Getting Your Goals Set on the Right Conclusions

For further information please call 954-495-9867 or 520-405-1688.

This for general information only and NOT an opinion on your case.
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I was responding to a client about the goals in opposing the wrongful foreclosures. These are hard to write or say. It might seem to be a contradiction in terms to walk away with a waiver of deficiency or some other “Settlement” or “Modification” with a party whom you know (but may not be able to prove) is false party with fake papers.

You might believe there might be as much as $50,000 in equity if and when repairs are made. My concern is that we don’t get pulled into reverse logic here. If the house is barely break-even without the repairs, then it could be wise to pursue short-sale or modification.  The real question is how much will it really cost to make the required repairs and where would you get the money from?

This is where most lay people put the cart before the horse. Equity in the home is not a matter for speculation, nor should it be calculated from a starting point of “after repairs.”

If you are looking for the pretenders to pay you damages sufficient to pay for the repairs and for them to give up on the foreclosure, it would be a mistake to assume that is going to happen without full scale litigation for wrongful foreclosure seeking money damages. That would require a lot of money in fees, costs and other expenses. You should determine whether  you have any appetite for that.

If you did have the money for repairs, then it would seem that you would have made the repairs and then sold the house, taking your equity and paying off whoever is claiming to own the loan, even if they don’t. If you don’t have the repair money, that leaves the only source of money to fix the house as the parties who wish to foreclose on it.

I have never seen them  agree to anything like that for one simple reason: They are not interested in either the house or the money. They want a foreclosure judgment and sale — that is the only path that will give them some protection against accusations of stolen money and stolen homes.

 

Since the goal of your opposition is NOT to break-even or minimize damages on the loan itself, and since their real goal is more closely related to off-record transactions in which your loan was sold multiple times, they obviously are not going to make it easier for you to save the home, save the equity, and especially [not] save the loan. They want the loan to fail not succeed. They want the foreclosure sale.

 

Now the anger and frustration nationwide with all forms of institutions flows in large part from the simple fact that we all know that the banks committed serious fraud and other illegal acts in creating these loans. We all know that there was nothing but pretense and presumption in transferring these loans and steering loans to foreclosure — rather than a workout where the original loan investments were protected, and of course foreclosure with fabricated, forged, back-dated documentation that included notes and sometimes mortgages — even if they were rescinded.

“We all know” is insufficient to prove a case or a defense. The courts have added to the problem by restricting discovery, restricting evidence on the basis that the off-record transactions (even in discovery) are irrelevant, that the money trail for the subject loan is irrelevant, and then entering orders and judgments consistent with the conclusion that might be stated as follows: “Judgment is entered in favor of the one with the most paper even if the paper does not speak the truth.”

 

My tentative conclusion, if all of my presumptions are correct, is that in situations where this analysis is relevant, on an individual basis, as a life decision, the only real goal might be to walk away without a deficiency judgment and leave it at that. Any other course of action in litigation will lead to a judgment in the trial court that statistically speaking is going to be against the homeowner, leaving the issues to be decided on appeal. That is process that will likely take at least one year and probably 2 years to complete.
From my perch of course I want all notes and mortgages to be contested if there are any claims of securitization or sale. And the proof of concept is already established — those who truly litigate all the way down to trial, have a much better chance to see a much better result than those who simply walk away. But that costs money, time and energy. And that is why I often tell lawyers and homeowners that the only right decision is what the homeowner decides to do and is willing to pay for.

Fannie and Freddie Slammed by Massachusetts AG

Martha Coakley gets it. Read her letter. Being a politician she does not say that the abstract fear of strategic defaults on all loans across the board is absurd. Well, actually she does say it. Principal reductions and ending patently illegal policies preventing homeowners from buying back their own property at auction are at the center of the solution to the foreclosure mess along with one more thing: things will change when we get the answer to the question IF THESE POLICIES HURT LENDERS, INVESTORS AND BORROWERS, WHY WOULD ANYONE LISTEN TO A THIRD PARTY WHO BENEFITS?

fhfa-letter-051414

As the new head of the Federal Agency administrating Fannie and Freddie, Watts, replacing DeMarco, signals a major change in policy and regulations. The question is whether he means it. There is no doubt at the White House that the economy will continue to be dragged down by foreclosures. Their answer to the problem lies in modifications with “principal reductions” and loosening some standards for lending and securitization.

While the modification policies should be changed, this isn’t enough. Modification has been used as a tool of Wall Street to lure unwary borrowers into the illusion of immediate relief only to be faced with terms that are worse than the borrowers had before when underwriting was virtually nonexistent — albeit with some fees and other “skin in the game” restrictions that could slow up some of the continuing securitization fraud.

