshaled to return as much money as possible to the victims of the PONZI scam.

If you don’t admit it, then there is the possibility that after probing why the investors didn’t get their money back, they start discovering how you were using their money, and what you were doing as business plan. The only way to shut that off and make it least likely that investors would ever question whether you had represented the deal correctly at the beginning, to avoid criminal prosecution, is to COMPLETE the FORECLOSURE Process which gives the further appearance that there is an official state government seal of approval on a perfectly illegal foreclosure and probably an economic crime.

See below for the suffering and light and lives lost because of this incredible crime that nobody seems to want to prosecute. A crime, by the way, they has corrupted title records that will haunt us for decades to come.

wall-street-kept-winning-on-mortgages-upending-homeowners.html

Az Statute on Mortgage Fraud Not Enforced (except against homeowners)

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

Editor’s Comment:

With a statute like this on the books in Arizona and elsewhere, it is difficult to see why the Chief Law Enforcement of each state, the Attorney General, has not brought claims and prosecutions against all those entities and people up and down the fraudulent securitization chain that brought us the mortgage meltdown, foreclosures of more than 5 million people, suicides, evictions and claims of profits based upon the fact that the free house went to the pretender lender.

Practically every act described in this statute was committed by the investment banks and all their affiliates and partners from the seller of the bogus mortgage bond (sold forward, which means that the loans did not yet exist) all the way down to the people at the closing table with the homeowner borrower.

I’d like to see a script from attorneys who confront the free house concept head on. The San Francisco study and other studies clearly show that many if not most foreclosures resulted in a “sale” of property without any cash offered by the buyer who submitted a credit bid when they had not established themselves as creditors nor had they established the amount due. And we now know that they failed to establish themselves as creditors because they neither loaned the money nor purchased the loan in any transaction in which they parted with money. So the consideration for the sale was not present or if you want to put it in legalese that would effect those states that allow review of the adequacy of consideration at the auction.

I’d like to see a lawyer go to court and say “Judge, you already know it would be wrong for my client to get a free house. I am here to agree with you and state further that whether you rule for the borrower or this pretender lender here, you are going to give a free house to somebody.

“Because this party initiated a foreclosure proceeding without being the creditor, without spending a dime on the loan or purchase of the loan, and without any right to represent the multitude of people and entities that should be paid on this loan. This pretender, this stranger to this transaction stands in the way of a mediated settlement or HAMP modification in which the borrower is more than happy to do a traditional workout based upon the economic realities.

“And they they maintain themselves as obstacles to mediation or modification because they have too much to hide about the origination of this loan.

“All I seek is that you recognize that we deny the loan on which this party is pursuing its claims, we deny the default and we deny the balance. That puts the matter at issue in which there are relevant and material facts that are in dispute.

“I say to you that as a Judge you are here to call balls and strikes and that your ruling can only be that with issues in dispute, the case must proceed.”

“The pretender should be required to state its claim with a complaint, attach the relevant documents and the homeowner should be able to respond to the complaint and confront the witnesses and documents being used. And that means the pretender here must be subject to the requirements of the rules of civil procedure that include discovery.

“Experience shows that there have been no trials on the evidence in all the foreclosures ever brought during this period and that the moment a judge rules on discovery in favor of the borrower, the pretender offers settlement. Why do you think that is?”

“If they had a good reason to foreclose and they had the authority to allege the required the elements of foreclosure and they had the proof to back it up they would and should be more than willing to put a stop to all these motions and petitions from borrowers. But they don’t allow any case to go to trial. They are winning on procedure because of the assumption that the legitimate debt is unpaid and that the borrower owes it to the party making the claim even if there never was transaction with the pretender in which the borrower was a party, directly or indirectly.”

“Neither the non-judicial powers of sale statutes nor the rules of civil procedure based upon constitutional requirements of due process can be used to thwart a claim that has merit or raises issues that have merit. You should not allow the statute and rules to be applied in a manner in which a stranger to the transaction who could not even plead a case in good faith would win a foreclosed house at auction without court review and a hearing on the merits.”

Residential mortgage fraud; classification; definitions in Arizona

Section 1. Title 13, chapter 23, Arizona Revised Statutes, is amended by adding section 13-2320, to read:
13-2320.

A. A PERSON COMMITS RESIDENTIAL MORTGAGE FRAUD IF, WITH THE INTENT TO DEFRAUD, THE PERSON DOES ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:

  1. KNOWINGLY MAKES ANY DELIBERATE MISSTATEMENT, MISREPRESENTATION OR MATERIAL OMISSION DURING THE MORTGAGE LENDING PROCESS THAT IS RELIED ON BY A MORTGAGE LENDER, BORROWER OR OTHER PARTY TO THE MORTGAGE LENDING PROCESS.
  2. KNOWINGLY USES OR FACILITATES THE USE OF ANY DELIBERATE MISSTATEMENT, MISREPRESENTATION OR MATERIAL OMISSION DURING THE MORTGAGE LENDING PROCESS THAT IS RELIED ON BY A MORTGAGE LENDER, BORROWER OR OTHER PARTY TO THE MORTGAGE LENDING PROCESS.
  3. RECEIVES ANY PROCEEDS OR OTHER MONIES IN CONNECTION WITH A RESIDENTIAL MORTGAGE LOAN THAT THE PERSON KNOWS RESULTED FROM A VIOLATION OF PARAGRAPH 1 OR 2 OF THIS SUBSECTION.
  4. FILES OR CAUSES TO BE FILED WITH THE OFFICE OF THE COUNTY RECORDER OF ANY COUNTY OF THIS STATE ANY RESIDENTIAL MORTGAGE LOAN DOCUMENT THAT THE PERSON KNOWS TO CONTAIN A DELIBERATE MISSTATEMENT, MISREPRESENTATION OR MATERIAL OMISSION.

