Big Banks Erred Widely on Troubled Mortgages, U.S. Regulator Confirms
By MICHAEL CORKERY, The New York Times
April 30, 2014, 8:14 pm
The latest analysis found that at least 9 percent of the errors discovered in the review involved banks improperly denying loan modifications that would have prevented foreclosures. The report also found that more than half of the errors related to administrative flaws and improper fees charged to homeowners during the foreclosures process.
Last year, 15 financial institutions settled with banking regulators, making payments that totaled $3.9 billion to more than four million homeowners. The settlements ended the independent reviews, which had been costly and lengthy. As part of the deals, the banks agreed to pay the homeowners, regardless of whether they had been harmed.
Bank of America, for example, had reviewed only 6 percent of its files, revealing a financial error rate of 8.9 percent. Wells Fargo had examined about 9.6 percent of its records, finding an error rate of 11.4 percent.
Before the reviews, regulators discovered many problems with the way banks had handled foreclosures after the financial crisis, including bungled modifications and the practice of “robo-signing,” where reviewers signed off on mounds of foreclosure paperwork without verifying its accuracy. Other errors included wrongful foreclosures and improper fees charged to homeowners.
In particular, the Government Accountability Office, an auditing arm of Congress, said this week that regulators had not demanded specific terms for $6 billion in foreclosure prevention measures that the banks agreed to undertake, in addition to the $3.9 billion in cash pay outs to homeowners.
It also said the decision to cut short the review left regulators with limited information about actual harm to borrowers when they negotiated the $10 billion settlement.
Regulators had calculated a preliminary error rate of 6.5 percent for all the banks when they negotiated the settlements last year, according to the G.A.O.
It was one of the largest and most costly bank failures in American history. And the bank’s collapse could end up costing the F.D.I.C. even more money because of the Independent Foreclosure Review.
It is possible that the F.D.I.C. will have to cover at least some of the costs of the $8.5 million payouts, banking specialists said. Specifically, the F.D.I.C. could be responsible for any errors in the first three months of 2009 when the federal regulators owned IndyMac’s assets and ran its servicing operations, they said.
It’s Good – no – Great to be the CEO Running a Huge Criminal Bank
By William K. Black, New Economic Perspectives
April 29, 2014
Every day brings multiple new scandals. At least they used to be scandals. Now they’re simply news items strained of ethical content by business journalists who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak not about evil. The Wall Street Journal, our principal U.S. financial journal ran two such stories today. The first story deals with tax evasion, and begins with this cheery (and tellingly inaccurate) headline: “U.S. Banks to Help Authorities With Tax Evasion Probe.” Here’s an alternative headline, drawn from the facts of the article: “Senior Officers of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Aided and Abetted Tax Fraud by Wealthiest Americans, Failed to Make Required Criminal Referrals, and Demanded Immunity from Prosecution for Themselves and the Banks before Complying with the U.S. Subpoenas: U.S. Department of Justice Caves in to Banker’s Demands Continuing its Practice of Effectively Immunizing Fraud by Most Financial Elites.”
Oh, and the feckless DOJ (again) did not require any officer who committed the felony of aiding and abetting tax fraud to resign or to repay the bonuses he “earned” through his crimes. But not to worry, the banks – not the bankers – may have to pay fines as the cost of doing their felonious business. The feckless regulators did not even require Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to disclose to shareholders their participation in the program.
The context of this WSJ story is the broader series of betrayals of homeowners by the regulators and prosecutors led initially by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his infamous “foam the runways” comment in which he admitted and urged that programs “sold” as benefitting distressed homeowners be used instead to aid the banks (more precisely, the bank CEOs) whose frauds caused the crisis. The WSJ article deals with one of the several settlements with the banks that “service” home mortgages and foreclose on them. Private attorneys first obtained the evidence that the servicers were engaged in massive foreclosure fraud involving knowingly filing hundreds of thousands of false affidavits under (non) penalty of perjury. As a senior former AUSA said publicly at the INET conference a few weeks ago about these cases – they were slam dunk prosecutions. But you know what happened; no senior banker or bank was prosecuted. No banker was sued civilly by the government. No banker had to pay back his bonus that he “earned” through fraud.
Everyone involved in the faux foreclosure review – the “consultants” hired who to do the review, the mortgage servicers, the (non) regulators, and the GAO performed abysmally. The “review” was an expensive farce. The regulators did not conduct the review. The servicers did not conduct the review. The consultants were chosen by the servicers, which the regulators should never have allowed. The consultants were allowed to have additional conflicts of interest such as having worked on the loan foreclosures they were reviewing. The “design” of the (non) study was an embarrassment. The (non) study collapsed almost immediately because it turned out that many of the servicers’ files were so pathetic that the study “design” could not be followed. Rather than stop and reconsider the implications of those file defects for the likelihood that the servicers engaged in fraud in order to foreclose the regulators decided to continue. The more severe the file defects the greater the incentive of servicers to engage in foreclosure fraud.
The consultants were soon hopelessly behind schedule and budget because of the severity of the loan file defects. Eventually, the (non) regulators gave up and brought the (non) study to an end, not with a bang but with a whimper. Real regulators would have had great negotiating leverage. The servicers had agreed to conduct the study and failed. It would cost the servicers more to complete the review than simply boost the payout by several billion dollars. The two obvious answers were to continue the study and order interim payouts or to stop the study and in return for a significantly larger payout to homeowners. Naturally, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve found a third, far worse choice. They left the cash on the table that could have gone to the homeowners. The GAO was no stronger. They do agree that the OCC and the Fed left billions on the table but they also give them a pass, saying that the settlement is in the “range” that would emerge from the regulators assumed rate of bad foreclosures. The problem, as the facts disclosed in the GAO’s report make clear, but GAO’s analysis ignores, is that the regulators’ assumed rate of bad foreclosures had no reliable basis and was proven to be far too low an estimate by the fact that the loan files were so incomplete that the consultants could not complete the study. So, there is no reliable basis for GAO’s claim that there is any “range” of reasonableness for the payments to homeowners.