No Penalties for Mortgage Company with Worst Loan Mod Backlog

by Paul Kiel, ProPublica – May 28, 2010 1:53 pm EDT

Jeanenne Longacre said she received a letter from Saxon Mortgage saying she was approved for a loan mod, but the final terms never came. She says she lost her home because of Saxon's errors.
Jeanenne Longacre said she received a letter from Saxon Mortgage saying she was approved for a loan mod, but the final terms never came. She says she lost her home because of Saxon’s errors.

Last week, the government released data [1] showing that there’s a big problem at Saxon Mortgage, a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley. Of all the mortgage companies participating in the administration’s mortgage modification program, Saxon has the largest proportion of homeowners caught in modification limbo.

The program, which provides incentives for mortgage companies to modify loans to an affordable level, has been plagued by delays and disappointing results. About 1.2 million homeowners have begun a “trial” modification, which is supposed to last three months. But less than a quarter of them have emerged with a real, lasting modification. (Here’s our backgrounder on the program and problems with it [2].)

As of April, about 265,000 homeowners [3] were caught in trials that had lasted more than six months. Nowhere is that backlog worse than at Saxon, a mid-sized subprime servicer based in Texas that was acquired [4] by Morgan Stanley in 2006 and has had long-running customer service problems [5].

Few of Saxon’s trials have converted into lasting modifications. As of the end of April, Saxon had put 40,000 homeowners into trials, but only about 11,000, or 27 percent, had received a permanent modification. Far more had either been dropped from the program (16,000) or were still waiting for a final answer after being in the trial for longer than six months (10,000).

The Four Mortgage Servicers with The Biggest Trial Backlogs

Servicers Est. # “Aged” Trials % of Active Trials that are “Aged”
Saxon Mortgage Services 9,839 76%
JPMorgan Chase 85,678 72%
U.S. Bank 2,064 58%
CitiMortgage 26,375 48%
Total for Program 265,015 42%

A close look at Saxon provides a window into problems with the program itself, in particular a glaring lack of oversight from Washington. While the government set up the program, it relies on mortgage companies to actually perform modifications. So far Washington has shied away from penalizing those servicers that have failed to follow the program’s rules or underperformed. Indeed, despite widespread problems [3] among mortgage servicers and frequent tough talk [6] from Treasury officials, who have often threatened penalties, the government has yet to issue a single one.

A spokeswoman for Saxon said that the company has been regularly audited, as have other participants in the government’s program, and that the reviews had uncovered no “material issues.”

For homeowners, on the other hand, the consequences of servicer problems can be all-too-real. Some homeowners say they lost their home because of errors by Saxon.

The country’s largest mortgage servicers are attached to the biggest banks like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, but a number of mid-sized servicers like Saxon are stand-alone companies or subsidiaries of other banks. As of 2008, Saxon serviced over 340,000 loans.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Saxon Mortgage Services requests that consumers with a complaint contact Robin Chrostowski, Assistant Vice President of the Customer Solutions and Innovation Team, at 817-665-7862 or email CSIteam@saxonmsi.com to resolve the issues prior to filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

 

The company already had problems before the administration launched its mortgage modification program in April 2009. As the Wall Street Journal reported last July [7], Saxon ranked last among 20 servicers in a Credit Suisse analysis of how many subprime loans each had modified. The Better Business Bureau had given the company an “F” [5] rating, based on a profusion of consumer complaints.

But the company was among the first to sign up for the government program when it launched in April, 2009. In the first few months, Saxon put tens of thousands of homeowners into trial modifications. In a November press release, Saxon CEO Anthony Meola boasted [8] that Saxon was leading all other servicers in the number of trials it had begun.

The Treasury Department had set the rules of the program [9] to encourage servicers to rapidly enroll homeowners. Servicers were allowed to accept homeowners on the basis of their “stated” income, what a Treasury official described [9] as “a wing and a prayer.” The financial information would be verified later, after the trial began. While well-intentioned, the policy resulted in an enormous backlog of trials—homeowners who had been given temporary modifications and were waiting months for a final answer — and Treasury changed the program rules this spring to require verified income information up front.

Consumer advocates say that homeowners who are denied modification after making several months of trial payments are often worse off than if they’d never started the trial at all [9], because the process damages their credit and they’re prevented from saving for the possibility of foreclosure.

At Saxon, many homeowners seem to be caught in that limbo because of mistakes and delays at the company. John Riggins, the CEO of the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau, said that the biggest complaints about Saxon are that the company has misapplied payments or lost documents sent as part of the modification process. Saxon employees often blame computer problems or a lack of staffing, according to the complaints, which number 208 in the past year.

Jennifer Sala, a spokeswoman for Saxon, said the backlog was not caused by a lack of capacity, but resulted from a “careful review process” that “can take a considerable amount of time.” She added, “We want to afford our customers every opportunity to avoid foreclosure.”

Saxon has hired about 330 new full-time employees in the past year, she said, increasing the staff by 50 percent. Riggins of the Better Business Bureau said that the complaint volume had improved since last year, but that major problems remained. Saxon has improved only from an “F” to a “D-.” rating [10].

There are other signs Saxon has been struggling to handle the volume. In April, it transferred the servicing rights [11] for about 38,000 loans to Ocwen, which specializes in servicing troubled loans. “Normally the reason for selling loans to Ocwen is you don’t want to hassle with them anymore and they’re delinquent,” said Guy Cecala, the publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. Some of the loans transferred were in the middle of the modification process.

Sometimes the communications from Saxon can be bewildering. Barbara Niederstein of Fayetteville, Ga., said she has twice received letters saying she was being dropped from the program. Both letters cited missing documentation as a reason, but she says she was never told it was missing. Saxon has threatened to pursue foreclosure. Niederstein says that hours spent on the phone with a housing counselor and Saxon employees has at least postponed that for a month, even if the confusion has yet to be cleared up.

