DOJ Probes Wells Fargo: Unravelling the Scam Piece by Piece

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Editor’s Comment and Analysis: For those, like myself, frustrated with the pace of the investigation, we must remember that the convoluted manner in which money and documents were handled was intended to obscure the PONZI scheme at the root of the securitization scam and false claims based upon securitization.

None of us saw anything this complex and after devoting 6 years of life to unraveling this mess I am still learning more each day , even with an extensive background on Wall Street and even with my experience with bond trading, investment banking and related matters.

So first they are going after the low-hanging fruit, which is the obvious misrepresentations to the investors who actually comprise most of the same people who were foreclosed. It was pension funds and retirement accounts managed directly or indirectly by the Wall Street banks that bought these bogus “mortgage-backed” bonds. Those same funds are now underfunded and headed for another bailout fight with the Congress.

The problem is that DOJ is still looking at documents and representations when they should be probing the actual movement of money. It is there that they will find the holy grail of prosecutable crimes. The money just didn’t go the way the banks said it would. The banks took trading profits out of the money before it even landed in an account which incidentally was never titled in the name of the REMIC that issued the fake mortgage bonds backed by loans that did not exist in the “the pool.”

Nonetheless I am encouraged that DOJ is chipping away at this, and getting their feet wet, as they get to understand what was really happening, to wit: a simple PONZI scheme in which the deal would fold as soon as there were no more investments by investors.

This simple core was covered by multiple layers of false documentation, robo-signed documents and other transmissions with disclaimers, such that there would be plausible deniability. In the end it is nothing different than Madoff, Drier or other schemes that have landed many titans in prison for the rest of their lives — unless they died before serving their sentence.

I’m an optimist: I still believe that in the end, these banksters will be brought to  justice for real crimes they committed or were directing through their position in the institutions they supposedly represented. The end result is going to be an overhaul of banking like we have not seen before perhaps in all of U.S. history.

The fact remains that the assets on the balance sheets of these banks are (a) overstated by assets that are either non existent or overvalued and (b) understated by the amount of money they parked off-shore in “off balance sheet transactions.”

In the end, which I predict could still be five years away or more, the large banks will have disappeared and the banking industry will return to the usual marketplace of large, medium and small banks, each easily subject to regulation and audits.

How the staggering toll exacted from the middle class will be handled is another story. Nobody in power wants to give the ordinary guy money even if he was defrauded. But unless they give restitution to the pension funds and homeowners, the economy will continue to drag and lag behind where it should be.

Wells Fargo Wachovia Unit Faces Probe Over Mortgage Practices

Reuters

Nov 6 (Reuters) – The government’s investigation of mortgage-related practices at Wells Fargo & Co includes the making and packaging of home loans by its Wachovia unit, the bank said in a filing Tuesday.

The No. 4 U.S. bank by assets disclosed in February that it may face federal enforcement action related to mortgage-backed securities deals leading to the financial crisis.

In Tuesday’s quarterly securities filing, Wells Fargo reiterated that it’s being investigated for whether it properly disclosed in offering documents the risks associated with its mortgage-backed securities.

The bank also said the government is investigating whether Wells Fargo complied with applicable laws, regulations and documentation requirements relating to mortgage originations and securitizations, including those at Wachovia.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia at the peak of the financial crisis in 2008 as losses in the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank’s mortgage portfolio ballooned.

Mortgages packaged into securities for investors during the housing boom still haunt big banks years later. Banks have been accused of failing to ensure the quality of the loans and for misrepresenting their risk to investors.

In January, the Obama administration set up a special task force to investigate practices related to mortgage-backed securities at banks.

In the group’s first action, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last month filed a civil suit against JPMorgan Chase & Co for alleged fraud at Bear Stearns, which JPMorgan bought at the government’s request in 2008.

Foreclosure Prevention 1.1

Nobody ever thought that returning a lady’s purse to her after a purse snatcher ran away with it was a gift. So why is anyone contesting returning the purse to homeowners who had their lives snatched from them?

The baby steps of the Obama administration are frustrating. Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and those who walk with Wall Street are using ideology and assumptions instead of reality and facts.

First they started with the idea of modifications. That would do it. Just change the terms a little, have the homeowner release rights and defenses to what was a completely fraudulent and deceptive loan transaction (and a violation of securities regulations) and the foreclosure mess would end. No, it doesn’t work that way.

The reality is that these homeowners are being drained every day and displaced from their lives and homes by the consequences of a scheme that depended upon fooling people into signing mortgages under the false assumption that the appraisal had been verified and that the loan product was viable. All sorts of tricks were used to make borrowers think that an underwriting process was under way when in fact, it was only a checklist, they were even doing title checks (using credit reports instead), and the viability of the loan was antithetical to their goals, to wit: to have the loans fail, collect on the insurance and get the house too without ever reporting a loss.

Then it went to modification through interest rate reduction and adding the unpaid monthly payments to the end of the mortgage. Brilliant idea. The experts decided that an interest rate reduction was the equivalent of a principal reduction and that everything would even out over time.