The issue is still the same and the fear is still there — will the entire system collapse if we stop putting the full brunt of the foreclosure mess on the backs of unsophisticated homeowners who were induced to buy loan products that were filled with false pretenses, false assumptions and nonexistent review, verification and other underwriting procedures.

At this point, considering the rampant appraisal fraud, homeowners should be given an opportunity to regain equity and have some skin in the game — as opposed to the all or nothing proposition they are fighting in court with complete strangers to their transactions 000 alleged by parties relying on evidentiary presumptions rather than real facts of each transaction.

In 2007 I proposed amnesty for everyone and that everyone share in the the losses from civil and perhaps criminal fraud caused by the banks taking money from investors and applying it to loans that were guaranteed to fail and then scaring government into thinking that the world would end if they were called on this predatory and illegal practice on the basis of being too big too fail.

Too big to fail is a myth. First, the banks can’t collapse because they are cash rich off shore. Trillions were siphoned out of pension funds, taxpayers and insurers and guarantors taking so much money that the federal reserve had to engage in various schemes of direct and disguised quantitative easing (like buying mortgage bonds that were worthless at 100% of par value). The losses claimed by the banks were also fictional.

At this point everyone at the levers of power knows the truth. The trusts were never funded and the trusts never acquired the loans. This places the investors in the position of being undifferentiated and unattached creditors for loans they funded but were never  given proper documentation in the form of notes payable tot he investors and mortgages pledging collateral to the investors, leaving them as unsecured creditors.

But now the government is committed financially to a policy of continuing fraud started by the banks which is the same thing that is happening in court. The issue is not whether a deadbeat homeowner will get a free house (that is a choice presented by the banks in a false set of presumptions). despite the dire straits of investors in worthless and fraudulent mortgage bonds, homeowners are mostly willing to offer new notes and new mortgages that reflect economic reality. No, those deadbeats are nothing of the sort. They are hard working, play by the rules people who simply want a fair deal and they are willing to shoulder the loss forced on them by the banks.

Want to test it out? Call us about our AMGAR project — 7 years in the making — in which we call the bluff of the banks. It takes money, but the investors are starting to line up to help, and the homeowners with independent assets to offer the money rather than the foreclosure are racking up wins in case after case. Watch the banks back peddle as they reject the money in favor of their much needed foreclosure judgment and sale so they can report the loan was a bust — and therefore the money the banks received in servicer payments to the investors, insurance tot he banks, guarantees and other proceed from other obligors won’t need to be paid back.

And if played properly, the tax revenue due from the banks for violations of the REMIC provisions, part of which will fall on investors who fail to make their case against the broker dealers who sold them that mortgage crap, will more than offset the lack of revenue on Federal and State levels. All they need to do is give up on too big to fail and give up on thinking that killing the middle class is a good idea because the burden must fall somewhere. In fraud, the burden falls on the perpetrators not the victims although it is rare that restitution ever equals the loss. Virtually every foreclosure is merely the court’s complicity in the continuing fraud.

Remember the playbook of the bank attorneys into undermine your confidence until the very last second when they submit their voluntary dismissal in court. Call their bluff, offer the money based upon YOUR terms or the terms of an investor who is willing to make the commitment. Your terms require proof of ownership and proof of balance after credits for third party payments. you will find they don’t own the loan and the balance of the loan has already been paid down or paid off entirely.

Don’t just file motions to enforce discovery. File motions with affidavits from forensic analysts that explain why you need what you are asking for. You’ll get the order. And as soon as you get the order, the offers of settlement will start pouring in.

For information and further assistance please call 520-405-1688 or 954-495-9867. We provide help and guidance to professionals that know foreclosure defense, foreclosure offense, modifications, short-sales, Hardest Hit Funds and other Federal, State and private programs. Remember to ask about AMGAR. It is time to strike back. Let the other side start feeling the pain.

see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/business/Melvin-Watt-shifts-course-on-fannie-mae-and-freddie-mac.html?ref=business&_r=0

 

BONY Objections to Discovery Rejected

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It has been my contention all along that these cases ought to end in the discovery process with some sort of settlement — money damages, modification, short-sale, hardest hit fund programs etc. But the only way the homeowner can get honest terms is if they present a credible threat to the party seeking foreclosure. That threat is obvious when the Judge issues an order compelling discovery to proceed and rejecting arguments for protective orders, (over-burdensome, relevance etc.). It is a rare bird that a relevance objection to discovery will be sustained.