 Jeanenne Longacre and her husband Robert.

Jeanenne Longacre and her husband Robert.

Jeanenne Longacre says she lost her home because of Saxon’s errors. She says Saxon wrongly set the trial payments at a level Longacre and her husband could only muster for a few months, and then booted her from the program when she couldn’t keep up the payments. Her house was ultimately sold out from under her after she says she received an assurance the sale would be delayed.

For months, her husband had been struggling to find steady employment when Longacre lost her job with California Blue Cross in February 2009. They were behind on their mortgage payments and faced foreclosure.

The pair, in their 50s with grown children, had been in the house for 10 years, but had refinanced in 2006 into an adjustable-rate loan with New Century, the now-defunct subprime lender. The Longacres were underwater on their mortgage, with their Los Angeles home worth about half as much as they owed.

Longacre says Saxon’s first error with her modification came with the level of the couple’s payments. The modified mortgage payment was set at $3,400, about $1,400 lower than the couple’s payments had been, but at a level they could maintain only with the help of temporary severance she was receiving. That severance would run out in August, just two months after her trial began in June.

Sala, the spokeswoman for Saxon, said she could not discuss Longacre’s case because company policy prohibited discussing customer information.

Trials are supposed to test the homeowner’s ability to make the reduced payments for a prolonged period of time. But Longacre says she always knew they would be able to make the payments only for a few months. By the time August, September came around, we started struggling,” she said. “It’s ridiculous paying that kind of money when you don’t have it.”

Still, Longacre kept paying. After August, the third month of the trial, came and went with no news, Longacre began calling Saxon regularly to find out what was happening. For months, she says she couldn’t get an answer. She was occasionally asked to send in a new document, but then the wait would continue.

Finally, she spoke to a negotiator in January this year, the eighth month of her trial. He told her she’d be approved for a permanent modification and that the payment, based on her family’s verified income, would be much lower, just $1,300 a month.

“I was so excited,” Longacre said. “I thought a miracle had happened.”

But her excitement was short-lived. She received a letter from Saxon in early February [12] saying she’d been approved for the modification, but the final terms never came. When she called to ask about that, she says she was told she had to make the trial payments for January and February or she’d face foreclosure.

The couple had missed those payments because their money had finally run out, she says. But even though Saxon had set their permanent modification at a level far below her trial payments, she was dropped from the program for not making all of her trial payments.

In March, she received a notice that Saxon would auction her home on April 1. She hired a lawyer to negotiate on her behalf, and it seemed like foreclosure had been temporarily avoided when a Saxon employee said the sale would be postponed until May in order to provide more time to work out another solution.

Longacre thought the auction had been deferred until a man knocked on her door in early April, saying that he represented the new owners of her home and was offering her money to vacate. The home had sold for $302,000, less than half of what the Longacres owed on the mortgage.

“That home was the only thing we had. I put it everything that I own into that home.” She currently lives in an apartment with her husband.

As we reported earlier this month, mistaken foreclosures can result from a lack of communication within the servicer itself [13]. In Longacre’s case, she says she was not provided a denial letter or given an opportunity to otherwise avoid foreclosure, as the federal program’s guidelines require.

Consumers advocates say the program does not offer an effective recourse for homeowners to redress servicer wrongs. Treasury officials say [13] that homeowners in Longacre’s position should call the HOPE Hotline, which is staffed with housing counselors, for help. Advocates say that’s been ineffective, and have long complained [14] about the lack of a formal appeals process for homeowners.

Longacre’s case also reflects on a problem faced by the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who’ve been caught in prolonged trials: whether they must keep paying after the three-month period expires, and whether mortgage companies can deny modifications if homeowners miss payments while they’re in limbo.

The Treasury Department has given conflicting answers for that question.

The program’s guidelines say [15] that borrowers remain eligible for a permanent modification “regardless of whether the borrower failed to make trial period payments following the successful completion of the trial period.”

Despite that apparently clear meaning, a Treasury spokeswoman told ProPublica homeowners were required to continue the payments “even if the period was extended to allow additional processing.”

Cohen, of the National Consumer Law Center, said that’s not how consumer advocates have understood the program’s rules. “The program rules are clear: a homeowner is required to make trial payments only until the effective date of the permanent modification, which is three months after the beginning of the trial period.”

Four other Saxon customers told ProPublica that they’d been disqualified for missing the extended trial payments. Sala, Saxon’s spokeswoman, said the company follows the program’s guidelines. It’s unclear if there will be any consequences for Saxon for any errors or rule violations. The Treasury has hired [16] Freddie Mac [17] to audit the servicers participating in the program, and so far, as Saxon’s spokeswoman has said, auditors have not flagged any “material issues” at the company. The Treasury spokeswoman said some information from the compliance reviews will eventually be made public, but none was available now.

 Write to Paul Kiel at paul.kiel@propublica.org

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MERS DOUBLE ASSIGNMENT AMNESIA? Oh MS. BAILEY!! IN RE MORENO, Bankruptcy Court, D. Massachusetts, Eastern Div. 2010

In re: SIMEON MORENO, Chapter 13, Debtor

Case No. 08-17715-FJB.

United States Bankruptcy Court, D. Massachusetts, Eastern Division.

