Bank of American Class-Action Certified: Countrywide via LandSafe used inflated Real Estate Appraisals

First a little background.  On February 6, 2018 a California federal judge certified a nationwide class of borrowers accusing Countrywide Financial Corporation of using inflated real estate appraisals to inflate its loan origination business from 2003 to 2008, overturning successor Bank of America’s claims that borrowers won’t be able to back up their racketeering claims with  proof.

The class-action covers borrowers who received an appraisal from LandSafe Inc. between 2003 to 2008 in connection with a loan that was originated by Countrywide. Countrywide, that owned LandSafe, was acquired by Bank of America in July 2008. LandSafe was sold and is now owned by CoreLogic Inc.

The Plaintiffs have submitted substantial evidence that could be used to prove an alleged RICO scheme existed.  The lead attorney is Roland Tellis who believes the class-action reflects the fact that borrowers were scammed by phony appraisals but never received a refund, despite the fact that there have been massive settlements with regulators and investors.

The suit states that prior to the financial crisis, Countrywide and LandSafe “knowingly, fraudulently, systematically and uniformly” generated false appraisals so Countrywide could close as many home loans as possible.  Borrowers were required to use LandSafe to close, but thought they were paying for an independent, objective appraisal service when the appraisals had a “predetermined value”  to ensure the loans would close rapidly.

The plaintiffs claim they were charged between $300 and $600 each for allegedly corrupt appraisals.  While it is great news that the courts are starting to recognize that a mass-fraud was perpetrated on homeowners, it is unlikely the Appellate court will see the situation the same way as the lower court.  There is also the fact that most class-members receive much in the way of compensation.  The cases typically settle once the numbers get high enough to satisfy the class-action attorneys.

However, there is still a lot of proof that will come out if the case is isn’t settled quickly — damaging proof.  And it is worth noting that the Judge is giving at least some credence to the idea that the entire mortgage meltdown was based upon multiple frauds perpetrated by the banks — not 30 million people waking up one morning and deciding to borrow more than they could afford. I might add that affordability is the responsibility of the lender, not the borrower.  See TILA.  It is presumed by all lending laws that borrowers lack the sophistication to understand the deal they are signing.

