Do you remember the brouhaha over testimony by a senior executive in Countrywide’s mortgage servicing unit last year? It called into question whether mortgages had been conveyed properly to securitizations, which in turn would impair Bank of America’s ability to foreclose.
Let me refresh your memory. As we wrote last year:
Testimony in a New Jersey bankruptcy court case provides proof of the scenario we’ve depicted on this blog since September, namely, that subprime originators, starting sometime in the 2004-2005 timeframe, if not earlier, stopped conveying note (the borrower IOU) to mortgage securitization trust as stipulated in the pooling and servicing agreement….
As we indicated back in September, it appeared that Countrywide, and likely many other subprime orignators quit conveying the notes to the securitization trusts sometime in the 2004-2005 time frame. Yet bizarrely, they did not change the pooling and servicing agreements to reflect what appears to be a change in industry practice. Our evidence of this change was strictly anecdotal; this bankruptcy court filing, posted at StopForeclosureFraud provides the first bit of concrete proof. The key section:
As to the location of the note, Ms. DeMartini testified that to her knowledge, the original note never left the possession of Countrywide, and that the original note appears to have been transferred to Countrywide’s foreclosure unit, as evidenced by internal FedEx tracking numbers. She also confirmed that the new allonge had not been attached or otherwise affIXed to the note. She testified further that it was customary for Countrywide to maintain possession of
the original note and related loan documents.
Countrywide tried, in a thoroughly unconvincing manner, to retreat from the damaging testimony.
Abigail Field, an attorney who has regularly written on the mortgage mess at Daily Finance, published an article at Fortune that looks into whether DeMartini was simply being truthful and the notes were not conveyed correctly, which would mean Bank of America has a very big mess on its hands. Her conclusions are damning:
Fortune has examined dozens of court records that corroborate the employee’s testimony. And if Countrywide’s mortgage securitizations systematically failed as it appears they did, Bank of America’s potential liability dwarfs its shareholder equity, as the Congressional Oversight Panel points out…..
DeMartini….testified that Countrywide didn’t deliver the notes to the securitization trustee, and that Countrywide notes weren’t endorsed except on a case-by-case basis generally long after securitization ostensibly occurred. Both steps are required, in one form or another, under all securitization contracts.
Only the delivery issue was really scrutinized at the time, because without a doubt the failure to deliver the notes would invalidate the securitization. The other issue, failure to endorse the notes, sparked a debate: the American Securitization Forum argues the notes would still have been securitized without endorsement, while Adam Levitin, associate professor of law at Georgetown Law, convincingly argues that they would not have been…
Although law enforcement should be able to answer the delivery question easily — DeMartini indicated that Bank of America has FedEx tracking records for each note — it’s impossible for the public to check. But the endorsement of notes is easy to test. In every foreclosure, the bank must give the court the note or an accurate copy of it. And those notes are either properly endorsed or they’re not.
To check DeMartini’s testimony, Fortune examined the foreclosures filed in two New York counties (Westchester and the Bronx) between 2006 and 2010. There were 130 cases where the Bank of New York (BK) was foreclosing on behalf of a Countrywide mortgage-backed security. In 104 of those cases, the loan was originally made by Countrywide; the other 26 were made by other banks and sold to Countrywide for securitization.
None of the 104 Countrywide loans were endorsed by Countrywide – they included only the original borrower’s signature. Two-thirds of the loans made by other banks also lacked bank endorsements. The other third were endorsed either directly on the note or on an allonge, or a rider, accompanying the note.
The lack of Countrywide endorsements, combined with the bank’s representation to the court that these documents are accurate copies of the original notes, calls into question the securitization of these loans, as well as Bank of New York’s right, as trustee, to foreclose on them. These notes ostensibly belong to over 100 different Countrywide securities and worse, they were originally made as long ago as 2002. If the lack of endorsement on these notes is typical — and 104 out of 104 suggests it is — the problem occurs across Countrywide securities and for loans that pre-date the peak-bubble mortgage frenzy.
This is about as bad as it could get, and confirms what we reported last year, that the failure to convey the note was pervasive, if not endemic. We wrote last September, prior to the DeMartini testimony:
We provided a report that suggests all the notes from Countrywide deals are still with Countrywide, even though it securitized 96% of the mortgages it originated. We got even stronger confirmation over the weekend.
One of my colleagues had a long conversation with the CEO of a major subprime lender that was later acquired by a larger bank that was a major residential mortgage player. This buddy went through his explanation of why he thought mortgage trusts were in trouble if more people wised up to how they had messed up with making sure they got the note. The former CEO was initially resistant, arguing that they had gotten opinions from top law firms. My contact was very familiar with those opinions, and told him how qualified they were, and did not cover the little problem of not complying with the terms of the pooling and servicing agreement. He also rebutted other objections of the CEO. They guy then laughed nervously and said, “Well, if you’re right, we’re fucked. We never transferred the paper. No one in the industry transferred the paper.”
And although the sample of non-Countrywide-originated notes in the Fortune study is small, the widespread use of allonges is a tell (an allonge is a separate piece of paper, which is supposed to be very firmly attached to the original note, to allow for more signatures to be added). They were simply unheard of prior to the mortgage meltdown and have this funny way of appearing and solving all the problems with the note conveyance. Quite a few have visible signs of being forgeries (signatures that are pixtillated and shrunk to fit when notes are required to have wet ink signatures).
So sports fans, this is looking to be as bad as it could be. As we said, the only reason for attorneys to be engaging in widespread document fabrications and forgeries was if they have a very bad fact set on their hands. Perversely, things have to get worse before they get better. The mortgage securitization system, which could have operated well if the industry had not gotten greedy and violated its own procedures, is hopelessly broken. The industry has engaged in a massive PR campaign to deny that fact but too much contrary information keeps coming forward. We can only hope that enough judges have become skeptical of banks to give the documentation a real look. Only when we admit the depth of failure can we have a chance of addressing the mortgage crisis and reconstituting our system of transferring residential real estate.