It appears Wells Fargo is not happy about bad press about how it has blood on its hands and is not above taking petty revenge. Even though some major sites like Barry Ritholtz’s The Big Picture have publicized the San Francisco bank’s petty and possibly illegal treatment of mortgage blog ML Implode-o-Meter, casual readers may miss the real scandal. Wells closed the blog’s bank account on dubious grounds and with no notice, and appears to have impounded customer funds. That’s tacky, but the real meat of the story, the revelations in ML Implode-o-Meter that appear to have triggered Wells to act, comes fairly late in most of these accounts.
Martin Andelman, proprietor of Mandelman Matters who sometimes has his posts picked up by ML Implode-O-Meter published a hard-hitting story about a suicide that was precipitated by an improper foreclosure action by Wells Fargo. It was picked up by ML Implode-o-Meter and was re-reported by Truthout (with attribution). The short version of this story is that Norman Rousseau paid his mortgage by cashier’s check at the branch, on time. But Wells claimed the payment had not been made and moved to foreclosure. Andelman dismissed the bank’s bogus justification:
The Rousseaus file a dispute with Wells Fargo over the supposed missing payment. Wells Fargo “investigates” and comes back saying that the Rousseaus had stopped payment on the check. They stopped payment on a Cashier’s Check? Seriously?..
The teller’s receipt establishes that the cashier’s check was in the custody and control of Wachovia on April 1, 2009, and the research by the Cashiering Department should have concluded that Wachovia screwed up by not applying the cash-equivalent funds to the Rousseau’s account. After delivery and acceptance to the branch office, it was Wachovia’s responsibility to safeguard the instrument; Wachovia itself effectively stopped payment on the cashier’s check.
The fact that the Rousseaus had a receipt should settle the matter. The payment was submitted on time. Nevertheless, they enter loan modification hell, rather than simply having the error corrected. And although all modification stories are awful, this one was worse than usual even before its awful denouement. This account comes from via Truthout:
On and on this went, with the bank telling them they were in the loan modification program while demanding money then refusing to accept money and demanding documents while saying it had received them, and all the while proceeding with foreclosure notices. Then they were told they were denied their loan modification, went through a process to reinstate the loan, back and forth, late fees, loan fees, unspecified additional fees, more fees, then some fees, then some non-payment fees, and then given ONE HOUR to send payments to TEXAS and it goes on and on.
Read the court case the Rousseaus filed. It’s all there, and is even worse than this summary.
This is a story of what happens when, as Senator Dick Durbin said of the Senate during the effort to pass legislation to get the banks under control, “Frankly they own the place.”
This last Sunday the bankers claimed one more victim. Norman Rousseau shot himself at 10 in the morning. Oriane Rousseau doesn’t even have the money to bury her husband, she is looking to the VA for help. If you want to help, please contact their attorney, Chris Gardas: email@example.com
Now we don’t know for certain that this story and other critical stories (see here and here) were the proximate cause of Wells closing down the ML Implode-o-Meter account, but its heavy-handedness is awfully sus (see here for details, which includes a discussion of why this action may be illegal).
Now if you are moved by the Rousseau story in a position to help, the first thing to do is make a donation to his wife and family. And other thing to do is circulate this story widely, either by e-mailing or tweeting this post, or sending the short, readable, but nevertheless gripping Truthout story along. Wells is trying to muzzle those who expose its conduct, and the best way to put a stop to that is to make those coverup efforts bring even more attention to the underlying crime.
If Wells wants to claim that this reading is all wrong, then fine, reinstate the ML Implode-o-Meter account, with an apology. But if this situation goes uncorrected, it says at best that the San Francisco bank, as it demonstrated in the Rousseau case, is at best operationally incompetent and unwilling to remedy egregious mistakes, and at worst is a callous predator.