Matt Taibbi likened securitization and Goldman Sachs in particular to a vapid squid with many tentacles reaching into the pockets and lives of millions of people. I would extend the analogy further if memory serves, to wit: the squid has three hearts. Appraisal fraud at the instigation of the banks was one of the hearts of the illegal securitization fail scheme — a plan that was, at its heart, nothing more than a Ponzi scheme. They could mollify investors by having them receive monthly payments and even encourage the investors to buy more “mortgage bonds.”
It was the purchases of those bogus securities that fueled everything. When that stopped the entire system collapsed — the hallmark of every Ponzi scheme. And it all happened because of the revolving door between Wall Street and regulators who quickly discovered that by accepting placement inside a regulatory agency, they could emerge within 2 years and take jobs at salaries that were geometrically higher than where they started.
So the people who were working as regulators didn’t want to kill the golden goose, much the same as the appraisers who ultimately caved under pressure from the banks. Of all people the appraisals and the banks knew exactly what was happening. And people who worked in the agencies were loathe to restrain or punish the banks because the banks were their next employer. It was no accident that so many agencies and even the Fed were asleep at the wheel. They were not asleep. They were just biding their time until they left the agency and took a job with the perpetrator of the scheme that they were charged with monitoring.
The banks were flooding the market with money — other people’s money, not their own. I personally witnessed the appraisal fraud in Arizona on several closings where in each case the appraiser came back with an appraisal that pegged the value of the property $20,000 higher than the contract price. In each case the appraiser was given the contract or at least the contract price and the direct or tacit instruction to come back with an appraisal that made the deal appear viable. It wasn’t. Looking at the Case-Schiller Index it is easy at a glance to see how PRICE was driven far above VALUE of property. All housing prices and values were closely related to household income. There was no spike in income for household, but prices were moved ever higher by the banks who were manipulating appraisers.
In 2005 8,000 appraisers petitioned Congress saying that they were being coerced into false appraisals. They either did the appraisal as instructed or they would never see another appraisal job. Congress ignored it. Many appraisers dropped out of the market. The rest were tempted by oversize fees (that in many cases were partially kicked back to the loan originator) or felt compelled to stay in the market because they had nowhere else to go.
The banks were trying all sorts of ways to maximize the amounts of money being moved from the investment sector to the benefit, as it turned out, of themselves and nobody else. The entire time they were driving demand up for loans sold by fraudulent promises from mortgage brokers, who in some cases were convicted felons who had been found guilty of economic crimes. At one point there were 10,000 felons who were registered as salesman for loan products that had no possibility of being sustained.
And it wasn’t that the banks were unaware of the defective loans that violated TILA in multiple ways. They were counting on it. On the way up they sold defective loan products that were never subjected to due diligence by anyone. They, above all others, knew the loans would fail; in fact they were counting on it. They were betting against the performance of the loans by negotiating insurance contracts for either the loans or the “mortgage bonds” or both and selling derivative futures that in many cases were disguised sales of entire loan portfolios that were never owned by the “Seller.”
The big payoff came when the loans and the “mortgage bonds” failed and all sorts of people and entities were caught having to either cough up money or declaring bankruptcy. The AIG insurance [packages were specifically written such that AIG would NOT be subrogated and be able to make claims on the underlying loans nor the “mortgage bonds”].  For a few dollars in premiums the suckers on Wall Street had bought themselves a world of trouble.
Appraisal fraud lies at the heart of the scheme. The illusion of an ever-climbing market kept people refinancing their property, buying overpriced property, and, most importantly buying bogus “mortgage bonds” issued by the underwriter of the bonds utilizing the fictitious name of a REMIC Trust. This was the holy grail of securities underwriting: what if you could sell shares of a nonexistent entity, keep the proceeds, and then sell securities and contracts that derived from the nonexistent value of the Trust?
The average homeowner knows nothing of any of this and reasonably relied upon the representations by sellers of defective loan products; besides reposing trust in such entities just because they appeared to be an institutional lender, borrowers believed the rationale that banks would not lend money they knew they would never collect. That would be true if the banks were making loans. In truth, they were intermediaries with contractual and legal duties to everyone with whom they did business. They breached those duties to everyone in multiple ways but none so glaring as appraisal fraud and kickbacks on fraudulent appraisal fees.

The judge also certified a subclass of Texas borrowers who are bringing an unjust enrichment claim under Texas law and appointed Baron & Budd PC and Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP to serve as class counsel.

All plaintiffs are represented by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP and Baron & Budd PC

The cases are Waldrup v. Countrywide Financial Corp. et al., case number 2:13-cv-08833, and Williams et al. v. Countrywide Financial Corp. et al., case number 2:16-cv-04166, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Maine Case Affirms Judgment for Homeowner — even with admission that she signed note and mortgage and stopped paying

While this case turned upon an  inadequate foundation for introduction of “business records” into evidence, I think the real problem here for Keystone National Association was that they did not and never did own the loan — something revealed by the usual game of musical chairs that the banks use to confuse and obscure the identity of the real creditor.

When you read the case it demonstrates that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court was not at all sympathetic with Keystone’s “plight.” Without saying so directly the court’s opinion clearly reveals its doubt as to whether Keystone had any plight or injury.

Refer to this case and others like it where the banks treated the alleged note and mortgage as being the object of a parlor game. The attention paid to the paperwork is designed by the banks to distract from the real issue — the debt and who owns it. Without that knowledge you don’t know the principal and therefore you can’t establish authority by a “servicer.”

The error in courts across the country has been that the testimony and records of the servicer are admissible into evidence even if the authority to act as servicer did not emanate from the real party in interest — the debt holder (the party to whom the MONEY is due.

Note that this ended in judgment for the homeowner and not an involuntary dismissal without prejudice.

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Hat Tip to Bill Paatalo

Keybank – maine supreme court

Here are some meaningful quotes from the Court’s opinion:

KeyBank did not lay a proper foundation for admitting the loan servicing records pursuant to the business records exception to the hearsay rule. See M.R. Evid. 803(6).