May 24, 2010.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON MOTION OF PROPERTY ASSET MANAGEMENT, INC. FOR RELIEF FROM THE AUTOMATIC STAY

FRANK J. BAILEY, Bankruptcy Judge

In the Chapter 13 case of debtor Simeon Moreno, Property Asset Management, Inc. (“PAM”), claiming to be the assignee of a mortgage originally given by the debtor to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) as nominee for lender GE Money Bank, moved for relief from the automatic stay to foreclose the mortgage. Moreno initially opposed the motion but then withdrew his objection, whereupon the Court granted the relief requested. Months later, at Moreno’s request, the Court vacated the order granting relief from stay and scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the Motion for Relief from Stay for the limited purpose of reconsidering whether PAM had an interest in the mortgage it sought to foreclose and, to that extent, standing to seek relief from stay.[1] Having held the evidentiary hearing and received proposed findings and conclusions, the Court now enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Findings of Fact and Procedural History

On January 23, 2007, Moreno executed a promissory note in the principal amount of $492,000, payable to lender GE Money Bank. GE subsequently endorsed the note in blank, whereupon possession of the note was transferred through a series of holders and ultimately to Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. (“LBHI”), who held the note when PAM filed its Motion for Relief from Stay and continues to hold it now.[2] LBHI, through one of its employees and through LBHI’s attorney, who not coincidentally also is PAM’s attorney in the present matter, produced the original note at the evidentiary hearing. PAM is not now a holder of the note or an entity for whose benefit another has held the note.

To secure the promissory note, Moreno gave a mortgage on the real property at 5 Maple Street, West Roxbury, Massachusetts (the “Property”) to MERS as nominee for GE (the “Mortgage”). The Mortgage specifies that MERS “is a separate corporation that is acting solely as a nominee for [GE] and [GE’s] successors and assigns. MERS is the mortgagee under this security instrument.” The Mortgage further provides that Moreno does hereby mortgage, grant and convey to MERS (solely as nominee for [GE] and [GE’s] successors and assigns) and to the successors and assigns of MERS, with power of sale, the [Property]. . . . Borrower understands and agrees that MERS holds only legal title to the interests granted by Borrower in this Security Instrument, but, if necessary to comply with law or custom, MERS (as nominee for [GE] and [GE’s] successors and assigns) has the right: to exercise any or all of those interests, including, but not limited to, the right to foreclose and sell the Property; and to take any action required of [GE] including, but not limited to, releasing and canceling this Security Instrument.

The Mortgage was duly recorded.

MERS administers an electronic registry to track the transfer of ownership interest and servicing rights in mortgage loans. With respect to certain loans of which its members are the beneficial owners, MERS also serves as mortgagee of record and holds legal title to the mortgages in a nominee capacity. MERS remains the mortgagee of record when beneficial ownership interests or servicing rights are sold from one member of the MERS system to another. When the beneficial interest in a mortgage loan is transferred from one member of the MERS system to another, MERS tracks the transfer through its internal records. When rights are transferred from a member of the MERS system to a non-member, MERS executes and records an assignment from MERS to the non-member.

To facilitate the execution of the assignments from MERS, MERS designates “certifying officers,” who are typically employees of MERS member firms. MERS authorizes these employees, through formal corporate resolutions, to execute assignments on behalf of MERS. On or about January 6, 2005, MERS, through a document entitled Corporate Resolution and issued by its board of directors, authorized Denise Bailey, an employee of Litton Loan Servicing L.P. (“Litton”), a member of MERS, to execute such assignments on behalf of MERS. In the language of the authorizing document (the “MERS Authorization”),[3] Ms. Bailey was authorized to, among other things, “assign the lien of any mortgage loan naming MERS as the mortgagee when the Member [Litton] is also the current promissory note-holder, or if the mortgage loan is registered on the MERS System, is shown [sic] to be registered to the Member”[4]; and Ms. Bailey was further authorized to “take any such actions and execute such documents as may be necessary to fulfill the Member’s servicing obligations to the beneficial owner of such mortgage loan (including mortgage loans that are removed from the MERS System as a result of the transfer thereof to a non-member of MERS).” In each instance, Bailey’s authority to act is dependent on the existence of a specified relationship of Litton, the MERS member for whom she is employed, to the loan in question.

The Moreno loan was entered into the MERS tracking database in the ordinary course of business. Thereafter, MERS tracked the beneficial interest in the loan. The beneficial interest was transferred from G.E. Money Bank to WMC Mortgage Corporation; then, on September 19, 2007, from WMC Mortgage Corporation to Aurora Bank FSB (formerly known as Lehman Brothers Bank FSB), and then, on July 30, 2008, from Aurora Bank FSB to LBHI. Aurora Bank was at all relevant times a wholly-owned subsidiary of LBHI.

With respect to the Moreno Mortgage, MERS remained the mortgagee of record until, on or about April 30, 2008, MERS, acting through Denise Bailey, assigned the Mortgage to PAM. At the time, Aurora Bank FSB was the beneficial owner of the loan. In executing the MERS assignment to PAM, Ms. Bailey purported to be acting under her MERS Authorization.

The MERS Authorization limited Ms. Bailey’s authority to act for MERS to matters with respect to which Litton was involved in at least one of the ways specified in the above-quoted language from the MERS Authorization. There is evidence, and I find, that Aurora Bank FSB had requested that Litton transfer the loan from MERS to PAM in anticipation of foreclosure. However, PAM has adduced no evidence that Litton had any specified connection to this loan at the time it executed this assignment. There is no evidence that Litton was then (or at any time) the servicer of the loan for Aurora Bank or that Litton was registered as servicer of the loan in the MERS system.[5] (PAM does not contend that Litton was the holder of the promissory note or the owner of the beneficial interest in the loan.)

Scott Drosdick, a vice-president of LBHI and witness for PAM at the evidentiary hearing, testified that Aurora Bank’s instruction to Litton to transfer the mortgage to PAM was later “ratified by LBHI.” Drosdick did not explain what he meant by this, precisely how and when this ratification occurred. Absent such evidence and clarification, this testimony is too vague to have any definite meaning; accordingly I give it no weight.