Once the order is entered and the homeowner is free to inquire about all the mechanics of transfer of her loan, the opposition is faced with revelations like those which have recently been discovered with the Wells Fargo manual that apparently is an instruction manual on how to commit document fraud — or the Urban Lending Solutions and Bank of America revelations about how banks have scripted and coerced their employees to guide homeowners into foreclosure so that questions of the real owner of the debt and the real balance of the debt never get to be scrutinized. Or, as we have seen repeatedly, what is revealed is that the party seeking a foreclosure sale as “creditor” or pretender lender is actually a complete stranger to the transaction — meaning they have no ties i to any transaction record, and no privity through any chain of documentation.

Attorneys and homeowners should take note that there are thousands upon thousands of cases being settled under seal of confidentiality. You don’t hear about those because of the confidentiality agreement. Thus what you DO hear about is the tangle of litigation as things heat up and probably the number of times the homeowner is mowed down on the rocket docket. This causes most people to conclude that what we hear about is the rule and that the settlements are the exception. I obviously do not have precise figures. But I do have comparisons from surveys I have taken periodically. I can say with certainty that the number of settlements, short-sales and modifications that are meaningful to the homeowner is rising fast.

In my opinion, the more aggressive the homeowner is in pursuing discovery, the higher the likelihood of winning the case or settling on terms that are truly satisfactory to the homeowner. Sitting back and waiting to see if the other side does something has been somewhat successful in the past but it results in a waiver of defenses that if vigorously pursued would or could result in showing the absence of a default, the presence of third party payments lowering the current payments due, the principal balance and the dollar amount of interest owed. If you don’t do that then your entire case rests upon the skill of the attorney in cross examining a witness and then disqualifying or challenging the testimony or documents submitted. Waiting to the last minute substantially diminishes the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

What is interesting in the case below is that the bank is opposing the notices of deposition based upon lack of personal knowledge. I would have pressed them to define what they mean by personal knowledge to use it against them later. But in any event, the Judge correctly stated that none of the objections raised by BONY were valid and that their claims regarding the proper procedure to set the depositions were also bogus.

tentative ruling 3-17-14

It is FACT not THEORY: Money Trail is a Trail of Facts; Paper Trail is a Trail of Lies

Neil F Garfield, July 1, 2013: Modification “experts” are criticizing what they see on this site. It gives them the willies to think that they are participating in a fraud or enabling a fraud when they modify a loan with someone who doesn’t own it. So lately they are saying that the articles here have been discredited in court decisions (not true) and that the “theories” described here lack credibility.

What we are talking about here is facts, not theory. Either the foreclosing party, modifying party, or party accepting the short sale owns the note or not — and the FACTS lead wherever they bring us, namely, that if they didn’t pay for the funding of the origination of the loan, they didn’t pay for the acquisition of the loan, and that they didn’t acquire servicing rights to the loan, the lack of standing (legal doctrine, not theory) is complete. The non-ability to submit a credit bid at auction is complete (state statutes, not theory). The liability for slander of title, abuse of process, fraud, forgery, and fabrication of documents describing non-existent transactions needs to be proven, and the damages must also be proven. But with a dismissal or judgment for borrower, the liability part of the case is fairly easy.

Whether you are buying, selling, refinancing, short-selling, modifying or in any way settling or resolving issues with a mortgage loan you do so at your own risk. Banks that offer refinancing are either part of the securitization scheme and are kicking the liability can down the road or they are ignorant of the risk elements of title and liability for a loan that is subject to securitization claims.

If you want to criticize, go ahead and do it. But all people need to know is they can ask the questions in litigation and get the answers and the facts are whatever they are — there is either a cancelled check or wire transfer receipt or there is nothing. If you want to know if it is hot outside, just stick your head out a window, if reading the thermometer is too theoretical for you.

It is often true that the borrower admitted the debt, the note, the mortgage and the default. The trial judge had no choice and neither did the appellate court. These cases come from the inexperience of the pro se litigant or the lawyer who has not researched all of the material.

Don’t get caught in a spitting match about my “theories” versus the rulings of some courts. This is all a work in progress and there are going to be conflict in rulings. One state may appear to give one set of rulings another state may seem just the opposite. the point is that if you are doing good lawyering you are following the facts wherever they take you. And what we are saying is that the money trail does not support the paper trail that the banks have fabricated forged or proffered.

For example: Go to eFANNIE site. They are boasting about funding even before allocating your whole loan commitment or MBS pool, so you can maximize your execution. TRANSLATION: we’ll give you the money before you have to come up with it in real time. The investors put up the money,then the loan applications are solicited, then the money is funded with investor money, then the originator reports the loan closing and assigns it without a paper assignment to the next party in the paper train (securitization) usually the aggregator who assigns them without an actual assignment to the CDO manager at the investment bank that created the mortgage bonds and sold them through a “third party” which was owned or controlled by the investment bank. The paper trail neither reflects nor follows the money trail.