Those convicted of one count of mortgage fraud face punishment in accordance with a Class 4 felony.  Anyone convicted of engaging in a pattern of mortgage fraud could be convicted of a Class 2 felony


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

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

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

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

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

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.

White Paper: Many Causes of Foreclosure Crisis

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

Editor’s Comment:

I attended Darrell Blomberg’s Foreclosure Strategists’ meeting last night where Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne defended the relatively small size of the foreclosure settlement compared with the tobacco settlement. To be fair, it should be noted that the multi-state settlement relates only to issues brought by the attorneys general. True they did very little investigation but the settlement sets the guidelines for settling with individual homeowners without waiving anything except that the AG won’t bring the lawsuits to court. Anyone else can and will. It wasn’t a real settlement. But the effect was what the Banks wanted. They want you to think the game is over and move on. The game is far from over, it isn’t a game and I won’t stop until I get those homes back that were ripped from the arms of homeowners who never knew what hit them.

So this is the first full business day after AG Horne promised me he would get back to me on the question of whether the AG would bring criminal actions for racketeering and corruption against the banks and servicers for conducting sham auctions in which “credit bids” were used instead of cash to allow the banks to acquire title. These credit bids came from non-creditors and were used as the basis for issuing deeds on foreclosure, each of which carry a presumption of authenticity.  But the deeds based on credit bids from non-creditors represent outright theft and a ratification of a corrupt title system that was doing just fine before the banks started claiming the loans were securitized.

Those credit bids and the deeds issued upon foreclosure were sham transactions — just as the transactions originated with borrowers were based upon the lies and false pretenses of the acting lenders who were paid for their acting services. By pretending that the loan came from these thinly capitalised sham companies (all closed with no forwarding address), the banks and servicers started the lie that the loan was sold up the tree of securitization. Each transaction we are told was a sale of the loan, but none of them actually involved any money exchanging hands. So much for, “value received.”

The purpose of these loans was to create a process that would cover up the theft of the investor money that the investment bank received in exchange for “mortgage bonds” based upon non-existent transactions and the title equivalent of wild deeds.

So the answer to the question is that borrowers did not make bad decisions. They were tricked into these loans. Had there been full disclosure as required by TILA, the borrowers would never have closed on the papers presented to them. Had there been full disclosure to the investors, they never would have parted with a nickel. No money, no lender, no borrower no transactions. And practically barring lawyers from being hired by borrowers was the first clue that these deals were upside down and bogus. No, they didn’t make bad decisions. There was an asymmetry of information that the banks used to leverage against the borrowers who knew nothing and who understood nothing.  

“Just sign everywhere we marked for your signature” was the closing agent’s way of saying, “You are now totally screwed.” If you ask the wrong question you get the wrong answer. “Moral hazard” in this context is not a term anyone knowledgeable uses in connection with the borrowers. It is a term used to express the context in which unscrupulous Bankers acted without conscience and with reckless disregard to the public, violating every applicable law, rule and regulation in the process.

Why Did So Many People Make So Many Ex Post Bad Decisions? The Causes of the Foreclosure Crisis

Public Policy Discussion Paper No. 12-2


by Christopher L. Foote, Kristopher S. Gerardi, and Paul S. Willen

This paper presents 12 facts about the mortgage market. The authors argue that the facts refute the popular story that the crisis resulted from financial industry insiders deceiving uninformed mortgage borrowers and investors. Instead, they argue that borrowers and investors made decisions that were rational and logical given their ex post overly optimistic beliefs about house prices. The authors then show that neither institutional features of the mortgage market nor financial innovations are any more likely to explain those distorted beliefs than they are to explain the Dutch tulip bubble 400 years ago. Economists should acknowledge the limits of our understanding of asset price bubbles and design policies accordingly.

To ready the entire paper please go to this link: www.bostonfed.org/economic/ppdp/2012/ppdp1202.htm

The Reporter Who Saw it Coming

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

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

Featured Products and Services by The Garfield Firm

NEW! 2nd Edition Attorney Workbook,Treatise & Practice Manual – Pre-Order NOW for an up to $150 discount
LivingLies Membership – Get Discounts and Free Access to Experts
For Customer Service call 1-520-405-1688

Want to read more? Download entire introduction for the Attorney Workbook, Treatise & Practice Manual 2012 Ed – Sample

Pre-Order the new workbook today for up to a $150 savings, visit our store for more details. Act now, offer ends soon!

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,420 other followers

%d bloggers like this: