High Noon: Banks vs. The Law (Mortgage Foreclosures) – Part 3

Ok, continuing the series on the mortgage foreclosure crisis here. For background on the legal side of the problem see Part 1 and for a humorous look by Jon Stewart at the crisis see Part 2.

The banks are claiming that the problems are only paperwork glitches, that all the people being foreclosed on are in default and owe serious money, and that foreclosures will resume soon.  Kind of a “nothing to see here, move along” response.  This pitch is getting echoed by politicians, the Wall Street Journal (I don’t link to pay sites), and, of course, the banks.  The White House seems to be falling into line with their bosses, the banks, too.  From the New York Times (free registration may be required):

The industry has argued in response that problems should be addressed without halting all foreclosures, because a moratorium would damage the economy. “It must be recognized that the mortgage market, investors and the health of the economy are all interrelated,” Tim Ryan, president of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said Monday.

The White House shares those concerns, and it has tried to defuse the issue by arguing that problems can be addressed without imposing a moratorium.

“There are, in fact, valid foreclosures that probably should go forward,” David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser, said Sunday on CBS.

Administration officials argue in part that the problems that have emerged in recent weeks do not change the fact that lenders are seeking to foreclose on people who borrowed and then failed to repay. Most of the identified problems are best described as technicalities, not miscarriages of justice.

But we also know it’s patently false.  There are clear cases of erroneous foreclosures including, but not limited to these reported in the same Times article:

Advocates for homeowners, however, say that the pattern of sloppiness allows and encourages more serious abuses. They point to a growing number of documented cases in which lenders mistakenly seized homes.

Bank of America apologized last month for foreclosing on a home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The homeowner didn’t even have a mortgage. The bank had failed to notice that the previous owner had repaid the mortgage loan.

Last year the company’s contractors entered the home of a Pittsburgh woman, changed the locks, cut off the utilities and seized her pet parrot. The bank later acknowledged that the woman had not missed any mortgage payments.

Other companies including Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase also have apologized for mistaken attempts to seize homes they didn’t own.

Dozens of people have sued lenders charging that their homes were foreclosed even after the lender agreed to a loan modification or repayment plan.

I just don’t accept that foreclosing and seizing (really stealing) a house that DID  NOT HAVE A MORTGAGE is more than a “paperwork glitch”.  There’s much more to this crisis.

 

High Noon: Banks vs. The Law (Mortgage Foreclosures) – Part 1

In recent weeks a legal storm has begun to blow regarding mortgage foreclosures.  It seems that in the last decade, as banks and Wall Street rushed to push mortgages and borrowed money at any homeowner or wannabe homeowner who was breathing while simultaneously raising the money by pushing too-complex-to-understand Mortgage Backed Securities Trusts and bonds (MBS) on investors, the banks found it a bit inconvenient unprofitable to follow the detailed laws about recording mortgages and transferring notes.  Now, as homeowners have fallen behind in payments and the banks (through their mortgage servicer operations) have taken to foreclosing on properties in high volume.  Of course, there’s those nasty details about the notes not being recorded properly and the paper trail not being complete.  No problem for today’s super banks, though. They just lie.  That’s right, they’ve been caught, as in court testimony and TV interviews of their own mid-level managers.  Seems they sign and file affidavits claiming the “paper work is lost but don’t worry Mr. Judge, I know personally the facts of this case intimately and this is what they are”.  Except they sign these affidavits of “intimate knowledge” in high volume.  As in 10,000 per month or 1 every 1-2 minutes.  As Yves at Naked Capitalism recounts

Reader ella in comments provided a reminder:

An affidavit is a legal document which can substitute for live witness testimony in court. All testimony in court is governed by the rules of evidence or by statute. All testimony requires that the witness swears to tell the truth, is competent and has personal knowledge of the facts they are testifying about. An affidavit is no different, in most if not all jurisdictions; the affiant swears to tell the truth by being placed under oath by the notary, the affiant states in the affidavit that they were sworn, are competent and that they have personal knowledge of the facts in the affidavit. The notary attests to the oath of the affiant and that the affiant is who he claims to be.

If a witness lies in court or in an affidavit then they could be charged with perjury. Perjury is lying to the court.

The affidavit issue is being portrayed in the MSM at a paperwork problem. Lying to the court is not a paperwork problem. Attorneys are prohibited from making a material misrepresentation to the court of fact or law. Further, attorneys in most jurisdictions have an affirmative duty to report known perjury by their clients to the court.

The problem with the affidavits is perjury on behalf of the affiants and possibly the notaries depending on the notaries’ knowledge that the affiants had not reviewed the files, the promissory notes, the mortgages, or the records of default.

Further, you can reasonably argue that the entities pursuing foreclosure (banks or servicers) have perpetrated a fraud on the court by submitting perjured affidavits. If the attorneys representing the entities have knowledge of the fraud or are preparing questionable documents then they may also be involved and subject to penalties.