KeyBank’s only other witness was a “complex liaison” from PHH Mortgage Services, which, he testified, is the current loan servicer for KeyBank and handles the day-to-day operations of managing and servicing loan accounts.

The complex liaison testified that he has training on and personal knowledge of the “boarding process” for loans being transferred from prior loan servicers to PHH and of PHH’s procedures for integrating those records. He explained that transferred loans are put through a series of tests to check the accuracy of any amounts due on the loan, such as the principal balance, interest, escrow advances, property tax, hazard insurance, and mortgage insurance premiums. He further explained that if an error appears on the test report for a loan, that loan will receive “special attention” to identify the issue, and, “[i]f it ultimately is something that is not working properly, then that loan will not . . . transfer.” Loans that survive the testing process are transferred to PHH’s system and are used in PHH’s daily operations.

The court admitted in evidence, without objection, KeyBank’s exhibits one through six, which included a copy of the original promissory note dated April 29, 2002;3 a copy of the recorded mortgage; the purported assignment of the mortgage by Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., from KeyBank to Bank of America recorded on January9, 2012; the ratification of the January 2012 assignment recorded on March 6, 2015; the recorded assignment of the mortgage from Bank of America to KeyBank dated October 10, 2012; and the notice of default and right to cure issued to Kilton and Quint by KeyBank in August 2015. The complex liaison testified that an allonge affixed to the promissory note transferred the note to “Bank of America, N.A. as Successor by Merger to BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP fka Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP,” but was later voided.

Pursuant to the business records exception to the hearsay rule, M.R. Evid. 803(6), KeyBank moved to admit exhibit seven, which consisted of screenshots from PHH’s computer system purporting to show the amounts owed, the costs incurred, and the outstanding principal balance on Kilton and Quint’s loan. Kilton objected, arguing that PHH’s records were based on the records of prior servicers and that KeyBank had not established that the witness had knowledge of the record-keeping practices of either Bank of America or Countrywide. The court determined that the complex liaison’s testimony was insufficient to admit exhibit seven pursuant to the business records exception.

KeyBank conceded that, without exhibit seven, it would not be able to prove the amount owed on the loan, which KeyBank correctly acknowledged was an essential element of its foreclosure action. [e.s.] [Editor’s Note: This admission that they could not prove the debt any other way means that their witness had no personal knowledge of the amount due. If the debt was in fact due to Keystone, they could have easily produced a  witness and a copy of the canceled check or wire transfer receipt wherein Keystone could have proven the debt. Keystone could have also produced a witness as to the amount due if any such debt was in fact due to Keystone. But Keystone never showed up. It was the servicer who showed up — the very party that could have information and exhibits to show that the amount due is correctly proffered because they confirmed the record keeping of “Countrywide” (whose presence indicates that the loan was subject to claims of securitization). But they didn’t because they could not. The debt never was owned by Keystone and neither Countrywide nor PHH ever had authority to “service” the loan on behalf of the party who owns the debt.]

the business records will be admissible “if the foundational evidence from the receiving entity’s employee is adequate to demonstrate that the employee had sufficient knowledge of both businesses’ regular practices to demonstrate the reliability and trustworthiness of the information.” Id. (emphasis added).

 

With business records there are three essential points of reference when several entities are involved as “lenders,” “successors”, or “servicers”, to wit:

  1. The records and record keeping practices of the initial “lender.” [If there are none then that would point to the fact that the “lender” was not the lender.] Here you are looking for the first entries on a valid set of business records in which the loan and fees and costs were posted. Generally speaking this does not exist in most loans because the money came a third party source who knows nothing of the transaction.
  2. The records and record keeping practices of any “successors.” Note that this is a second point where the debt is separated from the paper. If a successor is involved there would correspondence and agreements for the purchase and sale of the debt. What you fill find, though, is that there is only a naked endorsement, assignment or both without any correspondence or agreements. This indicates that the paper transfer of any rights to the “loan” was strictly for the purpose of foreclosing and bore new relationship to reality — i.e., ownership of the debt.
  3. The records and record keeping practices of any “servicers.” In order for the servicer to be authorized, the party owning the debt must have directly or indirectly given authorization and come to an agreement on fees, as well as given instructions as to what functions the servicer was to perform. What you will find is that there is no valid document from an owner of the debt appointing the servicer or giving any instructions, like what to do with the money after it is collected from homeowners. Instead you find tenuous documentation, with no correspondence or agreements, that make assertions for foreclosure. The game of musical chairs has bothered judges for a decade: “Why do the servicers keep changing” is a question I have heard from many judges. The typical claims of authorization are derived from Powers of Attorney or a Pooling and Servicing agreement for an entity that neither e exists nor does it have any operating history.

