Tag Archives: bankruptcy law

Property of 1031 Exchange Scammer Ed Okun Goes on Sale

High-end retail complex properties in Kansas and Texas owned by the notorious Edward H. Okun have been put up for sale by a federal bankruptcy trustee.

The properties are the 1.1 million square foot West Oaks Mall in Houston, Texas, and the 587,512 square foot Salina Central Mall in Salina, Kansas.

Okun is alleged to be behind the 1031 exchange scam run by The 1031 Tax Group (1031TG) that defrauded thousands of people out of millions of dollars.

Okun was arrested in Miami, Florida, last month and charged with mail fraud, bulk cash smuggling, false statements, and forfeiture from a scheme to defraud and obtain millions of dollars in client funds held by The 1031 Tax Group. 

Those who were defrauded by Okun’s 1031 Tax Group had hoped to recoup some of their missing funds from Okun’s remaining assets — including the West Oaks Mall and the Salina Central Mall — which were purchased from monies allegedly taken from victims in the 1031 exchange scam.

But the Okun-controlled companies that owned the malls declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October. 

It is now unclear whether the proceeds from the sale of the properties would go Okun’s 1031 exchange scam victims.

Both properties apparently have a long line of creditors.

The trustee in the bankruptcy case has hired Keen Consultants, the new real estate division of KPMG Corporate Finance, to market both properties.

You can read our earlier post on Okun and his 1031 exchange scam here.

 

 

Advertisements

We Got Banned

Today we were banned from the Bankruptcy Forum for “Posting unwanted spam.”

The Bankruptcy Forum has a message board containing news and information about bankruptcy.

We joined the forum a few days ago so that we could see what people were interested in and writing about in regard to bankruptcy and also to tell people about our posts about bankruptcy here at The Fox Real Estate Report.

The post we wrote on the forum included a link to all of the bankruptcy related articles that we’ve published here, and stated that the articles were related to bankruptcy and the mortgage/subprime crisis.  We asked for comments and suggestions about topics, issues, and news we should cover.

Quite a lot of people followed the link and read our posts.

They thought that finding our posts on bankruptcy on the forum was worthwhile.

Now forum members won’t be able to find them there.

That’s bad for them.

 

 

Judicial Nullification of Foreclosures Spreads to Bankruptcy Court

Back in March, we posted a blog on “judicial nullification” in mortgage cases. 

We titled it “Are “Deadbeat” Home Owners Beating the Banks Through “Judicial Nullification“?

Recent judicial decisions have proven us to be correct — and that “judicial nullification” in mortgage cases has expanded into federal bankruptcy proceedings.

When a jury refuses to follow the law or the instructions of the judge, and instead renders a verdict counter to the law but based on their sympathies or their sense of fairness, it is called “jury nulllification.” 

Judges too can refuse to follow the law when they believe it is unfair, or they can interpret the law so that the outcome favors the side that the judge believes to be morally right — even if that side would be legally in the wrong according to previous interpretations of the law.

We call that “judicial nullification.”

Now we hear that in an increasing number of cases, federal bankruptcy judges are refusing to stay bankruptcy proceedings to permit lenders to move forward with foreclosure actions, and even sanctioning lenders whose conduct seem to them to be abusive or improper.

According to the New York Times, “Slowly but surely, a handful of public-minded bankruptcy court judges are drawing back the curtain on the mortgage servicing business, exposing, among other questionable practices, the sundry and onerous fees that big banks and financial companies levy on troubled borrowers.”

The cases cited by the Times are from bankruptcy courts in Delaware, Louisiana and New York, and “each one shows how improper, undisclosed or questionable fees unfairly penalize borrowers already struggling with mortgage debt or bankruptcy.”

In a case in Louisiana, Judge Elizabeth W. Magner found that Wells Fargo was guilty of “abusive imposition of unwarranted fees and charges,” and improper calculation of escrow payments, among other things.  She found Wells Fargo negligent and assessed damages, sanctions and legal fees of $27,350.