Full Deposition of Angela Edwards “Robo-Verifier” as Servicer for the Plaintiff for Verification of Foreclosure Complaint
http://www.zerohedge.com/contributed/2013-06-28/full-deposition-angela-edwards-“robo-verifier”-servicer-plaintiff-verificatio

 

 

Sales by Insiders AT BOA — RATS JUMPING SHIP? THE MARKET TRADERS ARE TAKING POSITIONS FOR A DEATH SPIRAL BY BOA: Somebody knows something… Rats are jumping ship  http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/bank-of-american-corp-director-sells-580k-shares-and-4-insider-sales-to-note.html/?a=viewall

COURTS CAN RETURN PARTIES TO THEIR ORIGINAL POSITION: this would apply to cases where there is no default – through the “stop payment” script and through those who were actually paying. The Court can return the parties to the original position and wipe out arrears and fees.

INVESTIGATION: BOA TRIES SELLING OFF SERVICING RIGHTS TO AVOID LIABILITY (Remember just because they SAY they sold it doesn’t mean they did. We have seen several instances where BOA announced the loan or servicing rights or both were sold off but they were not and BOA ended up being the one “approving” the short-sale or modification).: GREEN TREE SERVICING AND BANK OF AMERICA

Short Sales Rising Sharply

Whether it is just battle fatigue or simply good business sense, homeowners are looking at short sales, getting cash for keys and trying to get relocation fees to move. The banks are loosening up their standards for short-sales because failure to do so clearly reveals their malevolent intent to steal homes that they could not otherwise get if the judicial system starts operating properly.

That more and more judges are starting to scrutinize the documents and the actual transfer of money from one party to another, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the documents are for a transaction that is non-existent and that the loan is not supported by any documents — because the loan came from a third party with no connection to the loan originator.

Then comes the horrific problem with title which at some point will need to be addressed much as Florida did with the Murphy Act. Title must be reset because at this point there is practically no such thing as clear title as result of the work done by Wall Street.

The title problem can easily be minimized with a signature from the homeowner which is what is required in a short-sale, as opposed to a robo-signature from an unauthroized person signing a deed for the bank in an REO sale.

The last problem is that at the end of this year forgiveness of debt becomes taxable, which is bad for short sales after December 31, 2012. So the rush is on to get them done — but that is probably premature because the law will probably be extended by the lame duck congress after the elections. Everybody seems to want the extension.

See congress working on extension of tax exemption at Rain City Guide Blog by Craig

Zillow Raises Estimate Again: 16 Million Homes Underwater

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Editor’s Comment:

This is why I am re-starting my seminar tours. The information out there is disinformation and in this case sellers don’t realize how badly they have been screwed until they are walking toward the closing table. The “underwater” phenomenon represents a vast market inventory shadow that is not being counted by anyone — which is why my estimates of market activity and prices are so much lower than what you hear from everyone else. So far I have been right every year.

Zillow is at least making an effort. It is sharpening the definition of “underwater.” We have been saying for years that the number of homes “underwater” is both rising and vastly underestimated. The reason I knew was that just by putting pencil to paper and using all the factors that measure the amount of money one might get as proceeds from the sale of a home, the average PROCEEDS from the sale of residential property was substantially below the average VALUES that were being used. Zillow has now entered the world of reality by adding all the relevant mortgages and not just the last one allocated to that property.

Once upon a time when you sold a house you received a check for the proceeds of the sale. It was always lower than what you expected because of expenses and charges that you incurred and after you deducted the expenses that didn’t appear on the HUD 1 Settlement Statement (money that you spent preparing the house for sale).

Now the situation is different. Instead of getting a check, many if not most homeowners must bring a check if they want to sell their home. Most homeowners, in other words, must pay money out of their pocket if they want to sell their home. In some cases, the bank will allow a short-sale where they will accept a payoff less than the amount they say is owed, but even then, the hapless homeowner will still be unable to recover his down payment, all the money he put into the house in furnishings and improvements, and all the principal payments made on a house that was intentionally overvalued, using inflated appraisals that would  leave the homeowner screwed.  

When they start looking at “Seller’s Proceeds” from the standpoint of a real HUD 1 settlement sttements, the figure will be even lower than the current Zillow estimate. The disconnect between “prices”, “home values” and “proceeds” has never been greater. The question of whether or not a home is underwater is determined by proceeds of sale — without regard to price or value. Being underwater means to answer a question: “How much money will the seller need to spend in order to sell the property with free and clear title.”

