In Wells Fargo’s Bogus Accounts, Echoes of Foreclosure Abuses

The New York Times | September 21, 2016         John Stumpf, the chairman and chief executive of Wells Fargo, won a dubious achievement award from one of his interrogators during Tuesday’s scorching hearings on Capitol Hill. The bank’s yearslong practice of opening bogus accounts for customers and charging fees to do so, said Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, had united the Senate Banking Committee on a major topic for the first time in a decade. “And not in a good way,” he added.

But this was not the first time problematic and pervasive activities at Wells Fargo succeeded in uniting a disparate group. After observing years of abusive mortgage loan servicing practices at the bank, an increasing number of judges hearing foreclosure cases after the financial crisis grew to understand that banks could not always be trusted in their pleadings.

This was a major shift: For decades, the nation’s courts had been largely pro-bank when hearing foreclosure cases, accepting what big financial institutions produced in documentation and amounts owed by borrowers.  Read more here.

2 Banks Agree on Fines to End Foreclosure Enforcement

The Detroit News | February 9, 2016   U.S. Bancorp will pay $10 million and Banco Santander SA agreed to turn over $3.4 million to settle Office of the Comptroller of the Currency complaints over missteps in how the banks handled regulators’ orders to fix faulty foreclosure practices.

The fines stem from violations of 2013 accords over mortgage-servicing flaws, the OCC said in a statement Tuesday. The new penalties close out a series of restrictions the companies were placed under in June after they failed to live up to earlier agreements related to loans mishandled after the 2008 financial crisis.

U.S. Bank and the Santander U.S. unit formerly known as Sovereign Bank were among a group of mortgage servicers accused of mishandling loan papers or robo-signing — fraudulently endorsing affidavits used in foreclosures. After an aborted effort to force the banks to review individual files for wrongdoing, most of the companies agreed in 2013 to pay a combined $10 billion in settlements and to fix their practices.  Read more here.

Wells Fargo to Pay $1.2 Billion in Mortgage Settlement

The New York Times | February 3, 2016    Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $1.2 billion to put to rest claims that it engaged in reckless lending under a Federal Housing Administration program that left a government insurance fund to clean up the mess.

The bank, which is the nation’s largest mortgage lender, has been in talks with the government since 2012 over accusations that it improperly classified some F.H.A. loans as qualifying for federal insurance when they did not, and that it knew of the misclassification but failed to inform housing regulators about the deficiencies before filing insurance claims.

Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, had been a holdout among large lenders. Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase all previously settled similar claims.  The settlement means Wells Fargo has to reduce 2015 profit by $134 million to account for the extra legal expense.  Read more here.

Falling Oil Means Rising Foreclosures in These States

Plummeting oil prices are wreaking havoc on stock markets, and they're also causing problems for some housing markets.

CNN Money | January 14, 2016   Foreclosure filings on a national level dropped to a nine-year low in 2015, but some oil-producing states weren't so lucky, according to a new report from RealtyTrac.

Foreclosures increased in Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota last year as oil prices fell, and that can be a telling trend.

Those three states remained relatively unscathed from the 2008 housing bust, explained Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, which means the activity isn't due to a backlog of foreclosures left over from the crisis.

"Instead the rise in foreclosures in these states is actually a new wave of distress coming through that is mostly unrelated to the subprime loan housing crisis."

Lower oil prices have led to massive layoffs across the country, which can strain local economies with close ties to the energy sector. Read more here.

America's Foreclosure Crisis Isn't Over

CBS News |  January 26, 2016    With Goldman Sachs (GS) recently agreeing to pay $5.1 billion to settle claims related to its role in the 2008 mortgage scandal, the firm became the latest big Wall Street bank to reach a deal with the U.S. government. As part of the settlement, $1.8 billion is to be set aside for programs to help homeowners who are still trying to fend off foreclosure?

Yet nearly seven years since the Great Recession ended, the question remains: How well have these anti-foreclosure programs worked? It depends on whom you ask and where they live.

Back-stopping the nation's banking system was the top federal priority during the height of the 2008 financial crisis. But out of the $475 billion that Congress authorized for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), $46 billion was supposed to help millions of struggling families avoid foreclosure.