The Times wrote that “The heart of the case is that Wells Fargo failed to notify the borrower when it assessed fees or charges on her account. This deepened her default and placed her on a downward spiral that was hard to escape. And Wells Fargo’s practice of not notifying borrowers that they were being charged fees ‘is not peculiar to loans involved in a bankruptcy,’ the court said. During a 12-month period beginning in 2001, for example, Well Fargo assessed 13 late fees totaling $360.23 without telling Ms. Stewart or her late husband, whose name was on the loan before he died. Even though the terms of the mortgage required that Wells Fargo apply any funds it received from the Stewarts to principal and interest charges first, the late fees were deducted first. This meant that the Stewarts’ mortgage payments were insufficient, making them fall further behind — and keeping them subject to more late fees.”

“Then there were the multiple inspection fees Wells Fargo charged the borrowers. Because its computer system automatically generates a request for property inspections when a borrower becomes delinquent — to make sure the property is being kept up — the $15 cost of the inspections piled up. The court noted that the total cost to the borrower for one missed $554.11 mortgage payment was $465.36 in late fees and property inspection charges.”

“From late 2000 and 2007, Wells Fargo inspected the property on average every 54 days, the court found. But the court also determined that inspections charged to Ms. Stewart had often been performed on other people’s properties. Of the nine broker appraisals charged to Ms. Stewart from 2002 to 2007, two were said to have been conducted on the same September day in 2005 when Jefferson Parish, where the Stewart home was located, was under an evacuation order because of Hurricane Katrina.”

“The broker appraisals were conducted by a division of Wells Fargo that charged more than double its costs for them, the court found. It concluded that the charges were an undisclosed fee disguised as a third-party vendor cost and illegally imposed by Wells Fargo. The bank also levied substantial legal fees and failed to credit back to the borrower $1,800 that had been charged for an eviction action but that had been returned by the sheriff because it never occurred.”

“While Wells Fargo claimed that the borrower owed $35,036, the judge said the actual figure was $24,924.10. The judge ordered Wells Fargo to provide a complete loan history on every case pending with her court after April 13, 2007.”

In a Delaware case, Judge Brendan Linehan Shannon refused to allow a lender to charge fees owing under the mortgage after the borrower had satisfied all obligations under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Mortgage lenders argue that their contracts allow them to recover all the fees and costs they incur when a borrower files a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan, even after a case is resolved.

“This cannot be,” the judge wrote. “If the court and the Chapter 13 Trustee fully administer a case through completion of a 60-month Chapter 13 plan, only to have the debtor promptly refile on account of accrued, undisclosed fees and charges on her mortgage, it could fairly be said that we have all been on a fool’s errand for five years.”

And in a recent case in New York, Judge Cecilia G. Morris refused to allow a lender to foreclose even though the borrowers had technically failed to make the required payments on their mortgage.

The Times reports that “The case involved Christopher W. and Bobbi Ann Schuessler, borrowers who had $120,000 of equity in their Burlingham, N.Y., home when their bank, Chase Home Finance, a unit of JPMorgan Chase, moved to begin foreclosure proceedings. The couple had filed for personal bankruptcy protection, which automatically prevents any seizure of their home. But the bank moved for a so-called relief from the bankruptcy stay, and claimed the couple had no equity.”

“The Schuesslers got into trouble because Chase had refused a mortgage payment they tried to make at a local branch. Testimony in the case revealed a Chase policy of accepting mortgage payments in branches from borrowers who are current on their loans but rejecting payments from borrowers operating under bankruptcy protection.”

“The Schuesslers did not know this. When Chase rejected their payment, they briefly fell behind on their mortgage, according to the court documents. Then Chase moved to begin foreclosure proceedings.”

“Without informing debtors, Chase Home Finance makes it impossible for JPMorgan Chase Bank branches to accept any payments,” Judge Morris wrote. “It appeared that Chase Home Finance intended to commence an unwarranted foreclosure action, due to ‘arrears’ resulting from Chase Home Finance’s handling of the case in its bankruptcy department, rather than any default of the debtors.”

We predicted in March that “that more judges will engage in ‘judicial nullification’ of mortgages unless Congress and the Executive Branch exercise their responsibilities and turn their attention to the mortgage and credit crisis in a far more comprehensive and meaningful way than they have so far.”

