HUD

As Government Releases Evidence of Systemic Mortgage Fraud, FBI Focuses on Distressed Homeowner Fraud

Why isn't Jamie Dimon on this Most Wanted poster?

The Administration finally released the HUD Inspector General Reports that consist of the only investigation of foreclosure fraud conducted as part of the foreclosure settlement.

I’ll probably have more to say about the reports tomorrow. But here’s a hint. The Wells Fargo report describes WF management refusing almost all cooperation.

Wells Fargo provided a list of 14 affidavit signers and notaries and then initially restricted our access to interview them. Wells Fargo attorneys interviewed them first and then only allowed us to interview 5 of the 14 affidavit signers. Wells Fargo told us that we could not interview the others because they had reported questionable affidavit signing or notarizing practices when it interviewed them. After discussion with attorneys for Wells Fargo and OIG counsel, terms were agreed to, permitting us to interview these remaining nine persons. The terms that Wells Fargo set required that Wells Fargo management and attorneys attend all of the interviews as facilitators. This condition resulted in delays and may have limited the effectiveness of those interviews. Wells Fargo’s terms also required that persons we interviewed have private counsel present on their behalf. Wells Fargo chose the private counsel and paid the attorney fees of the persons we interviewed. Wells Fargo was not timely in arranging the private attorneys, which further delayed our interviews.

And it concludes that WF may have have violated the False Claims Act.

Based upon the results of our review, Wells Fargo’s practices may have exposed it to liability under the False Claims Act for submitting the claims for insurance benefits to FHA without following HUD requirements. We provided our preliminary findings to DOJ for its assessment and determination on any potential liability issues.

In other words, the government has been sitting on evidence of significant crime for the last 18 months–crime that resulted in people losing their homes and the government being defrauded.

The government just gave the banks a Get Out of Jail Free Card for those crimes.

Meanwhile, here’s the financial fraud the FBI says it spent 2011 investigating, while DOJ sat on this evidence and the underlying frauds it clearly would lead to:

Mortgage fraud: During 2011, mortgage origination loans were at their lowest levels since 2001, partially due to tighter underwriting standards, while foreclosures and delinquencies have skyrocketed over the past few years. So, distressed homeowner fraud has replaced loan origination fraud as the number one mortgage fraud threat in many FBI offices. Other schemes include illegal property flipping, equity skimming, loan modification schemes, and builder bailout/condo conversion. During FY 2011, we had 2,691 pending mortgage fraud cases.

Financial institution fraud: Investigations in this area focused on insider fraud (embezzlement and misapplication), check fraud, counterfeit negotiable instruments, check kiting, and fraud contributing to the failure of financial institutions. The FBI has been especially busy with that last one—in FY 2010, 157 banks failed, the highest number since 181 financial institutions closed in 1992 at the height of the savings and loan crisis.

Distressed homeowner fraud, property flipping, and check kiting. That’s what the FBI has been looking at during the entire period when DOJ has just been sitting on this evidence of much greater, more destructive fraud.

Just in Time To Undercut Eric Schneiderman, the (Ongoing) HUD Investigation!

American Banker has an article suggesting that Tom Miller will be able to use the results of HUD’s investigations into servicing problems to craft a settlement with the banks.

The state attorneys general have a secret weapon in their negotiations with the largest mortgage servicers: the results of a HUD investigation into the banks’ robo-signing practices.

But by all appearances, this is an attempt on the part of IA Attorney General Tom Miller to undercut claims that the Attorneys General need to do more investigation. The article–which relies almost entirely on Miller’s own staff–concludes that this report will “fill in a major gap” in what the Attorneys General know (that is, real data about how bad the robo-signing problem is).

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has completed an investigation begun last year of foreclosure robo-signing and given state officials the results, a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says.

A full government investigation would fill in a major gap in state officials’ information as they negotiate with the servicers: the attorneys general have not known the full scope of the banks’ robo-signing practices, or how many homeowners have been affected by their paperwork lapses.

[snip]

“One of our federal partners, HUD, has conducted a thorough investigation of robo-signing,” says Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for Miller. “HUD has shared that investigation with our executive committee.”

The states and their “federal partners,” including HUD, “have the information we need concerning the banks’ robo-signing activities, and this is key to the strength of our understanding and our negotiating position,” he says. [my emphasis]

There’s something funny about Tom Miller’s flack’s claims that the HUD investigation fills in what the Attorneys General didn’t already have: the one thing that HUD would say about it is that it wasn’t finished.

A HUD spokesman would not discuss any investigation, except to say its probes into robo-signing are ongoing. [my emphasis]

Maybe the claim HUD’s probe is complete is just a mis-paraphrase of Greenwood’s comments; such a claim doesn’t show up in his direct quotes. But if the investigation is not done–and HUD says it’s ongoing–then how does the incomplete study give the AGs what they need?

In any case, I find it particularly neat that the AGs’ Executive Committee got this incomplete complete study after Eric Schneiderman got booted from it.

DOJ IG Doesn’t List Foreclosure Fraud among Significant Performance Challenges

A month ago, the Financial Fraud Task Force first started to get around to investigating the systemic fraud in our foreclosure system.

Federal investigators are exploring whether banks and other financial firms broke U.S. law when using fraudulent court documents to foreclose on people’s homes, according to sources familiar with the effort.