A subsequent 2014 settlement between prosecutors and Bank of America (BAC) netted an additional $16.6 billion, of which then-Attorney General Eric Holder said $7 billion would go to "provide relief to struggling homeowners, borrowers and communities affected by the bank's conduct."

All told, between the programs administered through the Treasury Department -- like the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) -- and the pools of money committed by Wall Street banks as part of their settlements, tens of billions of dollars have been set aside to assist families facing foreclosure by modifying their mortgage terms so they can remain in their homes.  Read more here

Virginia Reaches $63 Million Pact with 11 Banks in Mortgage Bond Fraud Suit

Reuters | January 22, 2016   A group of 11 banks agreed to pay more than $63 million to settle allegations that they misled the Commonwealth of Virginia and its retirement system about residential mortgage backed-securities, Attorney General Mark R. Herring said on Friday.

The banks, which include two Bank of America Corp units , Morgan Stanley and a unit of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, defrauded the state's retirement fund by selling it shoddy mortgage bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis, Virginia's attorney general said in a 2014 lawsuit.

None of banks admitted liability in the settlement, Herring said.

The $63 million pact is the largest non-health care-related sum ever obtained in a suit brought under a Virginia law aimed at curbing fraud against the commonwealth's taxpayers, Herring said in a statement.

In the lawsuit, Herring said an analysis showed nearly 40 percent of the mortgages that backed 220 securities purchased by Virginia's retirement fund were fraudulently represented as posing a lower risk of default than they actually did.  Read more here.

Is Another Housing Crisis Just Around the Corner?

Fox News|  January 19, 2016     Movie sequels are rarely as good as the original films on which they’re based. The same dictum, it appears, holds for finance. The 2008 housing market collapse was bad enough, but it appears now that we’re on the verge of experiencing it all again. And the financial sequel, working from a similar script as its original version, could prove to be just as devastating to the American taxpayer.

The Federal National Mortgage Association (commonly referred to as Fannie Mae) plans a mortgage loan reboot, which could produce the same insane and predictable results as when the mortgage agency loaned so much money to people who had neither the income, nor credit history, to qualify for a traditional loan.   Read more here.

JPMorgan Fined $48 Million for Failures in U.S. Robo-Signing Settlement

Reuters |  January 6, 2016    JPMorgan Chase has been fined $48 million for failing to meet terms of a settlement to resolve mortgage servicing violations, U.S. bank regulators said on Tuesday.  The fine will be on top of $2 billion that JPMorgan had been ordered to pay to cover remediation costs and foreclosure assistance to borrowers, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said.

JPMorgan was among a number of banks that participated in a 2013 nationwide settlement with regulators over the practice of robo-signing, where banks pursued faulty foreclosures by using defective or fraudulent documents.

The OCC also said on Tuesday that EverBank will pay a $1 million fine for similar violations connected to the mortgage servicing case.   Read more here

Goldman Reaches $5 Billion Settlement Over Mortgage-Backed Securities

The Wall Street Journal | January 15, 2016      Goldman Sachs Group Inc. agreed to the largest regulatory penalty in its history, resolving U.S. and state claims stemming from the Wall Street firm’s sale of mortgage bonds heading into the financial crisis.

In settling with the Justice Department and a collection of other state and federal entities for more than $5 billion, Goldman will join a list of other big banks in moving past one of the biggest, and most costly, legal headaches of the crisis era.  Read more here

Bankers Ask Judge to Disregard $5.4 Million Foreclosure Verdict

Houston Chronicle |  January 11, 2016   In a case that's being watched by legal and real estate interests, the bankers who lost a $5.4 million jury verdict against a pair of homeowners in West University asked State District Judge Mike Engelhart to set aside the jury's decision and allow the bank to foreclose.  

Lawyers for Wells Fargo and Carrington Mortgage Services appeared before Engelhart Monday to argue that David and Mary Ellen Wolf shouldn't receive the $5.4 million that a Harris County jury awarded them in November nor should they be able to keep their house. The bankers argued that the Wolfs, who were sitting on the front row of the courtroom listening to the proceedings, were not victims of fraud as the jury found, and that if the banks did file documents improperly at the courthouse, it wasn't intended to harm the couple.

At worst, it was a "paperwork slipup or negligence," said Thomas Panoff, a commercial litigation lawyer with Mayer Brown in Chicago who is representing Wells Fargo and Carrington.  Read more here.