Bank of America Bombshell: Whistleblowers Reveal Orchestrated Coverup and Massive Borrower Harm
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This settlement, as intended, was yet another significant bailout to predatory servicers. As we will demonstrate over our upcoming series of posts, conservative estimates of damages due to borrowers under the consent order who suffered improper foreclosures from Bank of America exceed $10 billion. That contrasts with the cash portion of the settlement amount for Bank of America of $1.2 billion.** The amount owing for other abusive practices would have increased this total further.
The OCC gave two rationales for shutting down the reviews. The first was that they were costly to Bank of America and other serivcers, potentially diverting funds from borrowers. This argument is spurious. Those expenses were always contemplated as being in addition to compensating borrowers for the considerable damage they suffered. Moreover, as we will demonstrate, the high price tag for undertaking the reviews was due not only to fragmented and poorly documented borrower records and the servicers’ long-standing disregard for legal requirements, but significantly to an inefficient, poorly designed review process. The fees to the major firms engaged to conduct the reviews are so patently out of line that Caroline Maloney, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, has launched an inquiry.
Professional service firm clients, particularly ones as powerful as major banks, when faced with such egregious levels of cost overruns, would normally demand significant reductions in the bills from their vendors. Instead, the Fed and the OCC let Bank of America make its cost problem their cost problem.
The second reason given for shutting down the reviews is that the regulators claim few borrowers were harmed by impermissible foreclosure practices. A recent American Banker article quoted Morris Morgan of the OCC, who was overseeing the reviews from the regulators’ side:
“Do I think there were a significant number of people who were foreclosed on where the banks did not have a legal right to foreclose on them? At this point in time I don’t think that was a significant number,” he said. “But I would go further to say a very few number, and you could even argue one of those, is too many.”
This is both disingenuous and as we will demonstrate over our series, patently false. Borrowers could suffer wrongful foreclosures due to predatory or negligent foreclosure practices for reasons well beyond the servicer not having the “legal right to foreclose”. Moreover, the servicers were ordered to look well beyond that issue. The whistleblowers saw ample evidence of abuses of that could and typically did result in the loss of home within the scope of the reviews they performed. Moreover, they also presented evidence of persistent, sometimes pervasive, impermissible conduct at Bank of America which was simply not addressed in the tests or captured in related information gathering, yet clearly fell within the scope of the consent orders. As we will discuss, some of these abuses would likely result in an impermissible foreclosure or serious borrower harm.
Turn the issue around: why would the banks be willing to down the reviews if indeed they were finding so little in the way of damage to borrowers? They would be well served to spend a few billion dollars to be able to say that with a fair and exhaustive process, hardly any borrowers were harmed. If this claim was true, the costs of finishing the reviews still would have been lower than the cost of the settlement plus the expenses of the reviews to date.
The settlement is also a bailout for the “independent” foreclosure reviewer, Promontory Financial Group, which also played this role for Wells Fargo and PNC. Promontory occupies a unique role in Washington, DC. The firm, headed by former Comptroller of the Currency Gene Ludwig, is heavily staffed with former senior and middle level banking and securities regulators. For instance, former OCC chief counsel Julie Williams (who Ludwig hired when he was at the OCC) has just joined Promontory, and her replacement, Amy Friend, came directly from Promontory.