Another Countrywide Sham Goes Down the Drain

Banks use several ploys to distract the court, the borrower and the foreclosure defense attorney from the facts. One of them is citing a merger in lieu of presenting documents of transfer of the debt, note or mortgage. We already know that the debt is virtually never transferred because the transferor never had any interest in the debt and thus had no authority to administer the debt (i.e., as servicer).

So the banks have successfully pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes by citing a merger, as though that automatically transferred the note and mortgage from one party to another. Mergers come in all kinds of flavors and here the 5th Circuit in Florida recognizes that simple fact and emphatically states that the relationship between the parties must be proven along with proof that the note, or authority to enforce the note, must be proven by competent evidence.

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see Green v Green Tree Servicing Countrywide Home Loans et al 5D15-4413.op

*Judgment for Borrower (Involuntary Dismissal)
*Failure to provide evidence to explain relationships in mergers
*Failure to provide evidence of the terms of the merger and the transfer of the subject loan
* Failure to to provide evidence of standing at commencement of the lawsuit

An interesting side note to this case is that it never mentions the debt, which is the third rail of all claims of transfers and securitization. The opinion starts off with a recital of facts that differs from most other cases, to wit: it talks about how the homeowner signed the note and mortgage, and does not reference a loan made to him by the originator, Countrywide Home Loans (CHL).

The court remains strictly in the confines of who owns, controls or has the right to enforce the note — a fact that is relevant only if the note is evidence of an underlying debt. If no such debt exists between CHL and the homeowner, then the note is irrelevant — unless a successor possessor actually paid for it, in which case the successor could claim that it is a holder in due course and that the risk of loss shifts to the maker of the note under such circumstances.

The Green case here stands for the proposition that the banks may not paper over ownership or control or the right to enforce the note with vague references to a merger. The court points out that a merger might not include all the assets of one party or the other. More particularly, a merger, if it occurred must be proven along with some transfer of the subject note and mortgage.

And very specifically, the court says that entities may not be used interchangeably. The foreclosing party must explain the relationship between the parties affiliated with the “merged” entities.

[NOTE: Bank of America did not directly acquire CHL. CHL was merged into Red Oak Merger Corp., controlled by BofA. One of the reasons for doing it that way is to segregate questionable assets and liabilities from the rest of the BofA. BofA claimed ownership of CHL, and changed the name of CHL to BAC Home Loans. But it didn’t just change the name; it also made assertions, when it suited BofA that BAC was a separate entity, possibly an independent entity, which is also not true. So the Court’s objection to the lack of evidence on the merger is very well taken].

The Court also takes note of the claim that DiTech Financial was formerly known as Green Tree Servicing. That is not true. The DiTech name has been used by several different entities, been phased out, then phased in again. Again a reason why the court insists upon evidence that explains the actual relationship between actual entities, and not just names thrown around as though that meant anything.

Ultimately Green Tree, which no longer existed, was made the Plaintiff in the action. Some certificate of merger was introduced indicating a merger again, this time between DiTech Financial and GreenTree. In this lawsuit Green tree was presented as the surviving entity. But in all other cases DiTech Financial is presented as the surviving entity — or at least the DiTech name survived. There is considerable doubt whether the combination of Green Tree was anything more than rebranding an operation merging out of the Ally Financial bankruptcy and ResCap operations.

