The big banks that caused the collapse of the global finance market, and received tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded bailouts, have likely been engaging in wholesale fraud against homeowners and the courts. But in a promising development this week, attorneys general from all 50 states announced a bipartisan joint investigation into foreclosure fraud.
Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, GMAC and other big mortgage lenders recently suspended most foreclosure proceedings, following revelations that thousands of their foreclosures were being conducted like “foreclosure mills,” with tens of thousands of legal documents signed by low-level staffers with little or no knowledge of what they were signing.
Then the Obama administration signaled that it was not supporting a foreclosure moratorium. Not long after, Bank of America announced it was restarting its foreclosure operations. GMAC followed suit, and others will likely join in. So much for the voluntary moratorium.
GMAC Mortgage engaged in mass document processing, dubbed “robo-signing.” In several cases, GMAC Mortgage filed documents with courts that were signed by Jeffrey Stephan. Stephan presided over a staff of 12 in suburban Philadelphia. Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray filed a lawsuit against GMAC Mortgage, Stephan and the bank that owns GMAC, Ally Financial (itself a subsidiary of General Motors).
According to one report, Stephan received 10,000 mortgage foreclosure documents to process in one month. Based on an eight-hour workday, he would have had to read, verify and sign, in the presence of a notary, about one document per minute. He admitted to signing documents without reading them or checking the facts about homeowners said to be in default. And Stephan was just one of many “robo-signers.”
Recall that GM received $51 billion in taxpayer bailouts; its subsidiary, GMAC, received $16.3 billion; and Ally Financial subsidiary GMAC Mortgage received $1.5 billion as an “incentive payment for home loan modification.”
So you as a taxpayer may have bailed out a bank that is fraudulently foreclosing on you. What recourse do you have?
Back in February 2009, Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur advised homeowners to force lenders to “produce the note.” People facing foreclosure were being taken to court while the bank alleging default couldn’t even prove it owned the mortgage. The mortgage document often had been lost in the tangled web of financial wheeling and dealing. Kaptur told me: “Millions and millions of families are getting foreclosure notices. They don’t have proper legal representation ... possession is nine-tenths of the law; therefore, stay in your property.”
If you stay in your home, your mortgage lender may break in. Nancy Jacobini of Orange County, Fla., was inside her home when she heard an intruder. Thinking she was being burglarized, she called 911. Police determined the intruder was actually someone sent by JPMorgan Chase to change the locks. And Jacobini wasn’t even in foreclosure!
Most banks that suspended foreclosure efforts only did so in 23 states—because it is only in those 23 states that courts actually adjudicate over foreclosure proceedings. One judge who oversees foreclosures is New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Schack. He has made national headlines for rejecting dozens of foreclosure filings. He told “Democracy Now!” news hour, “My job is to do justice ... we run into numerous problems with assignments of mortgages, questionable affidavits of merit and just sloppy paperwork in general.”
Bruce Marks runs NACA, a national nonprofit that helps people avoid foreclosure. He told me: “When President Obama was running for president, he said one of the first things he’ll do is put a moratorium on foreclosures. He never did. He never backed bankruptcy reform so people could have the right to go in front of a bankruptcy judge.”
He went on: “And where is President Obama? When he says, ‘Well, you know, we don’t want to upset the market,’ what is good about a market when someone is foreclosed on and ... you’ve got a vacant building? We have to have a national moratorium to give ourselves a window of opportunity to restructure mortgages ... to look at homeowners as people, not as a commodity to make money.”
According to RealtyTrac, banks repossessed 102,134 properties in September, a home roughly every 30 seconds. Every 30 seconds, banks—many that received funds from the Bush administration’s TARP, and that may be using fraudulent practices—foreclose on an American family’s dream of home ownership. Meanwhile, GMAC Mortgage has reported increased profits for the first half of 2010.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.