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Could This Be The Start Of A Nationwide Trend?
Are Big Banks Bullying Efforts Paying Off or Is Our Court System Scared Of The Tsunami of Mortgage Fraud Cases Smothering Their Dockets?
Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson had headed up investigations on behalf of the Florida attorney general’s office for more than a year into the fraudulent foreclosure practices that had become rampant in the Sunshine State. They issued subpoenas and conducted scores of interviews, building a litany of cases that documented the most egregious abuses.
That is, until the Friday afternoon in May when they were called into a supervisor’s office and forced to resign abruptly and without explanation.
“It just came out of nowhere,” said Edwards, who had worked in the attorney general’s economic crimes section for more than three years. “We were completely stunned.”
Less than a month before they were forced out, a supervisor cited their work as “instrumental in triggering a nationwide review of such practices.” Now, Edwards is convinced their sudden dismissals will have “a chilling effect” on those probes into the shoddy foreclosure practices that caused national outrage when they made headlines last fall.
Although similar abuses have occurred throughout the country, they have been particularly rampant in Florida, which was ground zero for the housing bust and is home to a collection of large law firms that were hired by the financial industry to relentlessly churn out foreclosures in recent years. That made the investigations headed by Edwards and Clarkson among the earliest and most closely watched by officials across the country.
A spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi declined to comment on what she cited as internal personnel matters but said in an e-mail that the foreclosure investigations remain a top priority.
Before the uproar last fall, Edwards and Clarkson were already investigating the problems plaguing foreclosure filings in the state. Working under then-attorney general Bill McCollum, they created a 98-page presentation entitled “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” which detailed such far-ranging problems as fake and forged affidavits and falsified mortgage ownership records.
Their inquiry led them to focus on “foreclosure mill” law firms that were filing foreclosures for their clients at lightning speed, as well as to the practices of other companies in the mortgage industry. It also led to calls from other attorneys general offices across the country that were beginning to scrutinize similar problems.
“We were farther along in our investigation because we had dug a little deeper than anybody else,” Edwards said. “We kept opening up more and more investigations, more and more cases.”
Their work won them accolades. In the evaluation provided by Edwards, a supervisor wrote that the pair had “achieved what is believed to be the first settlement in the United States relating to law firm foreclosure mills” — a multimillion-dollar settlement a month earlier with a Fort Lauderdale firm.
Despite that praise, Edwards and Clarkson said in separate interviews that they sensed a change when Bondi took office in January. Almost immediately, they said, supervisors began to question their findings and demand details about how they were gathering information.
Both women say they were summoned into a meeting on the afternoon of May 20 and told they could either resign or be fired. Either way, they would no longer be employed come 5 p.m. They had to come back over the weekend to pick up their things, they said.
“No two weeks’ notice, no severance, no nothing,” Clarkson said. “I have no idea why it happened.”
Added Edwards, “We didn’t even have a chance to go over our cases with anybody. We were just locked out.”
A spokeswoman for Bondi, Jennifer Krell Davis, said the economic crimes division “continues to actively pursue the investigations into foreclosure law firms.” She said the division’s director, Richard Lawson, is leading the inquiry into one of the state’s largest foreclosure firms and is supervising other cases.
“The division has made these investigations a top priority and will continue to actively pursue all of our investigations into foreclosure law firms,” Davis said in an e-mail, adding that Lawson had assigned 14 attorneys and investigators to work on the cases that belonged to Edwards and Clarkson.
As for their hasty departure, she wrote, “We do not comment on personnel matters. However, the Florida Attorney General’s Office is always striving to make sure that we have the best staff working to serve and protect the people of Florida.”
Edwards and Clarkson, whose dismissals were first detailed this week by The Palm Beach Post, have since opened a private law firm together in South Florida focused largely on foreclosure defense. They expressed doubts about how aggressively the cases they left behind will be pursued, saying the other attorneys in their division are dedicated and hardworking but that each already had a full caseload.
For her part, Clarkson said she worries about the work left undone, the potential misdeeds left undiscovered, even as state and federal officials negotiate a settlement with banks to end some of the worst practices.
“There is so much paperwork that came in due to our subpoenas that I didn’t even get a chance to look at,” she said, adding, “I looked at enough to know that there’s a lot more problems out there.”