By a master servicing agreement dated February 1, 1999, LBHI engaged Aurora Loan Services, Inc., now known as Aurora Loan Services LLC (“ALS”), as master servicer of certain loans, including eventually the present Moreno loan. In turn, ALS engaged Litton to service certain loans, including eventually this same loan.

After Bailey executed the MERS assignment to PAM, Bailey executed another assignment of the same mortgage from MERS to LBHI. This second assignment was never recorded; nor is there evidence that it was ever delivered by MERS to LBHI.

Moreno filed a petition for relief under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code on October 13, 2008, commencing the present bankruptcy case. On November 13, 2008, LBHI, acting through its servicer Litton Loan Servicing, LP, filed a proof of claim in this case; the proof of claim asserts a claim, secured by real estate, in the total amount of $530,168.04, the same secured claim as PAM now seeks relief from stay to enforce by foreclosure. On the proof of claim form itself, Litton actually identifies the creditor claimant as simply “Litton,” but on an explanatory document attached to the proof of claim form, Litton states that the claim is filed by “Litton Loan Servicing, LP, as Servicing Agent for Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.” The proof of claim does not mention PAM or indicate in any way that the mortgage securing the claim is held by anyone other than LBHI.

On March 31, 2009, and at LBHI’s direction, PAM filed the present motion for relief from the automatic stay, seeking relief from the automatic stay to foreclose and to preserve its rights as to a potential deficiency. PAM intends and is obligated to remit the proceeds of the intended foreclosure sale to Aurora Loan Services LLC, as servicer for LBHI. Regarding ownership of the note and Mortgage, PAM stated in the motion only that it was the holder of a mortgage originally given by Moreno to MERS, that the mortgage secured a note given by Moreno to GE, and that MERS had assigned the mortgage to PAM. PAM did not indicate that LBHI was the current holder of the note or that it held the mortgage as nominee for the benefit of LBHI or of any other entity. The motion did not mention LBHI.

Moreno filed a response to the motion, in essence an objection, in which he expressly admitted PAM’s allegation that his prepetition arrearage was $39,442.49 and, by lack of denial, tacitly admitted that Moreno was some four months in arrears on his postpetition payments under the mortgage. By these allegations and admissions, PAM has established that Moreno is in default on his mortgage loan obligations; the Court rejects Moreno’s request for a finding that PAM has not established a default. The response made no issue of PAM’s standing to foreclose or to seek relief from stay and did not dispute PAM’s allegations regarding ownership of the note and Mortgage. In any event, before a hearing was held on the motion, Moreno, through counsel, withdrew his objection. Consequently, on April 28, 2009, and without a hearing or any review of apparent inconsistencies in the bankruptcy record concerning ownership of the mortgage and note, the court granted PAM relief from the automatic stay to foreclose and to preserve its rights as to a potential deficiency.

PAM had not yet foreclosed when, on December 2, 2009 and by new counsel, Moreno filed an adversary complaint against PAM and, with it, a motion for preliminary injunction. The complaint sought among other things (i) an order invalidating the mortgage on account of irregularities in its origination and (ii) a declaration that PAM was not the holder of the mortgage and note. In the motion for preliminary injunction, Moreno asked that the foreclosure be stayed, or that the automatic stay be reimposed, pending disposition of the adversary proceeding. On December 7, 2009, after a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction, the Court found that the motion was, in part, essentially one to vacate the order granting relief from the automatic stay, vacated that order, and scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the motion for relief. The order specified that the sole issue at the evidentiary hearing would be PAM’s standing to seek relief from the automatic stay, all other issues under 11 U.S.C. § 362(d) being deemed established. After discovery, the evidentiary hearing was held on April 8, 2010, and, with the submission of proposed findings and conclusions, the matter was then taken under advisement.

Discussion

As the party seeking relief from stay to foreclose a mortgage on the debtor’s property, PAM bears the burden of proving that it has authority under applicable state law to foreclose the mortgage in question and, by virtue of that authority, standing to move for relief from the automatic stay to foreclose. PAM contends that it has such authority and standing because, although it does not hold the promissory note that the mortgage secures, it does have title to the mortgage itself; and it holds that title as nominee of and for the benefit of the note holder, LBHI, and is foreclosing for LBHI. In these circumstances, PAM contends, a mortgagee has a right under Massachusetts law to foreclose for the benefit of the note holder and therefore standing to move for relief from stay to foreclose. The Debtor objects, arguing (among other things) that Massachusetts law prohibits foreclosure by one who holds only the mortgage and not the note it secures. I need not address the merits of this and other objections because, even if the theory is a valid one, it requires proof that PAM is the present title holder of the mortgage, and PAM has not carried its burden in this regard.

To show that it presently holds the mortgage, PAM must show a valid assignment of the mortgage from MERS to itself. PAM contends that it holds the mortgage by assignment from MERS. Accordingly, PAM must show that the assignment, which was executed for MERS by Denise Bailey, was within the scope of Bailey’s limited authority to act for MERS.

Ms. Bailey’s authority to act for MERS is defined in the MERS Authorization in seven enumerated paragraphs. In each, Ms. Bailey’s authority to act is dependent on the existence of a specified relationship of Litton, the MERS member by whom she is employed, to the loan in question. PAM has submitted no evidence of the existence of any such relationship. The beneficial owner of the loan at the time of the assignment was Aurora Bank FSB, but there is no evidence that Litton was at the time the servicer of the loan for Aurora Bank FSB or was registered with MERS as such. The Court does not find that Aurora Bank FSB had not retained Litton as its servicer; there is simply no evidence on the issue. But the burden is on PAM to prove that it had, and PAM has not adduced evidence to that effect.