The criminal investigation, still in its early days, is focused on whether companies misled federal housing agencies that now insure a large share of U.S. home loans, and whether the firms committed wire or mail fraud in filing false paperwork.

The announcement was tied to a Shaun Donovan announcement that a HUD investigation started in May had identified problems from some mortgage servicers; HUD is a member of the Financial Fraud Task Force.

Donovan said the administration had yet to complete its review, which began in May. Thus far, though, it had found “significant difference in the performance of servicers, and in particular, information that shows us there is not compliance with FHA rules and regulations around loss mitigation.” Donovan said the findings were limited to firms that deal with FHA loans. He declined to single out servicers.

All of which would seem to suggest that HUD–and therefore the Financial Fraud Task Force–knows there’s some there there (though they deny it is systemic).

Which is why I find it rather troubling that, two months after it became clear foreclosure mills and servicers are engaging in rampant fraud, DOJ’s Inspector General Glenn Fine does not specify it among the significant performance challenges for the year (Financial Crimes generally places seventh on his list of issues, after IT planning and violent crime, the latter of which is falling).

7 Financial Crimes and Cyber Crimes: The need to aggressively combat financial crimes and cyber crimes is an increasing challenge for the Department. Financial fraud continues to affect the economy, and the increased use of computers and the Internet in furtherance of financial crimes, as well as the international scope of these criminal activities, has exacerbated the challenge of cyber crime.

In November 2009, a presidential Executive Order created the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (Task Force). The Department described the Task Force as the “cornerstone” of its work in the financial fraud area. Led by the Department, the Task Force combines the work of several agencies to focus on mortgage crime, securities fraud, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) and rescue fraud, and financial discrimination.

In connection with the Task Force the Department launched Operation Stolen Dreams, a multi-agency initiative designed to combat mortgage fraud. In June 2010 the Department reported that this operation involved the prosecution of 1,215 criminal defendants nationwide who allegedly were responsible for more than $2.3 billion in losses. The Department also reported that the operation recovered more than $147 million through 191 civil enforcement actions.

The Department and the Task Force are also focusing investigative resources on securities fraud as well as on Recovery Act fraud and fraud in other rescue funds. Among other things, the Department is providing training to federal grantees and contractors on ways to prevent and detect such fraud.

Note that Operation Stolen Dreams is focused on the small-scale thugs that pumped up housing prices. That’s apparently a priority. But Fine, at least, seems to think an investigation into the GMACs and BoAs, the David Sterns and Lender Processing Services, is not a priority.

He may well be right in that DOJ doesn’t consider this a top challenge. So while counterterrorism is number one–based partly on two unsuccessful attacks launched by losers in the last year–the wholescale assault on our economy is apparently not even part of number seven.

“The Federal Government Is Moving Comprehensively and Quickly”

Something has been nagging me about this HuffPo description of HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s briefing on the foreclosure crisis the other day. It’s the revelation that, in a review started in May, the government had found that foreclosure servicers are not complying with FHA requirements that servicers attempt to modify loans before they foreclose on them.

Donovan said the administration had yet to complete its review, which began in May. Thus far, though, it had found “significant difference in the performance of servicers, and in particular, information that shows us there is not compliance with FHA rules and regulations around loss mitigation.” Donovan said the findings were limited to firms that deal with FHA loans. He declined to single out servicers. Other HUD officials likewise declined, despite repeated requests.

When it came to the larger issue of what some legal experts describe as a fundamentally-flawed and fraud-ridden mortgage market — fraudulently-underwritten loans that passed through a maze of institutions that failed to properly maintain basic paperwork or follow legal procedures in bundling, securitizing and ultimately selling those mortgages to investors — Donovan said that, thus far, all is well.

“The primary issue that’s been the focus of the moratoria is, is the foreclosure process being followed correctly? Are affidavits being filed correctly, and are notarizations and other things being done correctly? That is one set of issues,” he said. “A second set of issues — and we think this is very important — that we look more broadly at, ‘Are servicers taking steps to help keep people in their homes?’”

The lesser, third issue that has been raised, Donovan said, is whether the process underlying the securitization of mortgages is “in question.”

“So that’s the point that I’m trying to make, is that the issues that we are finding … that we’re focused on are, ‘Are there particular servicers that are not following these processes?’”

Donovan added that “we have not found any evidence at this point of systemic issues in the underlying legal or other documents that have been reviewed.”

Keeping in mind that this review started five months ago, watch this video of Donovan from Wednesday. In it, Donovan seems intent on declaring the overall system of mortgage finance–including MERS–to be sound, even while he reveals that the review showed some servicers were not making the required effort to modify loans before foreclosing on people.

This is not a systematic issue, according to Donovan, but some servicers that he declines to name (as he did in the briefing HuffPo describes) are not following processes to keep people in their homes. Oh, and “the Federal government is moving comprehensively and quickly to ensure that servicers are complying with the law and that they are taking the actions they’re required to take and they should take to keep people in their homes.”

Well over a million homes have been foreclosed on since the government began its review of the foreclosure process. At some point in that time, the government determined that certain servicers were not complying with federal rules about modifications.

So why are we just hearing about it now after those million families have lost their homes?

I appreciate that the government–by refusing to call this systemic fraud systemic–acquires new leverage over servicers to actually do something about their refusal to modify loans. But why have we heard nary a peep out of the government about this before now? And why is the government refusing to make public which deadbeat banks are breaking the rules on loan modifications?

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