A sure sign of subterfuge is when the lawyer for the foreclosing party attempts to lead the court into treating multiple independent companies as a single entity. That, according to this court, would ONLY be acceptable if there was competent evidence admitted into the court record showing a clear line of succession such that a reasonable person could only conclude that the present successor company in fact encompasses all of the business activities and assets of the predecessors or, at the very least, encompasses a clear chain of possession, title and authorization of the subject loan.

[PRACTICE NOTES: Discovery of actual merger documents and documents of transfer should be vigorously pursued against expected opposition. Cite this case as mandatory or persuasive authority that the field of inquiry is perfectly proper — as long as the foreclosing entity is attempting tons the mergers and presumptive transfers against the homeowner.]

 

 

 

Pinning Them Down on Musical Chairs

In the final analysis there is nothing about the business model that makes sense. Switching servicers and owners is simply not the norm of the industry except in relation to cases in foreclosure. It only makes sense if you assume that they are hiding the truth.

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So I just responded to a homeowner who, with a little help from us, sent out a QWR and DVL and received a response that was quite revealing.  The homeowner was dealing with the usual chorus line of ever-changing servicers and alleged “lenders” (pretender lenders).
 *
After YEARS of denying that anyone other than BOA owned the loan they now admit that they are now asserting that Freddie Mac owns the loan, although, despite the QWR and DVL letters, they have never produced a single document that shows that.
 *
And after years of denying the involvement, Bayview makes the singular uncomfortable admission that LPS/Blacknight in Jacksonville maintains the system of records for Bayview (along with most everyone else in the “securitization” scheme). I say that means LPS is the servicer. If that opinion is right, then LPS is the servicer for virtually every loan made in the last 15 years. [Remember this is the company who published a menu of services that included the fabrication and forgery of documents]
 *
What they don’t say is that LPS (now known as Blacknight) maintained everything from the beginning because the loan didn’t legally exist nor was it ever purchased or acquired by anyone. The debt was and remains owing to institutional investors who don’t know they are owed money from the party who received their money. Neither the creditor nor the debtor know of each other’s identity or existence.
 *
So here are some of my responses to the array of documents sent to the homeowner leading one to the inevitable conclusion that they are intended merely to confuse and obfuscate.
  1. Freddie Mac is the owner. When did it become the owner?
  2. Did Freddie Mac approve the modification?
  3. Does Bayview have the right to commit to modification? ON behalf of whom did Bayview approve the modification? Who is bound by the modification agreement?
  4. Servicing changed from BAC—>BOA effective 7/11/11. BAC was the new name of Countrywide. So when did Countrywide get involved and how?
  5. When was servicing changed from BOA (the original pretender lender) to BAC or Countrywide?
  6. Servicing changed from BOA—>Bayview 8/1/15. It would be interesting to learn what other events may have prompted this change of servicer.
  7. What documents exist showing BOA right to service the loan?
  8. What documents exist showing Countrywide right to service the loan?
  9. What documents exist showing BAC right to service the loan?
  10. What documents exist showing Bayview right to service the loan.
  11. Request copies of servicing agreement.
  12. Who was the owner of the loan when the loan was first originated?
  13. Who was the owner of the loan when the servicing of the loan was transferred to Countrywide?
  14. Who was the owner of the loan when the servicing of the loan was transferred to BAC?
  15. Who was the owner of the loan when the servicing of the loan was transferred back to BOA?
  16. Who was the owner of the loan when the servicing of the loan was transferred to Bayview?
  17. Why was I not notified that Freddie Mac has become the owner of the loan? [Suggest letter to Freddie Mac asking if they are the owner and if they are aware there is a modification.]
  18. LPS/Blacknight: I am surprised they admitted it. So the question to them would be (a) are all records concerning my loan maintained by Blacknight and (b) is Blacknight actually my servicer? — Since Bayview says Blacknight has the records you could write to Blacknight and ask where your records are kept and who has access to them.
  19. The other question is if LPS/Blacknight maintains the system of records, what does Bayview do?
  20. 11/22/16 statement was prepared by Blacknight? where did they get information from? If there is a credit balance shouldn’t you get the money?
  21. If Freddie Mac is the owner then why did Bayview sign the acknowledgment as lender?
  22. If Bayview is the servicer why doesn’t the acknowledgment say that they are signing on behalf of FreddieMac, the owner?
  23. If Freddie Mac is the owner, why does the modification not state that and why does Bayview sign as and have you sign “in witness whereof, lender and Borrower have executed this agreement.”
  24. Since the modification has supposedly been completed, why hasn’t Freddie Mac or its authorized agent sent a correction to the credit bureaus — with the foreclosure dismissed?