Forgetting the whole issue of title corruption caused by the use of MERS which further affects prices, values and proceeds, the amount of money required from the seller in order to sell his/her home is nothing short of sticker shock and the fact remains that a majority of the people affected do not know what has happened to their wealth. They do not understand the extent to which they suffered damage by Wall Street schemes. And of course they don’t know that there is something they can do about it — like any rational businessman instead of the deadbeat bottom-feeders  portrayed by bank mythology.

Once all factors (other than MERS) are taken into consideration, the Zillow numbers will change again to more than 20 million homes and will probably reach 25 million homes that are really underwater, most of which are hopeless because values and prices will never get enough lift, even with inflation, to make up the difference between what they must pay as sellers to get out of the deal and what they can get from buyers who are willing to buy the home. Add the MERS’ factors in, now that title questions we raised 4 years ago are being considered, and it is possible that many homes cannot ever be sold at any price. Where the levels of “securitization” are limited to only 1, then perhaps it is possible to sell the property but not without spending more money to clear title. 

Nearly 16M Homes Are Now Underwater

by THE KCM CREW

Zillow just reported that their data shows nearly 16 million homes in this country are now in a negative equity position where the house is worth less than the mortgages on the home. This number is dramatically higher than the approximate 11 million reported by other entities. Why the huge difference? Zillow professes to take into consideration ALL loans on the property not just the most recent loan (purchase or refinance).

The key findings in the study:

▪       Nearly one-third (31.4 percent) of U.S. homeowners with mortgages – or 15.7 million – were underwater on their mortgage.

▪       A slower pace of foreclosures after the robo-signing issues of 2010 contributed to slower progress in working down negative equity. Foreclosures cause homes to come out of negative equity when a bank or third party takes ownership.

▪       Nine in 10 homeowners continue to make their mortgage and home loan payments on time, with just 10.1 percent of underwater homeowners more than 90 days delinquent.

▪       Nearly 40 percent of underwater homeowners, or 12.4 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage, owe between 1 and 20 percent more than their home is worth.

▪       An additional 21 percent of underwater homeowners, or 6.6 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage, owe between 21 and 40 percent more than their home is worth.

▪       About 2.4 million, or 4.7 percent of all homeowners with mortgages owe more than double what their home is worth.

How can negative equity impact the housing market? In the report, Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries explains:

“Not only does negative equity tie many to their homes, by making homeowners unable to move when they may want to, but if economic growth slows and unemployment rises, more homeowners will be unable to make timely mortgage payments, increasing delinquency rates and eventually foreclosures.”

Case Shiller: House Prices fall to new post-bubble lows in March NSA

by CalculatedRisk

S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for March (a 3 month average of January, February and March).

This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the National index.

Note: Case-Shiller reports NSA, I use the SA data.

From S&P: Pace of Decline in Home Prices Moderates as the First Quarter of 2012 Ends, According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

Data through March 2012, released today by S&P Indices for its S&P/CaseShiller Home Price Indices … showed that all three headline composites ended the first quarter of 2012 at new post-crisis lows. The national composite fell by 2.0% in the first quarter of 2012 and was down 1.9% versus the first quarter of 2011. The 10- and 20-City Composites posted respective annual returns of -2.8% and -2.6% in March 2012. Month-over-month, their changes were minimal; average home prices in the 10-City Composite fell by 0.1% compared to February and the 20-City remained basically unchanged in March over February. However, with these latest data, all three composites still posted their lowest levels since the housing crisis began in mid-2006.

“While there has been improvement in some regions, housing prices have not turned,” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. “This month’s report saw all three composites and five cities hit new lows. However, with last month’s report nine cities hit new lows. Further, about half as many cities, seven, experienced falling prices this month compared to 16 last time.”

Case-Shiller House Prices Indices

Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10 and Composite 20 indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

The Composite 10 index is off 34.1% from the peak, and up 0.2% in March (SA). The Composite 10 is at a new post bubble low Not Seasonally Adjusted.

The Composite 20 index is off 33.8% from the peak, and up 0.2% (SA) from March. The Composite 20 is also at a new post-bubble low NSA.

Case-Shiller House Prices Indices

The second graph shows the Year over year change in both indices.

The Composite 10 SA is down 2.8% compared to March 2011.

The Composite 20 SA is down 2.6% compared to March 2011. This was a smaller year-over-year decline for both indexes than in February.

The third graph shows the price declines from the peak for each city included in S&P/Case-Shiller indices.

Case-Shiller Price Declines

Prices increased (SA) in 15 of the 20 Case-Shiller cities in March seasonally adjusted (12 cities increased NSA). Prices in Las Vegas are off 61.5% from the peak, and prices in Dallas only off 6.7% from the peak.

The NSA indexes are at new post-bubble lows – and the NSA indexes will continue to decline in March (this report was for the three months ending in February). I’ll have more on prices later

Bribery or Business as Usual?