At the heart of any trial or hearing is the determination of the truth of the matter. It is the very purpose of the rules of evidence and what law and fact is presented to the court. If the affiants lied, as it appears, then the truth of whether they owned the note and held the mortgage and the borrower was in default is at issue. Courts, Attorneys General, and bar associations need to serious consider actions that will assure compliance with the rule of law.

This country cannot stand as a democracy if there is one set of law for the banks, corps, elites and another set of law for the rest of us. Perjury and fraud on the court is very serious matter. It is not a mere paperwork problem.

This doesn’t summarize all of the problems related to the growing foreclosure fraud crisis, but in my opinion, it’s one of the most significant.  These big banks have perpetrated, with intent and foreknowledge, fraud on our courts.  They have lied under oath.  They have perjured.  These are not “paperwork problems”.  These are crimes.  Not civil infractions. Not “misstatements”.  These are crimes.  Crimes that would see any individual put in jail.  The banks need to be held accountable. If not, then we do not have a viable legal system of “equal justice for all”.  If we don’t have that, we can’t have market capitalism.

More to come in future posts on this topic, because it is looming like a growing shadow over the economy.

Healthcare: Do It Because It’s the Right Thing To Do

The following is important enough to repeat in full from Krugman at Demons And Demonization.

What I want to add is that the opponents of Healthcare Reform claim to be supporters of “liberty” and “free  markets” and claim to be opposed to the “tyranny” of government involvement.  Yet what is very clear (and this story is only one of many examples) is that the current “market” for healthcare insurance does not function as a true market, let alone a free market by any stretch of the imagination.  There is no functioning “market” if participants to contracts can regularly renege, cancel, and deceptively hide their tracks.  The insurance company here  is not engaged in “voluntary, privately-entered contracts in a market”.  They are engaged in predation, deception, and fraud.  Enforcement of contracts is indeed a valid function for government, even for extreme ‘free market’ fundamentalists.  That’s why we need healthcare reform now.

The usual suspects have been attacking Obama for “demonizing” insurance companies; but saying that people do terrible things isn’t demonization if they do, in fact, do terrible things.

And health insurers do, because they have huge financial incentives to act in an inhumane way — most obviously, by revoking coverage when people get sick, using whatever rationale they can devise.

Read this report by Murray Waas on Assurant Health (previously called Fortis), which used a computer algorithm to identify every client with HIV, then systematically revoked coverage on the flimsiest of grounds — and appears to have systematically hidden any paper trail showing how it made its decisions:

The South Carolina Supreme Court, in upholding the jury’s verdict in the case in a unanimous 5-0 opinion, said that it agreed with the lower court’s finding that Fortis destroyed records to hide the corporation’s misconduct. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal wrote: “The lack of written rescission policies, the lack of information available regarding appealing rights or procedures, the separate policies for rescission documents” as well as the “omission” of other records regarding the decision to revoke Mitchell’s insurance, constituted “evidence that Fortis tried to conceal the actions it took in rescinding his policy.”

And what basis did the company use for revoking coverage?

Fortis canceled Mitchell’s health insurance based on a single erroneous note from a nurse in his medical records that indicated that he might have been diagnosed prior to his obtaining his insurance policy. When the company’s investigators discovered the note, they ceased further review of Mitchell’s records for evidence to the contrary, including the records containing the doctor’s diagnosis.

Still, this must have been an outlier, a scuzzy company that wasn’t at all typical, right? But in that case, why was the CEO one of the people who testified on behalf of the insurance industry?

On June 16, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, held a hearing on the practice of rescission by health insurance companies, and among the industry executives who testified was Don Hamm, the CEO and President of Assurant Health.

Hamm insisted before the committee that rescission was a necessary tool for Assurant and other health insurance companies to hold the cost of premiums down for other policyholders. Hamm asserted that rescission was “one of many protections supporting the affordability and viability of individual health insurance in the United States under our present system.”

And as the story points out, the evidence is that the overwhelming majority of rescissions, not just at Assurant but across the board, are, in fact, without justification.

The crucial thing to understand is that depending on how a few Democrats vote sometime soon, stories like this will either cease happening — or continue, and get much worse. The proposed health care reform would end discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, and therefore end the threat of rescission as well.

And to repeat what I and other have repeatedly explained, you need the whole package to make this work. You can’t end discrimination based on medical history unless you require that health as well as sick people have insurance, to broaden the risk pool. And you can’t mandate coverage unless you provide aid to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

Right now, we have a system that creates huge incentives for bad, one might say demonic, behavior: Assurant made $150 million by revoking coverage, almost always without cause. We can end all of that — not in some indefinite future, but with a single vote right now.

Just do it.