Who is the Creditor? NY Appellate Decision Might Provide the Knife to Cut Through the Bogus Claim of Privilege

The crux of this fight is that if the foreclosing parties are forced to identify the creditors they will only have two options, in my opinion: (a) commit perjury or (b) admit that they have no knowledge or access to the identity of the creditor

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THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.
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see http://4closurefraud.org/2016/06/10/opinion-here-ny-court-says-bank-of-america-must-disclose-communications-with-countrywide-in-ambac-suit/

We have all seen it a million times — the “Trustees”, the “servicers” and their agents and attorneys all beg the question of identifying the names and contact information of the creditors in foreclosure actions. The reason is simple — in order to answer that question truthfully they would be required to admit that there is no party that could properly be defined as a creditor in relation to the homeowner.

They have successfully pushed the point beyond the point of return — they are alleging that the homeowner is a debtor but they refuse to identify a creditor; this means they are being allowed to treat the homeowner as a debtor while at the same time leaving the identity of the creditor unknown. The reason for this ambiguity is that the banks, from the beginning, were running a scheme that converted the money paid by investors for alleged “mortgage backed securities”; the conversion was simple — “let’s make their money our money.”

When inquiry is made to determine the identity of the creditor the only thing anyone gets is some gibberish about the documents PLUS the assertion that the information is private, proprietary and privileged.  The case in the above link is from an court of appeals in New York. But it could have profound persuasive effect on all foreclosure litigation.

Reciting the tension between liberal discovery and privilege, the court tackles the confusion in the lower courts. The court concludes that privilege is a very narrow shield in specific situations. It concludes that even the attorney-client privilege is a shield only between the client and the attorney and that adding a third party generally waives that privilege. The third party privilege is only extended in narrow circumstances where the parties are seeking a common goal. So in order to prevent the homeowner from getting the information on his alleged creditor, the foreclosing parties would need to show that there is a common goal between the creditor(s) and the debtor.

Their problem is that they can’t do that without showing, at least in camera, that the identity of the creditor is known and that somehow the beneficiaries of an empty trust have a common goal (hard to prove since the trust is empty contrary to the terms of the “investment”). Or, they might try to identify a creditor who is neither the trust nor the investors, which brings us back to perjury.

New York Times: Prosecution of Financial Crisis Fraud Ends With a Whimper

Photo

In 2011, Robert Khuzami of the Securities and Exchange Commission announced charges against top executives from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Credit Win Mcnamee/Getty Images

One source of great frustration from the financial crisis has been the dearth of cases against individuals over subprime lending practices and the related securitization of bad loans that caused so much financial havoc. To heighten the frustration, I offer Aug. 22, 2016, as the day on which efforts to pursue cases related to subprime mortgages were put to rest with no individuals — save perhaps the unfortunate former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice Tourre — held accountable.

On that date, the Securities and Exchange Commission settled its last remaining case against a former Fannie Mae chief executive for securities fraud related to the disclosure of the company’s subprime mortgage exposure. The agency accepted a mere token payment that will not even come out of the individual’s own pocket.

On the same day, a federal appeals court refused to reconsider its May ruling that Bank of America’s Countrywide mortgage unit and one of its former executives did not commit fraud by failing to disclose to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that the subprime loans it was selling to them did not come close to the contractual requirements for such transactions.

In December 2011, the S.E.C. publicized its civil securities fraud charges against top executives from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for understating their exposure to subprime mortgages, which resulted in the government taking them over. Robert Khuzami, then the head of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division, said that “all individuals, regardless of their rank or position, will be held accountable for perpetuating half-truths or misrepresentations about matters materially important to the interest of our country’s investors.”