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Editor’s Comment and Analysis:

There is only one way this isn’t an outright bribe that should land the senator in jail — and that is proving that he received nothing of value. Stories abound in the media about haircut rates given to members of government particularly by Countrywide, now owned by Bank of America. Now we see it on the way down where others go through hoops and ladders to get a modification of short-sale but members of Congress get special treatment.

The only way this could be considered nothing of value is if the banks that gave this favor knew that they didn’t lend the money, didn’t purchase the loan and didn’t have a dime in the deal. They can prove it but they won’t because the fallout would be that there are no loans in print and that there are no perfected mortgage loans. The consequence is that there can be no foreclosures. And it would mean that the values carried on the books of these banks are eihter overstated or entirely fictiouos. The general consensus is that capital requirments for the banks should be higher. But what if the capital they are reporting doesn’t exist?

We are seeing practically everyday how Congress is bought off by the Banks and yet we do nothing. How can you expect to be taken seriously by the executive branch and the judicial branch of goveornment charged with enforcing the laws? If you are doing nothing and complaining, it’s time to get off the couch and do something with the Occupy Movement or your own private war with the banks. If you are not complaining, you should be — because this tsunami is about to hit the front door of your house too whether you are making the payments or not.

The power of the new aristocracy in American and European politics is felt around the globe. People are suffering in the U.S., Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and other places because the smaller banks in all those countries got taken to the cleaners by huge conglomerate Wall Street Banks. Ireland is reporting foreclosures and defaults at record rates. It was fraud with an effect far greater than any other act of domestic or international terrorism. And it isn’t just about money either. Suicides, domestic violence ending in death and mental illness are pandemic. And nobody cares about the little guy because the little guy is just fuel for the endless appetite of Wall Street. 

If Obama rreally wants to galvanize the electorate, he must be proactive on the fierce urgency of NOW! Those were his words when he was a candidate and he owes us action because that urgency was felt in 2008 and is a vice around everyone’s neck now.

JPMorgan Chase & the Senator’s Short Sale:

It’s Hypocritical –But Is It Corrupt?

By Richard (RJ) Eskow

There’s a lot we have yet to learn about the story of Sen. Mike Lee, Tea Party Republican of Utah, and America’s largest bank. But we already know something’s very, very wrong:

Why is it that most Americans can’t get a principal reduction from Chase or any other bank, but JPMorgan Chase was so very flexible with a sitting member of the United States Senate?

The hypocrisy from Sen. Lee and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon overfloweth. But does the Case of the Senator’s Short Sale rise to the level of full-blown corruption? We won’t know until we get some answers.

People should be demanding those answers now.

When Jamie Met Mike

It’s not a pretty picture: In one corner is the Senator who wants to strike down Federal child labor laws and offer American residency to any non-citizen who buys a home with cash. In the other is the bank whose CEO said that the best way to relieve the crushing burden of debt on homeowners is by seizing their homes.

“Giving debt relief to people that really need it,” said Dimon, “that’s what foreclosure is.” That comment is Dickensian in its insensitivity – and Dimon’s bank offered real relief to the Senator from Utah.

The story of the short sale on Sen. Mike Lee’s home broke broke shortly not long after the world learned that JPM lost billions of dollars through trading that might have been illegal, and about which it certainly misled investors.

A Senator who doesn’t believe in child labor laws, and a crime-plagued bank that was just plunged into a trading scandal after losing billions in the London markets.

Why, they were practically made for one another.

Here in the Real World

This was also the week we learned from Zillow, one of the nation’s leading real estate data companies, that there are far more underwater homeowners than previously thought. Zillow collated all the information on home loans, including second mortgages, in order to develop this larger and more accurate number.

The new estimated amount of negative equity – money owed to the banks for non-existent home value – is $1.2 trillion.

Zillow found that nearly 16 million homeowners, representing roughly a third of all homes with a mortgage, were “underwater” (meaning they owe more than the home is now worth). That’s about 50 percent more than had been previously believed. Many of these homeowners are desperate for principal reduction, which would allow them to get back on their feet.

Banks can reduce the amount owed to reflect the current value of the house, which would lower monthly payments for many struggling homeowners. Another option is the “short sale,” in which the bank lets them sell the house for its current value and walk away. That would allow many of them to relocate in search of work.

But the banks, along with their allies in Washington DC, have been fighting principal reduction and resisting any attempts to increase the number of short sales. They remain out of reach for most struggling homeowners.

Mike’s Deal

But Mike Lee didn’t have that problem. Lee was elected to the Senate after buying his luxury home in Alpine, Utah at the height of the real estate boom. JPMorgan Chase agreed to a short sale, and it sold for nearly $400,000 less than the price Lee paid for it four years ago.