Accordingly, by a separate order, the Court will deny PAM’s motion for relief from the automatic stay without prejudice to renewal upon proper proof.

[1] All other issues were resolved upon entry of the original order granting relief from stay. No cause has been adduced to revisit any but the narrow issue of standing.

[2] Moreno contends that LBHI, which is in bankruptcy proceedings of its own, may have sold its interest in the note through a court-approved sale in its bankruptcy case. However, Moreno does not contend that possession of the note has passed from LBHI to the alleged purchaser (or any nominee of the purchaser), and therefore the alleged possible sale is irrelevant, as possession undisputedly remains in LBHI. In any event, Moreno attempted to establish the fact of the alleged sale by designating certain documents on the docket of the LBHI case and asking the Court to take judicial notice of these and then to find them on its own and to determine from them whether the promissory note in question was among the assets transferred. Having found the alleged sale to be irrelevant, the Court declined to take judicial notice of the bankruptcy documents. However, the proffer also failed for two additional reasons: first, that Moreno did not take a position as to whether a sale did occur, only that the Moreno note may have been among those transferred in the sale; and second, even if the court had taken judicial notice as requested, it remained Moreno’s obligation, which he has not fulfilled, to produce the documents in question and to explain in the first instance how one would conclude from them that the asset in question was among those transferred.

[3] MERS Corporate Resolution, attached to Bailey Affidavit as Exhibit 1.

[4] The grammatical difficulty in this second clause is native to the authorizing document.

[5] The original affidavit of Scott Drosdick includes the following two sentences:

By Master Servicing Agreement dated February 1, 1999, LBHI engaged Aurora Bank FSB (f/k/a Lehman Brothers Bank FSB), to master service, among other things, the Loan [the Moreno loan]. In turn, Aurora Bank FSB engaged Litton pursuant to a Flow Subservicing Agreement dated October 1, 2007, to service the loan.”

By an amendment to the affidavit and in testimony, Drosdick later amended his affidavit to correct this passage by striking Aurora Bank FSB from the first sentence and in its place inserting Aurora Loan Services LLC. Drosdick did not expressly change the second sentence, but that sentence, which begins with the critical words “in turn,” would be nonsensical unless the same substitution—Aurora Loan Services LLC for Aurora Bank FSB—were also made in the second sentence. Therefore, though the second sentence might perhaps be read in isolation as evidence that Litton was servicing the loan for Aurora Bank FSB at the time when Bailey executed the assignment, that sentence cannot credibly be so construed.

Mortgage holders sue bank in CLASS ACTION:

From: b.daviesmd6605

BY STAFF,  CITY NEWS SERVICE OCLNN.com
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SANTA ANA – Distressed homeowners packed an appellate court hearing Tuesday as their attorney tried to persuade justices a 2008 California law should force banks to work harder to ease the terms of their mortgages.

Attorney Moses S. Hall argued before the three appellate court justices in the Fourth District’s Santa Ana courtroom that banks holding the loans of his clients are not complying with a state law compelling them to try to negotiate modified mortgages.

Attorney Justin D. Balser, representing the RPI Quality Loan Service Corp., argued the homeowners cannot bring the class-action lawsuit to the courts and must rely on the California Attorney General’s Office to enforce the law.

The appellate court justices appeared skeptical of that claim and queried him why people could not sue to have their rights enforced in the courts.

Balser argued that letting residents try to enforce the law in the courts would lead to a “flood of lawsuits.”

“This is the only statute of its kind in the nation,” Balser said.

Attorney Melissa Coutts, who also represented RPI, said she was looking for the appellate justices to provide guidance on the law, which she argued was too vague.

“If there was a specific remedy (in the law), we wouldn’t be here,” Hall responded. “There’s nothing to help keep people in their homes.”

Terry and Mike Mabry filed their class-action lawsuit after they said their lenders refused to help them save their home in Corona.

The two had invested in 13 properties, which they rented, but when the economy soured their found themselves struggling to keep up with mortgage payments as renters left or demanded lower rent, they said. They ended up losing some of the properties and others were lost in short sales, they said.

However, when it looked like they wouldn’t be able to afford the adjustable rate mortgage on their own home they contacted their lender and were told they could not renegotiate the terms unless they missed at least two payments, Terry Mabry said. The couple had not missed any payments, she said.

“When we reached out for help we were hit with one wall after the other,” Terry Mabry said. “The bankers led us to believe they were working with us, but they weren’t. All we wanted was to be helped.”

Terry Mabry argues that all the state law was meant to do was give homeowners a chance to work with the lenders to save their houses and is not a guarantee.

“The law was meant to create a discussion, not to guarantee a solution,” Terry Mabry said. “But we never even got to the discussion point. That’s the most frustrating part.”

The Mabrys thought they were in serious negotiations until they returned home one day to find a notice to sell their home floating around the front lawn.

Carlos and Maria Hernandez of Lake Forest also thought they were going to save the home they bought 5 years ago after they were put in a home-loan modification program for eight months.

“The next thing we know we were given a notice that the house was already sold,” Carlos Hernandez said.

“We put all of our savings in that house,” Hernandez said. “We want to stay in it because it’s for the future of our kids.”

Carlos Hernandez had trouble making mortgage payments because he lost his job, but was able to keep up with the new payments, he said.

The Mabrys and Hernandezes remain in their homes as appellate court justices consider the lawsuit.

Read more: http://www.oclnn.com/orange-county/2010-05-19/business/mortgage-holders-sue-bank-in-class-action#ixzz0p84ayuW5

Assignee Liability in the Secondary Mortgage Market

“Rather, the ASF’s concern is the ad hoc body of federal and state law that currently subjects innocent secondary market assignees to liability.”