That is not how it turned out, however. Five of the executives settled in 2015 by arranging for modest payments to be made on their behalf by the companies and their insurers, amounts that were never even described as penalties in the settlements.

Each also agreed not to hold a position in a public company that would require signing a filing on its behalf for up to two years. That is far short of the director and officer bar the S.E.C. usually seeks in such cases, but at least it had the sound of something punitive regardless of whether there was any real impact.

The settlement with the sixth defendant, Daniel H. Mudd, the former chief executive of Fannie Mae, disclosed in a judicial filing on Aug. 22, did not even reach that modest level of accountability. Fannie will make a $100,000 donation on his behalf to the Treasury Department — which is like shifting money from one pocket to another because the government already controls the company. Nor is there any ban on Mr. Mudd holding an executive position at another public company, something that at least resulted from the cases against the other executives.

What the S.E.C. accomplished in settling the cases against Mr. Mudd and the other executives hardly sends a message to other executives to be careful about how they act in the future. No money came out of the pockets of any of the defendants, and the prohibitions on future activity were token requirements. It was, after all, unlikely that any of the defendants would have been put in a leadership position at a public company within the applicable time. It is difficult not to come away with the impression that the settlements were little more than a slap on the wrist, and perhaps less than that for Mr. Mudd.

The case involving Countrywide may be more disheartening because it calls into question the scope of a federal statute from the savings and loan crisis, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, or Firrea, that the Justice Department used to extract large settlements from banks. That law authorizes the Justice Department to seek civil penalties for conduct that violates the mail and wire fraud statutes if it affects a bank.

The government won the jury trial in 2013. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, said that “in a rush to feed at the trough of easy mortgage money on the eve of the financial crisis, Bank of America purchased Countrywide, thinking it had gobbled up a cash cow. That profit, however, was built on fraud.” The trial court hit Bank of America with a $1.267 billion penalty and ordered a former Countrywide executive, the only individual named as a defendant in the case, to pay a separate $1 million fine.

But the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan overturned the verdict last year by ruling that the government had not shown fraud because there was no false statement made when Countrywide sold loans that did not meet certain contractual obligations it had with Fannie and Freddie. The opinion found that “willful but silent noncompliance” with a contract was not fraudulent without some later misstatement.

The government’s aggressive approach to the case may explain why the Justice Department asked the full appeals court to review the decision even though such a request is rarely granted.

The appeals court judges issued a terse order on Aug. 22 denying the government’s request without further comment, which means the only option for challenging the ruling will be to try to take the case to the Supreme Court. The last time the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to review a case from Mr. Bharara’s office was in United States v. Newman, an insider trading decision. The justices rejected that request before granting review in a similar case from California.

The likelihood that the Supreme Court will take up the appeals court’s decision appears to be low. The issue about what constitutes fraud in a contractual relationship is narrow, raising arcane questions about how a court should construe an agreement between sophisticated parties and when full disclosure is required. This is the type of claim that is usually pursued in a private lawsuit rather than through a federal enforcement action, so the justices may not want to be dragged into a dispute that will have little precedential impact on the application of federal law.

The lack of cases identifying individuals for any misconduct related to the financial crisis has become an all-too common complaint. What will be additionally disheartening to many is that even those few cases that were brought have now ended up largely as defeats for the government.

Mozilo Goes free

Someone needs to go back to the Declaration of Independence. Government exists only by consent of the governed. People are withdrawing their consent on a daily basis now. Where do you think that will lead?

see http://www.housingwire.com/articles/37308-countrywides-mozilo-reportedly-off-the-hook-for-all-those-subprime-mortgages?eid=311685972&bid=1437193#.V2RJhpGUqsU.email

Revenge is not the point. But justice is important. Mozilo was, in my opinion, just a bag man for the mega banks, making Countrywide into a giant holographic image of an empty paper bag.

DOJ is continuing to follow the rules set informally by the Bush administration and later ratified by the Obama administration in which it was assumed that the foxes would help “find” the chickens and put them back in the hen house. It was absurd to all of us who were even reasonably well versed in the language and culture of finance and economics.

