Apr. 18th, 2012
Obama’s mortgage unit is AWOL
Three months ago, in his State of the Union speech, President Obama announced a new task force to investigate mortgage fraud and bring some measure of relief to the 12 million American families who are either losing their homes or in danger of losing them.Meanwhile, this happens:
The new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group would be co-chaired by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, U.S. Attorney John Walsh of Colorado and three Washington insiders from the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Obama said, “This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.”
Whether or not the President, attorney general and others intend to get around to this task someday, “speed” was a terrible word to choose. Because 85 days after that speech, there is no sign of any activity.
On March 9 — 45 days after the speech and 30 days after the announcement — we met with Schneiderman in New York City and asked him for an update. He had just returned from Washington, where he had been personally looking for office space. As of that date, he had no office, no phones, no staff and no executive director. None of the 55 staff members promised by Holder had materialized. On April 2, we bumped into Schneiderman on a train leaving Washington for New York and learned that the situation was the same.
Tuesday, calls to the Justice Department’s switchboard requesting to be connected with the working group produced the answer, “I really don’t know where to send you.” After being transferred to the attorney general’s office and asking for a phone number for the working group, the answer was, “I’m not aware of one.”
In fact, the new Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group was the sixth such entity formed since the start of the financial crisis in 2009. The grand total of staff working for all of the previous five groups was one, according to a surprised Schneiderman. In Washington, where staffs grow like cherry blossoms, this is a remarkable occurrence.
Wells Fargo has taken the position that every debtor in the district should be made to challenge, by separate suit, the proofs of claim or motions for relief from the automatic stay it files. It has steadfastly refused to audit its pleadings or proofs of claim for errors and has refused to voluntarily correct any errors that come to light except through threat of litigation. Although its own representatives have admitted that it routinely misapplied payments on loans and improperly charged fees, they have refused to correct past errors. They stubbornly insist on limiting any change in their conduct prospectively, even as they seek to collect on loans in other cases for amounts owed in error.
Wells Fargo’s conduct is clandestine. Rather than provide Jones with a complete history of his debt on an ongoing basis, Wells Fargo simply stopped communicating with Jones once it deemed him in default. At that point in time, fees and costs were assessed against his account and satisfied with postpetition payments intended for other debt without notice. Only through litigation was this practice discovered. Wells Fargo admitted to the same practices for all other loans in bankruptcy or default. As a result, it is unlikely that most debtors will be able to discern problems with their accounts without extensive discovery….
Over eighty (80%) of the chapter 13 debtors in this district have incomes of less than $40,000.00 per year. The burden of extensive discovery and delay is particularly overwhelming. In this Court’s experience, it takes four (4) to six (6) months for Wells Fargo to produce a simple accounting of a loan’s history and over four (4) court hearings. Most debtors simply do not have the personal resources to demand the production of a simple accounting for their loans, much less verify its accuracy, through a litigation process.
Wells Fargo has taken advantage of borrowers who rely on it to accurately apply payments and calculate the amounts owed. But perhaps more disturbing is Wells Fargo’s refusal to voluntarily correct its errors. It prefers to rely on the ignorance of borrowers or their inability to fund a challenge to its demands, rather than voluntarily relinquish gains obtained through improper accounting methods.