Interesting point:

Shifting the burden for predatory practices from cheated subprime borrowers to passive investors and other subprime borrowers simply shifts the burden of predatory practices among innocent parties

Irony!

The primary market actors directly responsible for harmful predatory practices already are subject to extensive, if sometimes ineffective, government regulation.
Position Paper
of the
American Securitization Forum
June 2007
snip…………………………………………
It is important to remember that, although the holder-in-due-course doctrine constitutes an important protection for innocent assignees, it does not afford an absolute protection to all assignees. In order to benefit from holder-in-due-course status, an assignee must take the loan in good faith and cannot have actual or implied knowledge of a variety of loan defects, including that the loan was originated through fraudulent means. Courts will also deny holder-in-due-course status to an assignee that has such a close connection with the originator that the originator effectively is an agent of the assignee35 or where knowledge of the originator’s wrongdoing can be imputed to the assignee on some other basis, such as joint-venture or aiding-and-abetting theories.36 In addition, assignees that engage in wrongful conduct themselves in connection with mortgage loans are subject to potentially serious liability under a variety of federal and state legislation.37

The ASF does not contest the scope of liability under these laws for secondary market assignees that are culpable. Rather, the ASF’s concern is the ad hoc body of federal and state law that currently subjects innocent secondary market assignees to liability. This body of law lacks coherence and is often internally inconsistent, in part because the perception that assignees must be held responsible for the sins of loan originators becomes more politically salient during periods of turmoil in the housing market. At such times, there is a tendency for lawmakers to turn to the secondary market as the deep pockets available to compensate for the failure of regulatory authorities to effectively oversee and punish those loan originators that engage in illegal conduct.

Florida AG investigating LPS subsidiary: Jacksonville Business Journal

Monday, May 17, 2010, 1:50pm EDT  |  Modified: Monday, May 17, 2010, 1:51pm

Jacksonville Business Journal – by Christian Conte Staff Writer

The Florida Attorney General’s Office has launched a civil investigation similar to one launched by a Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office against Fidelity National Financial Inc. and Lender Processing Services Inc., along with an LPS subsidiary, relating to possible forged documents in foreclosure cases.

According to the Attorney General’s website, DOCX LLC, based in Alpharetta, Ga., “seems to be creating and manufacturing ‘bogus assignments’ of mortgage in order that foreclosures may go through more quickly and efficiently. These documents appear to be forged, incorrectly and illegally executed, false and misleading. These documents are used in court cases as ‘real’ documents of assignment and presented to the court as so, when it actually appears that they are fabricated in order to meet the documentation to foreclosure according to law.”

The Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Division in Fort Lauderdale is handling the case.

Fidelity National Financial (NYSE: FNF), based in Jacksonville, provides title insurance, specialty insurance, claims management services and information services. Lender Processing Services (NYSE: LPS), also based in Jacksonville, provides mortgage processing services, settlement services, mortgage performance analytics and default solutions.

Fidelity National acquired DOCX, which processes and files lien releases and mortgage assignments for lenders, in 2005.

The U.S. Attorney’s office launched its investigation of DOCX in February.

LPS stated in its 2009 annual report that there was a “business process that caused an error in the notarization” of mortgage documents, some in the foreclosure proceedings in “various jurisdictions around the country,” according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

While the company said it fixed the problem, the annual report stated it spurred an inquiry by the Clerk of Superior Court in Fulton County, Ga., and most recently, LPS was notified by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida, based in Tampa, that it is also investigating the “business processes” of DOCX.

cconte@bizjournals.com | 265-2227
Read more: Florida AG investigating LPS subsidiary – Jacksonville Business Journal:

RELATED STORY: MISSION: VOID LENDER PROCESSING SERVICES “ASSIGNMENTS”

Freddie and Fannie won’t pay down your mortgage: CNN

This is why you need a FORENSIC AUDIT…Find the missing pieces of possible violations! DEMAND IT!

By Tami Luhby, senior writer May 14, 2010: 3:58 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Pressure is mounting on loan servicers and investors to reduce troubled homeowners’ loan balances…but the two largest owners of mortgages aren’t getting the message.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are controlled by the federal government, do not lower the principal on the loans they back, instead opting for interest rate reductions and term extensions when modifying loans.

But their stance is out of synch with the Obama administration, which is seeking to expand the use of principal writedowns. In late March, it announced servicers will be required to consider lowering balances in loan modifications.

And just who would tell Fannie (FNM, Fortune 500) and Freddie (FRE, Fortune 500) to start allowing principal reductions? The Obama administration.

Asked whether they will implement balance reductions, the companies and their regulator declined to comment. The Treasury Department also declined to comment.

What’s holding them back is the companies’ mandate to conserve their assets and limit their need for taxpayer-funded cash infusions, experts said. If Fannie and Freddie lower homeowners’ loan balances, they are locking in losses because they have to write down the value of those mortgages. Essentially, that means using tax dollars to pay people’s mortgages.

The housing crisis has already wreaked havoc on the pair’s balance sheets. Between them, they have received $127 billion — and recently requested another $19 billion — from the Treasury Department since they were placed into conservatorship in September 2008, at the height of the financial crisis.

Housing experts, however, say it’s time for Fannie and Freddie to start reducing principal. Treasury and the companies have already set aside $75 billion for foreclosure prevention, which can be spent on interest-rate reductions or principal write downs.

“Treasury has to bite the bullet and get Fannie and Freddie to participate,” said Alan White, a law professor at Valparaiso University. “It’s all Treasury money one way or the other.”