By Brady Dennis, Published: July 14
from Washington Post Business
Forwarded by Gold Member Roger Taylor
HUD has implemented a program that allows unemployed borrowers to remain in their homes for an extended period of time without having to make a mortgage payment.
The FHA has always taken exceptional steps to assist borrowers who have become delinquent in their loan payments. For example, borrowers who have fallen behind in payments are urged to contact a HUD approved housing counselor. There are a variety of programs available to help delinquent homeowners. The HUD housing counselor can provide specific guidance to each delinquent homeowner on the best course of action to take.
Commencing in August, the FHA will make changes to its Special Forbearance Program. Loan servicers will be required to Click Here for Full Video/Article (Members Only)
The Federal Reserve said it is leaving its target on short-term rates in the 0-0.25% range, stating that the economy is recovering more slowly than expected and the labor market is weaker than anticipated.
As the nation’s housing market continues to teeter, the Treasury Department on Thursday penalized three of the nation’s largest banks for subpar performance in administrating a government-sponsored program to modify mortgage loans for distressed homeowners.
As part of a new assessment of mortgage servicers, Treasury officials said they would withhold incentive payments for the three banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — until the problems are resolved. At that point, those payments would be made, a Treasury spokeswoman said.
In May, the three banks received $24 million in incentives as part of the modification program.
The Treasury Department has previously withheld payments from mortgage servicers, but Thursday’s action focused on some of the biggest players in the program. Called the Home
Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, it is voluntary for mortgage servicers. Nearly all of the nation’s largest banks have signed contracts to participate.
The Obama administration has long been criticized as being too easy on the mortgage servicers, and Thursday’s announcement did little to quiet that criticism.
Neil M. Barofsky, who resigned in March as special inspector general for the bank bailout, described the assessments and penalties as a “lost opportunity” to hold lenders more accountable.
“It further reaffirms Treasury’s long-running toothless response to the servicers’ disregard of their contract with Treasury, and by extension, the American taxpayer,” Mr. Barofsky said in an e-mail.
Timothy G. Massad, assistant Treasury secretary, defended the approach. He said the assessments of banks and other mortgage servicers “will serve to keep the pressure on servicers to more effectively assist struggling families.”
“We need servicers to step up their performance to meet the needs of those still struggling,” he said in a statement.
The mortgage servicers were evaluated on a scale of one to three stars during the first quarter on whether they had identified and searched for eligible homeowners; assessed homeowners’ eligibility correctly; and maintained effective program management, governance and reporting.
Bank of America received the lowest grade, one star, on four of seven areas that were evaluated; Wells received one star in three areas; and Chase, in one.
A fourth mortgage servicer, Ocwen Loan Service, was also assessed as needing substantial improvement, but Treasury said it would not withhold payments to Ocwen because it was negatively affected by a large acquisition of mortgages to service.
Six other mortgage servicers were graded as needing moderate improvement. There were no servicers deemed as needing only minor improvement.
Wells Fargo issued a statement saying it was “formally disputing” the Treasury’s findings.
“It paints an unfairly negative picture of our modification efforts and contradicts previous written assessments shared with us by the Treasury,” said spokeswoman Vickee J. Adams, who said the criticisms were dated and did not reflect recent improvements.
Chase said it too had made significant improvements. “The bank respectfully disagrees with the assessment,” the company said in a statement.
Dan B. Frahm, a spokesman for Bank of America, said that the bank was “committed to continually improving our processes to assist distressed homeowners” through the federal modification program and its own internal program. But he added, “We acknowledge improvements must be made in key areas, particularly those affecting the customer experience.”
The modification program was created using $50 billion that was set aside from the bank bailout to help distressed homeowners. The idea was that the Treasury Department would provide incentives to mortgage servicers and investors to modify mortgages for struggling homeowners, rather than foreclose on them.
The administration predicted that three million to four million Americans would benefit, but so far, only 699,053 permanent modifications have been started.
To date, Treasury has spent about $1.34 billion on HAMP. One problem was that the mortgage servicers, at least initially, were not prepared to handle the onslaught of modifications, and homeowners complained that paperwork had been routinely lost and trial modifications had dragged on for months.
by Andrew Martin with New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/business/10hamp.html?_r=1
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