Here is what we missed: a DOJ prosecution would have enabled the free flow of information back to the White House where decisions could be made about (1) what went wrong (2) who did it and (3) how to claw back trillions of dollars in ill-gotten gains. Instead both Bush and Obama went to the foxes to ask where the chickens were. The foxes still had chicken blood dripping from their mouths when they said “I don’t know but we’ll help you find out.” Both the Republican President and the Democratic President were clueless about finance. They had to rely on people who at least said they understood what was going on. They went to people from Wall Street who were fat, happy and getting more jovial with each passing month.

Here is what COULD have happened: the absence of a clear definition of a real creditor could have been exposed, making all the mortgages essentially unenforceable. The notes would have been unenforceable because they named parties who did NOT give the loan nor did those parties represent anyone who did give a loan. An announcement of this sort would have toppled the derivative market which is all based upon smoke and mirrors and would  have stopped the progression of the current derivative markets being used as a free zone for theft from investors.

The DEBT would still have been enforceable in favor of the investors, instead of the unused Trusts and other conduits and “originators.” But the real debt owed by homeowners would have been the value of the home, not the imaginary price of the home. All those crazy mortgage products were a cover-up for what the Wall Street banks were stealing from investors. The investors were not just some financial institution; they were managed funds for people’s retirement and savings. In a cruel irony, Wall Street cheated the same people against whom they were foreclosing. They stole the retirement money, covered it up in impossible loans, and then foreclosed saying they were doing so on behalf of the investors — i.e., the same people who were losing their homes, their pensions, retirement and their savings. In short Wall Street banks’ schemes resulted in the middle class suing itself for foreclosure, thus losing both their retirement, pension and savings and then their home.

Wall Street Banks could have been pushed aside as investors and homeowners figured out creative ways to remove the bad mortgages from the title chain and replace them with real mortgages that were based upon principal balances that were economically realistic. Neither the investors nor the borrowers knew that the banks had created a culture of false appraisals creating the illusion of a spike in land VALUE by manipulating the PRICE of  real property. Foreclosures could have been reduced to nearly zero. And the stimulus of maintaining household wealth would have made the recession a much milder affair. Instead there was an epic transfer of wealth from the vast population of people who were sucked into investing in the scheme to provide the food, and vast population of people who were duped into accepting the illusion of mortgage loans whose value was zero.

Somehow the media has concentrated on transfer of wealth as though it means the rich must give to the poor. But anyone with a high school degree can do this arithmetic — the transfer clearly went from the populous to the fraction of the 1% who had concocted this epic fraud. Our population went from middle class to below the poverty line while Mozilo and his counterparts made hundreds of millions of dollars at a minimum. Some made tens of billions of dollars that has not yet been revealed. All of that money came from the middle class and then the theft was rewarded with more trillions of dollars from the Federal government. Until we claw that money back our economy will remain forever fragile.

Mozilo earned nothing. He merely followed the instructions of people who had his complete attention. A civil or criminal prosecution would have led to the specific people whose orders he was following and an unraveling of a scheme that even Alan Greenspan admitted he didn’t understand. In short we would have known the truth and we would have had much greater trust in our Government institutions and our judiciary, who blindly accepted the nutty premise that the party suing for foreclosure wouldn’t be in court if there was no liability owed to them. Between the outlandishly cruel and biased criminal justice system and the tidal wave of foreclosures that never needed to happen, people have an historically low opinion of government and the Courts; and it seems that ordinary people have a greater understanding of what happened to the country at the hands of Wall Street banks than the officials who serve in the positions where such banks and such behavior is supposed to be regulated and stopped.

Bottom Line: As long as the Federal government fails to reign in illegal derivative activity (masking PONZI schemes and other illicit behavior) Judges will not reject the erroneous premise that homeowners got greedy and are deadbeats for failing to pay their debts. And as long as THAT continues, our economy cannot recover and our society will continue splitting apart. Someone needs to go back to the Declaration of Independence. Government exists only by consent of the governed. People are withdrawing their consent on a daily basis now. Where do you think that will lead?

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