Though servicers are loathe to lower loan balances, a growing chorus of experts and advocates say it’s the best way to stem the foreclosure crisis. Homeowners are more likely to walk away if they owe far more than the home is worth, regardless of whether the monthly payment is affordable. Nearly one in four borrowers in the U.S. are currently underwater.

“Principal reduction in the long run will lower the risk of redefault,” said Vishwanath Tirupattur, a Morgan Stanley managing director and co-author of the firm’s monthly report on the U.S. housing market. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, a growing number of loans backed by Fannie and Freddie are falling into default. Their delinquency rates are rising even faster than those of subprime mortgages as the weak economy takes its toll on more credit-worthy homeowners. Fannie’s default rate jumped to 5.47% at the end of March, up from 3.15% a year earlier, while Freddie’s rose to 4.13%, up from 2.41%.

On top of that, the redefault rates on their modified loans are far worse than on those held by banks, according to federal regulators.

Some 59.5% of Fannie’s loans and 57.3% of Freddie’s loans were in default a year after modification, compared to 40% of bank-portfolio mortgages, according to a joint report from the Office of Thrift Supervision and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. This is part because banks are reducing the principal on their own loans, experts said.

So, advocates argue, lowering loan balances now can actually save the companies — and taxpayers — money later.

“It can be a financial benefit to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the taxpayer,” said Edward Pinto, who was chief credit officer for Fannie in the late 1980s.

What might force the companies’ hand is another Obama administration foreclosure prevention plan called the Hardest Hit Fund, which has charged 10 states to come up with innovative ways to help the unemployed and underwater.

Four states have proposed using their share of the $2.1 billion fund to pay off up to $50,000 of underwater homeowners’ balances, but only if loan servicers and investors — including Fannie and Freddie — agree to match the writedowns. State officials are currently in negotiations with the pair.

“We remain optimistic that we can get a commitment from Fannie, Freddie and the banks to contribute to this strategy,” said David Westcott, director of homeownership programs for the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which is spearheading the state’s proposal.

 

THE REAL EMPLOYERS OF THE SIGNERS OF MORTGAGE ASSIGNMENTS TO TRUSTS: BY Lynn E. Szymoniak, Esq.

THE REAL EMPLOYERS OF THE SIGNERS OF

MORTGAGE ASSIGNMENTS TO TRUSTS

BY Lynn E. Szymoniak, Esq., Editor, Fraud Digest (szymoniak@mac.com),

April 15, 2010

On May 11, 2010, Judge Arthur J. Schack, Supreme Court, Kings County, New York, entered an order denying a foreclosure action with prejudice. The case involved a mortgage-backed securitized trust, SG Mortgage Securities Asset Backed Certificates, Series 2006-FRE2. U.S. Bank, N.A. served as Trustee for the SG Trust. See U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Emmanuel, 2010 NY Slip Op 50819 (u), Supreme Court, Kings County, decided May 11, 2010. In this case, as in hundreds of thousands of other cases involving securitized trusts, the trust inexplicably did not produce mortgage assignments from the original lender to the depositor to the securities company to the trust.

This particular residential mortgage-backed securities trust in the Emmanuel case had a cut-off date of July 1, 2006. The entities involved in the creation and early agreements of this trust included Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., as servicer, U.S. Bank, N.A. as trustee, Bear Stearns Financial Products as the “swap provider” and SG Mortgage Securities, LLC. The Class A Certificates in the trust were given a rating of “AAA” by Dominion Bond Rating Services on July 13, 2006.

The designation “FRE” in the title of this particular trust indicates that the loans in the trust were made by Fremont Investment & Loan, a bank and subprime lender and subsidiary of Fremont General Corporation. The “SG” in the title of the trust indicates that the loans were “securitized” by Signature Securities Group Corporation, or an affiliate.

Fremont, a California-based corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 19, 2008, but continued in business as a debtor-in-possession. On March 31, 2008, Fremont General sold its mortgage servicing rights to Carrington Capital Management, a hedge fund focused on the subprime residential mortgage securities market. Carrington Capital operated Carrington Mortgage Services, a company that had already acquired the mortgage servicing business of New Century after that large sub-prime lender also filed for bankruptcy. Carrington Mortgage Services provides services a portfolio of nearly 90,000 loans with an outstanding principal balance of over $16 billion. Nearly 63% of the portfolio is comprised of adjustable rate mortgages. Mortgage servicing companies charge  substantially higher fees for servicing adjustable rate mortgages than fixed-rate mortgages. Those fees, often considered the most lucrative part of the subprime mortgage business, are paid by the securitized trusts that bought the loans from the original lenders (Fremont & New Century), after the loans had been combined into trusts by securities companies, like Financial Assets Securities Corporation, SG and Carrington Capital.

Carrington Capital in Greenwich, Connecticut, is headed by Bruce Rose, who left Salomon Brothers in 2003 to start Carrington. At Carrington, Rose packaged $23 billion in subprime mortgages. Many of those securities included loans originated by now-bankrupt New Century Financial. Carrington forged unique contracts that let it direct any foreclosure and liquidations of the underlying loans. Foreclosure management is also a very lucrative part of the subprime mortgage business. As with servicing adjustable rate mortgages, the fees for the foreclosure management are paid ultimately by the trust. There is little or no oversight of the fees charged for the foreclosure actions. The vast majority of foreclosure cases are uncontested, but the foreclosure management firms may nevertheless charge the trust several thousand dollars for each foreclosure of a property in the trust.