Adding ANYTHING to principal due on the note only put these people further under water and reduced any incentive they had to maintain their payments or the property. Reducing the interest was only the equivalent of principal reduction when you looked at the monthly payments; the homeowner was still buried forever, without hope of recovery, under a mountain of debt based upon a false value associated with the property and a false rating of the loan product.

Adding insult to injury, the Obama administration gave $10 billion to servicing companies to do modifications — not even realizing that servicers have no authority to modify and might not even have the authority to service. Anyone who received such a modification (a) got a temporary modification called a “trial” (b) ended up back in foreclosure anyway (c) was used once again for unworthy unauthorized companies to collect even more illegal fees and (d) was part of a gift to servicers who were getting a house on which they had invested nothing, while the real source of funds was already paid in whole or in part by insurance, credit default swaps or federal bailout.

Now the Obama administration is “encouraging” modifications with reductions in principal of perhaps 30%. But the industry is pushing back because they don’t want to report the loss that would appear on their books now, if a modification occurred, when they could delay reporting the “loss” indefinitely by continuing the foreclosure process. The “loss” is fictitious and the push-back is an illusion. There is no loss from non-performance of these mortgages on the part of lending banks because they never lent any money other than the money of investors who purchased mortgage-backed bonds.

You want to stop the foreclosures. It really is very simple. Stop lying to the American people whether it is intentional or not. Admit that the homes they bought were not worth the amount set forth in the appraisal and not worth what the “lender” (who was no lender) “verified.” Through criminal, civil and/or administrative proceedings, get the facts and change the deals like any other fraud case. Nobody ever thought that returning a lady’s purse to her after a purse snatcher ran away with it was a gift. So why is anyone contesting returning the purse to homeowners who had their lives snatched from them?

U.S. Plans Big Expansion in Effort to Aid Homeowners

March 25, 2010

U.S. Plans Big Expansion in Effort to Aid Homeowners

By DAVID STREITFELD

The Obama administration on Friday will announce broad new initiatives to help troubled homeowners, potentially refinancing several million of them into fresh government-backed mortgages with lower payments.

Another element of the new program is meant to temporarily reduce the payments of borrowers who are unemployed and seeking a job. Additionally, the government will encourage lenders to write down the value of loans held by borrowers in modification programs.

The escalation in aid comes as the administration is under rising pressure from Congress to resolve the foreclosure crisis, which is straining the economy and putting millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes. But the new initiatives could well spur protests among those who have kept up their payments and are not in trouble.

The administration’s earlier efforts to stem foreclosures have largely been directed at borrowers who were experiencing financial hardship. But the biggest new initiative, which is also likely to be the most controversial, will involve the government, through the Federal Housing Administration, refinancing loans for borrowers who simply owe more than their houses are worth.

About 11 million households, or a fifth of those with mortgages, are in this position, known as being underwater. Some of these borrowers refinanced their houses during the boom and took cash out, leaving them vulnerable when prices declined. Others simply had the misfortune to buy at the peak.

Many of these loans have been bundled together and sold to investors. Under the new program, the investors would have to swallow losses, but would probably be assured of getting more in the long run than if the borrowers went into foreclosure. The F.H.A. would insure the new loans against the risk of default. The borrower would once again have a reason to make payments instead of walking away from a property.

Many details of the administration’s plan remained unclear Thursday night, including the precise scope of the new program and the number of homeowners who might be likely to qualify.

One administration official cautioned that the investors might not be willing to volunteer any loans from borrowers that seemed solvent. That could set up a battle between borrowers and investors.

This much was clear, however: the plan, if successful, could put taxpayers at increased risk. If many additional borrowers move into F.H.A. loans, a renewed downturn in the housing market could send that government agency into the red.

The F.H.A. has already expanded its mortgage-guarantee program substantially in the last three years as the housing crisis deepened. It now insures more than six million borrowers, many of whom made minimal down payments and are now underwater.

Sources said the agency would use $14 billion in funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, some of which it could dangle in front of financial institutions as incentives to participate.

Another major element of the program, according to several people who described it, will be to encourage lenders to write down the value of loans for borrowers in modification programs. Until now, the government’s modification efforts have focused on lowering interest rates.

Lenders began offering principal forgiveness last year on loans they held in their own portfolios. In the fourth quarter, however, this process abruptly reversed itself, for reasons that are unclear. The number of modifications that included principal reduction fell by half.

Bank of America, the country’s biggest bank, announced this week that it would forgive principal balances over a period of years on an initial 45,000 troubled loans.

Another element of the White House’s housing program will require lenders to offer unemployed borrowers a reduction in their payments for a minimum of three months.

An administration official declined to speak on the record about the new programs but said they would “better assist responsible homeowners who have been affected by the economic crisis through no fault of their own.”

The new initiatives would expand the government’s current mortgage modification plan, announced a year ago with great fanfare. It has resulted in fewer than 200,000 people getting permanent new loans. As many as seven million borrowers are seriously delinquent on their loans and at risk of foreclosure.

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