Yves here. The release by San Francisco county assessor-recorder Phil Ting of a study of document irregularities in foreclosures has put a spotlight on the failure of Federal banking regulators and state officials to do anything beyond cursory examinations of servicers’ bad practices. If a country official with limited resources can show that there are widespread abuses, what is the excuse of state and Federal officials for their failure to understand the depth and severity of these problems?
As Dave Dayen has pointed out, it was two county registers of deeds, Jeff Thigpen in Guiford County, North Carolina, and John O’Brien of South Essex County, Massachusettes, who were the first to look at their own records to see how extensive the frauds were. O’Brien has called his office a “crime scene” and refused to register any more fraudulent deeds. He also performed a study of his own, and the results were released in June 2011. As Dayen reported, the study found widespread failures and apparent fraud, just like the later San Francisco exam:
Register John O’Brien revealed the results of an independent audit of his registry. The audit, which is released as a legal affidavit was performed by McDonnell Property Analytics, examined assignments of mortgage recorded in the Essex Southern District Registry of Deeds issued to and from JPMorgan Chase Bank, Wells Fargo Bank, and Bank of America during 2010. In total, 565 assignments related to 473 unique mortgages were analyzed.
McDonnell’s Report includes the following key findings:
• Only 16% of assignments of mortgage are valid
• 75% of assignments of mortgage are invalid.
• 9% of assignments of mortgage are questionable
• 27% of the invalid assignments are fraudulent, 35% are “robo-signed” and 10% violate the Massachusetts Mortgage Fraud Statute.
• The identity of financial institutions that are current owners of the mortgages could only be determined for 287 out of 473 (60%)
• There are 683 missing assignments for the 287 traced mortgages, representing approximately $180,000 in lost recording fees per 1,000 mortgages whose current ownership can be traced.
Below, John O’Brien gives us his views on the mortgage settlement.
By John L. O’Brien of the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds – Salem, MA
When you enter my registry you see a sign that reads “The deeds tell the story.” Before the big banks took it upon themselves to corrupt the land recordation system, the deeds used to tell a happy story, one in which people purchased a home and lived “the American Dream.” Today, however they tell a different story one of greed, fraud, and forgery. By now everyone in Massachusetts knows what I have been doing over the past two years to expose and stop the schemes by the Mortgage Electronic Recording Systems, Inc. and their shareholder banks. The accuracy and integrity of the land records in my registry are of the upmost importance to me.
Just this past week the Attorney Generals of this country said they will enter into a deal with the 5 largest banks who have agreed to stop robo-signing, provide principal reductions of between 20 to 25 thousand dollars to a million underwater homeowners. This amount will in no way solve the housing crisis that we are faced with nor even begin to turn our economy around. In addition, the settlement suggests that approximately 750,000 people who have had their homes taken by foreclosure using fraudulent documents will receive a check for $2,000. As Yves Smith has said, “that amount is the new penalty for forgery.” This is merely a slap on the wrists to these lenders. It is my opinion that this deal has been crafted for the banks and by the banks. It is not in the best interest of the consumer, the homeowner, or the taxpayer. Simply put, I do not trust these lenders who have flooded my registry with over 32,000 fraudulent documents to do the right thing. Those homeowners who now have a corrupted title are looking for answers. This deal gives them none. The illegal activity by the banks is nothing shy of a criminal enterprise, where they crossed state lines using the United States Postal Service to deliver the instruments that were fraudulent and contained forgeries.
I will continue to pursue my request for Federal and State grand juries to be impaneled to hold the CEO’s of these banks liable for the crimes that have been committed under their watch. The only thing missing in this illegal scheme that MERS and the big banks came up with was a gun and a mask. I will continue to expose this fraud and work everyday to make sure that the taxpayers are fully reimbursed for the over $44 million dollars in lost recording fees in my district alone by institutions who still believe fees are “for thee but not for me.” A message needs to be sent to these banks that they may think that you are too big to fail but they are not too big to go to jail.
We need a common sense approach in order to get this economy running again. I strongly believe that the hardworking homeowners who have struggled to stay current on their mortgages should be able to refinance there homes, quickly at a fixed rate of 3%. A true national program with these terms would lower payments and infuse millions into our economy immediately.
Let’s not forget that foreclosures benefit no one. When a bank auctions off a home for less than is owed, that becomes the “comp” for the neighborhood. Simply put, your home and those of your neighbors are worth less. It makes far better sense to work with struggling homeowners and to take whatever action is needed to keep people in their homes.
Unless we face the facts and approach this with common sense we will be talking about the same issues a year from now and I am not sure we can wait that long.