The securities companies and their affiliates also benefit from the bankruptcies of the original lenders. On May 12, 2010, Signature Group Holdings LLP, (“SG”) announced that it had been chosen to revive fallen subprime mortgage lender Freemont General, once the fifth-largest U.S. subprime mortgage lender. A decision to approve Signature’s reorganization plan for Fremont was made through a bench ruling issued by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana, CA. The bid for Fremont lasted nearly two years, with several firms competing for the acquisition.

The purchase became much more lucrative for prospective purchasers in late March, 2010, when Fremont General announced that it would settle more than $89 million in tax obligations to the Internal Revenue Service without actually paying a majority of the back taxes. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, Santa Ana Division, approved a motion that allowed Fremont General to claim a net operating loss deduction for 2004 that is attributable for its 2006 tax obligations, according to a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In addition, Fremont General will deduct additional 2004 taxes, because of a temporary extension to the period when companies can claim the credit. The extension from two years to five went into effect when President Obama signed the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009. While approved by the bankruptcy court judge, the agreement must also meet the approval of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, but according to the SEC filing, both Fremont General and the IRS anticipate that it will be approved. In all, Fremont’s nearly $89.4 million tax assessment was reduced to about $2.8 million, including interest. In addition, as a result of the IRS agreement, a California Franchise Tax Board tax claim of $13.3 million was reduced to $550,000.

Another development that made the purchase especially favorable for SG was the announcement on May 10, 2010, that Federal Insurance Co. has agreed to pay Fremont General Corp. the full $10 million loss limits of an errors and omissions policy to cover subprime lending claims, dropping an 18-month battle over whether the claims were outside the scope of its bankers professional liability policies.

All of these favorable developments are part of a long history of success for Craig Noell, the head of Signature Group Holdings, the winning bidder for Fremont. Previously, as a member of the distressed investing area at Goldman Sachs, Noell founded and ran Goldman Sachs Specialty Lending, investing Goldman’s proprietary capital in “special situations opportunities.”

Bruce Rose’s Carrington Mortgage Services and Craig Noell’s Signature Group Holdings are part of the story of the attempted foreclosure on Arianna Emmanuel in Brooklyn, New York. U.S. Bank, N.A., as Trustee for SG Mortgage Securities Asset-Backed Certificates, Series 2006 FRE-2 attempted to foreclose on Arianna Emmanuel. The original mortgage had been made by Fremont Investment & Loan (the beneficiary of the $100 milion tax break and the $10 million insurance payout discussed above).

To successfully foreclose, the Trustee needed to produce proof that the Trust had acquired the loan from Fremont. At this point, the document custodian for the trust needed only to produce the mortgage assignment. The securities company that made the SG Trust, the mortgage servicing company that serviced the trust and U.S. Bank as Trustee had all made frequent sworn statements to the SEC and shareholders that these documents were safely stored in a fire-proof  vault.

Despite these frequent representations to the SEC, the assignment relied upon by U.S. Bank, the trustee, was one executed by Elpiniki Bechakas as assistant secretary and vice president of MERS, as nominee for Freemont. In foreclosure cases all over the U.S., assignments signed by Elpiniki Bechakas are never questioned. But on May 11, 2010, the judge examining the mortgage assignment was the Honorable Arthur J. Schack in Brooklyn, New York.

Bechakas signed as an officer of MERS, as nominee for Fremont, representing that the property had been acquired by the SG Trust in June, 2009. None of this was true. Judge Schack determined sua sponte that Bechakas was an associate in the law offices of Steven J. Baum, the firm representing the trustee and trust in the foreclosure. Judge Schack recognized that the Baum firm was thus working for both the GRANTOR and GRANTEE. Judge Schack wrote, “The Court is concerned that the concurrent representation by Steven J. Baum, P.C. of both assignor MERS, as nominee for FREMONT, and assignee plaintiff U.S. BANK is a conflict of interest, in violation of 22 NYCRR § 1200.0 (Rules of Professional Conduct, effective April 1, 2009) Rule 1.7, “Conflict of Interest: Current Clients.”

Judge Schack focused squarely on an issue that pro se homeowner litigants and foreclosure defense lawyers often attempt to raise – the authority of the individuals signing mortgage assignments that are used by trusts to foreclose. In tens of thousands of cases, law firm employees sign as MERS officers, without disclosing to the Court or to homeowners that they are actually employed by the law firm, not MERS, and that the firm is being paid and working on behalf of the Trust/Grantee while the firm employee is signing on behalf of the original lender/Grantor.

Did the SG Trust acquire the Emmanuel loan in 2006, the closing date of the trust, or in 2009, the date chosen by Belchakas and her employers? There are tremendous tax advantages being claimed by banks and mortgage companies based on their portfolio of nonperforming loans. There are also millions of dollars in insurance payouts being made ultimately because of non-performing loans. There are substantial fees being charged by mortgage servicing companies and mortgage default management companies – being paid by trusts and assessed on homeowners in default. The question of the date of the transfer is much more than an academic exercise.

As important as the question of WHEN, there is also the question of WHAT – what exactly did the trust acquire? What is the reason for the millions of assignments to trusts that flooded recorders’ offices nationwide starting in 2007 that were prepared by law firm employees like Bechakas or by employees of mortgage default companies or document preparation companies specializing is providing “replacement” mortgage documents. Why, in judicial foreclosure states, are there thousands of Complaints for Foreclosure filed with the allegations: “We Own the Note; we had the note; we lost the note.” Why do bankruptcy courts repeatedly see these same three allegations in Motions For Relief of Stay filed by securitized trusts attempting to foreclose? If the assignments and notes are missing, has the trust acquired anything (other than investors’ money, tax advantages and insurance payouts)? In many cases, the mortgage servicing company does eventually acquire the property – often by purchasing the property after foreclosure for ten dollars and selling it to the trust that had claimed ownership from the start.

Where are the missing mortgage assignments?