Sen. Lee says that he made a down payment on the home, although he hasn’t said how much was involved. But if he paid 15 percent down and put it $150,000, for example, then the Senator from Utah was just allowed to walk away from a quarter of a million dollars in debt obligations to JPMorgan Chase.

Let’s see: A troubled bank gives a sitting member of the United States Senate an advantageous deal worth hundreds of thousands of dollars? You’d think a story like that would get a little more attention than it has so far.

The Right’s Outrageous Hypocrisy

We haven’t seen this much hypocrisy in the real estate world since the Mortgage Bankers Association walked away from loans on its own headquarters even as its CEO, John Courson, was lecturing Americans their “legal obligation” and the terrible “message they would send” by walking away from their mortgages.

Then he did a short sale on the MBA’s headquarters. It sold for a reported $41 million, just three years after the MBA – those captains of real estate – paid $74 million for it.

The MBA calls itself “the voice of the mortgage banking industry.”

The hypocrisy may be even greater in this case. Sen. Mike Lee is a member in good standing of the Tea Party, a movement which began on the floor of Chicago Mercantile Exchange as a protest against the idea that the government might help underwater homeowners, even though many of the angry traders had enriched themselves thanks to government bailouts.

When their ringleader mentioned households struggling with negative equity, these first members of the Tea Party broke into a chant: “Losers! Losers! Losers!”

Mike Lee’s Outrageous Hypocrisy

Which gets us to Mike Lee. Lee accepted a handout of JPMorgan Chase after voting to end unemployment for jobless Americans. Lee also argued against Federal child labor laws, although he did acknowledge that child labor is “reprehensible.”

How big a hypocrite is Mike Lee? His website (which, curiously enough, went down as we wrote these words) says he believes “the federal government’s out-of-control spending has evolved into a major threat to our economic prosperity and job creation” and that he came to Washington to, among other things, “properly manage our finances”. Lee’s website also scolds Congress because, he says, it “cannot live within its means.”

As Ed McMahon used to say, “Write your own joke.”

Needless to say, Lee also advocates drastic cuts to Social Security and Medicare while pushing lower taxes for the wealthy – and plumping for exactly the same kind of deregulation which let bankers to run amok and wreck the economy in 2008 by doing things like … well, like what JPMorgan Chase just did in London.

“Give Me Your Wired, Your Wealthy, Your Upper Classes Yearning to Buy Cheap”

Lee has also co-sponsored a bill with Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senator from Wall Street New York, that would grant US residency to foreigners who purchase a home worth at least $500,000 – as long as they paid cash.

The Lee/Schumer bill would be a big boon to US banks – banks, in fact, like JPMorgan Chase. If it passes, the Statue of Liberty may need to be reshaped so that Lady Liberty is holding a book of real estate listings in her right hand while wearing a hat that reads “Million Dollar Sellers’ Club.”

Mike Lee’s bill would also have propped up the luxury home market, offering a big financial boost to people who are struggling to hold to the equity they’ve put into high-end homes, people like … well, like Mike Lee.

Jamie Dimon’s Outrageous Hypocrisy

Then there’s Jamie Dimon, who spoke for his fellow bankers during negotiations that led up to the very cushy $25 billion settlement that let banks like his off the hook for widespread lawbreaking in their foreclosure fraud crime wave.

“Yeah,” Dimon said of principal reductions for homeowners like Sen. Lee, “that’s off the table.”

Dimon’s been resisting global solutions to the negative equity problems for years. He said in 2010 that he preferred to make decisions about homeowners on a “loan by loan” basis.

The Rich Are Different – They Have More Mortgage Relief

“The rich are different,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald, and (in a quote often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway) literary critic Mary Colum observed that ” the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.”

And they apparently find it a lot easier to walk away from their underwater homes.There’s been a dramatic increase in short sales lately, and the evidence suggests that most of the deals have been going to luxury homeowners. Among other things, this trend toward high-end short sales the lie to the popular idea that bankers and their allies don’t want to “reward the underserving,” since hedge fund traders who overestimated next year’s bonus are clearly less deserving than working families who purchased a modest home for themselves.

Nevertheless, that’s where most of the debt relief seems to be going: to the wealthy, and not to the middle class.

Guess that’s what happens when loan officers working for Dimon and other Wall Street CEOs handle these matters on a “loan by loan” basis.

Immoral Logic

While this “loan by loan” approach lacks morality, there’s some financial logic to it. Banks typically have a lot more money at risk in an underwater luxury home than they do in more modest houses. A short sale provides them with a way to clear things up, recoup what they can, and get their books in a little more order than before. That’s why JPMorgan Chase has been offering selected borrowers up to $35,000 to accept short sales. You can bet they’re not offering that deal to middle class families.

