Mortgage Lenders Committed Massive Fraud and Now Wall St. Wants to Escape the Law
They committed widespread fraud – largely whitewashed by the corporate media – and, in the process, threw the economy into a tailspin. They've broken into and stolen people's homes, and, in the name of “efficiency,” bilked state governments out of billions of dollars in real estate transfer fees. They've even admitted to ripping off – and foreclosing on – soldiers deployed overseas, in violation of the law.
And they shredded a bedrock principle of capitalism, throwing hundreds of years of settled property law into doubt and in turn creating a massive drag on Main Street's economic “recovery.”
They got rich in the process. The mortgage industry did all of that for a fat stream of profits while the going was good, but now that they face the prospect of being held accountable by the justice system -- as would you or I had we routinely broken the laws -- analysts expect the “banksters” to lobby hard for another bailout.
They won't be looking for the Fed to shower them with free money or buy up trillions worth of “toxic assets” weighing down their books –they already got that sort of bailout once, the voters detested it and with the Tea Party ascendant in the GOP, the political atmosphere precludes a repeat performance.
No, the mortgage industry – with the help of its political lackeys in Washington-- is reportedly looking for a judicial bailout that would retroactively allow loan servicers to foreclose on properties without running up the costs of getting their paperwork in order, and limit investors' – and possibly the states' – ability to sue them for the mess they created in the housing market.
Third Way, the financial industry's Trojan Horse in Democratic policy circles (which is very well represented in the White House), released a policy memo last week urging Congress to step into the chaos caused by the banks' “robo-signing” scandal and immunize the banks from liability from the robo-signing mess ( PDF).
As economics writer Yves Smith noted, the proposal “advocates Congressional intervention into well established, well functioning state law.”
This proposal guts state control of their own real estate law when the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that "dirt law" is not a Federal matter. It strips homeowners of their right to their day in court to preserve their contractual rights, namely, that only the proven mortgagee, and not a gangster, or in this case, bankster, can take possession of their home.
This sort of protection is fundamental to the operation of capitalism, so it's astonishing to see neoliberals so willing to throw it under the bus to preserve the balance sheets of the TBTF banks. Readers may recall how we came to have this sort of legal protection in the first place. England learned the hard way in the 17th century what happens with low documentation requirements: abuse of court procedures, perjury and corruption become the norm.
Lenders are playing down the mess they created, suggesting they're simply dealing with some isolated “paperwork” issues. But the Third Way memo comes in the wake of a series of judicial setbacks for the banks that indicate their legal problems are likely to be anything but “minor.”
Last year, the New York Times reported that “in numerous opinions, judges have accused lawyers of processing shoddy or even fabricated paperwork in foreclosure actions when representing the banks.” In both New York and Florida, courts “have begun requiring that lawyers in foreclosure cases vouch for the accuracy of the documents they present,” which “could open lawyers to disciplinary actions that could harm or even end careers.” Stephen Gillers, an expert in legal ethics at New York University, told the Times, “when ... it turns out there are documents being given to the courts that have no basis in reality, the profession gets a very big black eye.” The bar association is, understandably, up in arms over the requirement.