Foreclosure Fraud Settlement Terms Laid Out, But Holdout AGs Not Signed On
By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake
Saturday January 21, 2012 9:38 am
When I started digging into whether this Monday meeting with HUD and DoJ officials to go over a proposal for a foreclosure fraud settlement was legitimate, I couldn’t find one state Attorney General who mattered actually committed to showing up. When I say AGs who “matter,” I mean the ones who have been critical of a settlement in the past. I mean the Justice Democrats. I mean Eric Schneiderman in New York, Beau Biden in Delaware, Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, Kamala Harris in California, not to mention the AGs from Hawaii, New Hampshire, Missouri, Mississippi, Maryland, Kentucky, Minnesota, Oregon and Montana who showed up (either themselves or representatives) at the meeting in DC last week to discuss alternatives to a settlement. I mean them. They aren’t going to Chicago, by all accounts.
My sense is that this settlement proposal comes from the Obama Administration, Iowa AG Tom Miller and the small group of negotiators on the executive committee of state AGs, and pretty much nobody else. There’s just no guarantee that any of the Justice Democrats – or any of the Republicans, for that matter – will agree to any of it.
The Administration is trying to put the squeeze on the state AGs, particularly California, dangling $10 billion in “aid” in the deal. The aim, as Marcy Wheeler writes, is to increase pressure on Kamala Harris to agree to the settlement. The core issues haven’t changed, however. Harris called the settlement inadequate last year and it remains just as inadequate. This is a $25 billion settlement when there is $700 billion in negative equity in the country. This is a settlement that, according to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, will help 1 million homeowners, when 10.7 million are underwater and millions of others have been wrongfully foreclosed upon. This is a settlement that could put $17 billion of credits toward principal reduction (the rest of the money would go to legal aid, refis, short sales, token payoffs to foreclosed borrowers, and penalties), when there is more than twice as much sitting unused in an account as part of HAMP.
And these credits would get paid mostly by the owners of mortgage-backed securities, investors rather than the banks themselves.
According to previous reports, investors would not have approval on the modifications. So the majority of the settlement, where banks get the release of liability, would get paid with other people’s money. Servicers actually make out because they would reimburse themselves for the loan modifications, taking money that would otherwise go to the investors. The investors, in short, would get massively screwed by this deal.
But again, I’ve seen no evidence that anyone outside of the small circle of the Administration and the AGs on the executive committee negotiating the deal actually agree to it. Call it the 12-state deal, rather than the 50-state one. This is only closer to getting done in the sense that the folks who have wanted to cave all along are ready to do so.
Speaking of caving, why on earth would the Obama Administration in general and Eric Holder in particular want to do that?
Insight: Top Justice officials connected to mortgage banks
By Scot J. Paltrow, Reuters
Fri Jan 20, 2012 9:31am EST
(Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, were partners for years at a Washington law firm that represented a Who’s Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud, a Reuters inquiry shows.
The firm, Covington & Burling, is one of Washington’s biggest white shoe law firms. Law professors and other federal ethics experts said that federal conflict of interest rules required Holder and Breuer to recuse themselves from any Justice Department decisions relating to law firm clients they personally had done work for.
As Reuters reported in 2011, public records show large numbers of mortgage promissory notes with apparently forged endorsements that were submitted as evidence to courts.
There also is evidence of almost routine manufacturing of false mortgage assignments, documents that transfer ownership of mortgages between banks or to groups of investors. In foreclosure actions in courts mortgage assignments are required to show that a bank has the legal right to foreclose.
In an interview in late 2011, Raymond Brescia, a visiting professor at Yale Law School who has written about foreclosure practices said, “I think it’s difficult to find a fraud of this size on the U.S. court system in U.S. history.”
Holder has resisted calls for a criminal investigation since October 2010, when evidence of widespread “robo-signing” first surfaced. That involved mortgage servicer employees falsely signing and swearing to massive numbers of affidavits and other foreclosure documents that they had never read or checked for accuracy.
On Wednesday, John O’Brien Jr., register of deeds in Salem, Mass., announced that he had sent 31,897 allegedly fraudulent foreclosure-related documents to Holder. O’Brien said he asked for a criminal investigation of servicers and their law firms that had filed the documents because they “show a pattern of fraud,” forgery and false notarizations.
Corrupt guzzle to zatch (look it up).