There are other reasons to offer short sales to the wealthy: JPM, like all big banks, is pursuing very-high-end banking clients more aggressively than ever. That’s where the profits are. So why alienate a high-value client when they may offer you the opportunity to recoup losses elsewhere?

(“Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Dimon, but it’s London calling.”)

Corruption Or Not: The Questions

Both the bank and the Senator need to answer some questions about this deal. Here’s what the public deserves to know:

Could the writedown on the home’s value be considered an in-kind gift to a sitting Senator?

If so, then we have a very real scandal on our hands. But we don’t know enough to answer that question yet.

What are JPMorgan Chase’s procedures for deciding who receives mortgage relief and who doesn’t?

Dimon may prefer to handle these matters on a “loan by loan” basis, but there must be guidelines that bank officers can follow. And presumably they’ve been written down somewhere. Were they followed in Mike Lee’s case?

Who was involved in the decision to offer this deal to Mike Lee?

Offering mortgage relief to a sitting Senator is, to borrow a phrase, “a big elfin’ deal.” A mid-level bank officer isn’t likely to handle a case like this without taking it up the chain of command. So who made the final decision on Mike Lee’s mortgage?

It wouldn’t be unheard of if a a sensitive matter like this one was escalated to all the way to the company’s most senior executive – especially if that executive has eliminated any checks on his power, much less any independent input from shareholders, by serving as both the Chair(man) of the Board and the CEO.

In this, as in so many of JPM’s scandals, the question must be asked: What did Jamie know, and when did he know it?

Is Mike Lee a “Friend of Jamie”?

Which raises a related question: Is there is a formal or informal list of people for whom JPM employees are directed to give preferential treatment?

Everybody remembers the scandal that surrounded Sen. Chris Dodd when it was learned that his mortgage was given favorable treatment by Countrywide – even though the Senator apparently knew nothing about it at the time. The world soon learned then that Countrywide had a VIP program called “Friends of Angelo,” named for CEO Angelo Mozilo, and those who were on the list got special treatment.

Is there a “Friends of Jamie” list at JPMorgan Chase – and is Mike Lee’s name on it?

Were there any discussions between the bank’s executives and the Senator regarding the foreign home buyer’s bill or any other legislation that affected Wall Street?

Until this question is answered the issue of a possible quid pro quo will hang over both the Senator and JPMorgan Chase.

Seriously, guys – this doesn’t look good.

Was MERS used to evade state taxes and recording requirements on Sen. Lee’s home? 

JPMorgan Chase funded, and was an active participant, in the “MERS” program which was used, among other things, to bypass local taxes and legal requirements for recording titles.

As we wrote when we reviewed hundreds of internal MERS documents, MERS was instrumental in allowing banks to bundle and sell mortgage-backed securities in a way that led directly to the financial crisis of 2008. It also helped bankers artificially inflate real estate prices, encourage homeowners to take out loans at bubble prices, and then leave them holding the note (as underwater homeowners) after the collapse of national real estate values that they had artificially pumped up.

“Today’s Wall Street Corruption Fun Fact”: MERS was operated by the Mortgage Bankers Association – the same group of real estate geniuses who lost $30 million on a single building in three years, then gave a little lecture on morality to the homeowners they’d been so instrumental in shafting.

Q&A

I was also asked some very reasonable questions by a policy advocacy group. Here they are, with my answers:

If this happened to the average American, would they be able to walk away from the mortgage as well?

If by “average American” you mean “most homeowners,” then the answer is: No. Although short sales are on the rise, most underwater homeowners have not been given the option of going through a short sale. Mike Lee was. The question is, why?

Will Mike Lee’s credit rating be adversely affected?

This is a very important question. The credit rating industry serves banks, not consumers, and it operates at their beck and call.

The answer to this question depends on how JPM handled the paperwork. Many (and probably most) homeowners involved in a short sale take a hit to their credit rating. If Lee did not, it smacks of special treatment.

Given the fact that it was JPMorgan who financed the loss, does that mean, indirectly through the bailout, that the taxpayers paid for Lee’s mortgage write-off?

That gets tricky – but in a moral sense, you could certainly say that.

Short Selling Democracy

There’s no question that this deal is hypocritical and ugly, and that it reflects much of what’s still broken about both our politics and Wall Street. Is it a scandal? Without these answers we can’t know. This was either a case of the special treatment that is so often reserved for the wealthy, or it’s something even worse: influence peddling and political corruption.

it’s time for JPMorgan Chase and Sen. Mike Lee to come clean about this deal. If they did nothing wrong, they have nothing to hide. Either way the public’s entitled to some answers.


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