These recent cases are proving us correct.

Countrywide Closer to Indictment — And Still Making Zero Down-Payment Loans

Countrywide Home Loans is one step closer to possible federal criminal indictment following a bankruptcy judge’s decision to allow the Justice Department wide authority to investigate whether the largest U.S. mortage lender has serially cheated bankrupt borrowers in bankruptcy cases.

Judge Thomas P. Agresti of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania said U.S. Trustee Kelly Beaudin Stapleton has the power to subpoena documents and question Countrywide officials under oath about questionable actions the lender allegedly took in borrower-bankruptcy cases.

Countrywide had argued that the U.S. trustee had limited authority to investigate specific issues in particular cases or proceedings and could not seek discovery related to general policies and procedures Countrywide followed in its business affairs.

The U.S. Trustee contends that Countrywide filed inaccurate proofs of claim, filed unwarranted motions for relief from the bankruptcy stay, inaccurately accounted for funds, and made unfounded payment demands to debtors after discharge.

According to Judge Agresti’s opinion in In re Countrywide Home Loans Inc., No. 07-00204, 2008 WL 868041 (Bankr. W.D. Pa. Apr. 1, 2008), similar allegations have been raised against Countrywide in at least 293 separate borrower-bankruptcy cases just in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

In addition, Countrywide has been accused of similar abuses against borrowers across the country, and faces additional trustee lawsuits in Georgia, Ohio and Florida.

The judge’s decision in Pennsylvania does not bind other bankruptcy courts, but it could influence judges in other courts as the Justice Department pursues alleged abuses by Countrywide in other states.

In rejecting Countrywide’s claim that allowing the probe would cause chaos in the mortgage industry, the judge wrote that “The U.S. Trustee has made a showing of a common thread of potential wrongdoing.”

“The apparent point of Countrywide’s argument is that recognizing the authority of the U.S. Trustee to conduct these examinations could have the unintended consequence of leading to an unregulated ‘free-for-all,”’ he continued. “The court find’s Countrywide’s argument … to be without merit.”

In 2006 Countrywide financed 20% of all mortgages in the United States.

Countrywide itself narrowly avoided bankruptcy due to its exposure to subprime mortgages when Bank of America agreed to purchase the home mortgage giant in January for $4.2 billion.

Countrywide is still in the business of making home loans, and according to a recent article in Slate.com, it is still making zero down-payment loans.

In some instances, according to the article, Countrywide is foreclosing on properties, then offering new buyers zero down-payment mortgages plus their own free appraisal of the foreclosed property.

According to the Countrywide Foreclosure Blog, Countrywide’s own website currently lists 14,541 bank-owned (REO) properties for sale with a combined asking price of $2,984,273,174.  The largest number of these properties, by far, are in California, with 4,493 properties with a combined asking price of $1,294,972,540.

UPDATE:

For an update on the federal judge’s decision to allow a multi-million dollar shareholders’ lawsuit against Angelo R. Mozilo and other Countrywide executives to proceed, click here.

U.S. Court Rips Subprime Lender as “Ticking Time Bomb” — Faults New Century Executives and Big Four Auditor

The Final Report in the federal bankruptcy proceedings involving subprime mortgage lender New Century Financial Corp. was made public today by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.

You can read the Final Report here.

Following an investigation that began in June 2007, the 550-page report reviews the accounting and financial reporting practices, loan origination operations, audit committee and internal audit department, and system of internal controls of New Century, once the second-largest originator of subprime home loans in the U.S.

According to the report, the now bankrupt mortgage lender used improper accounting practices while making risky loans, creating “a ticking time bomb” that led to the company’s collapse.

The New York Times has called the report “the most comprehensive and damning document that has been released about the failings of a mortgage business.”

The report states:

“New Century had a brazen obsession with increasing loan originations, without due regard to the risks associated with that business strategy.”

“The increasingly risky nature of New Century’s loan originations created a ticking time bomb that detonated in 2007.”

“Senior management turned a blind eye to the increasing risks of New Century’s loan originations and did not take appropriate steps to manage those risks.”

In one example cited in the report, New Century understated by more than 1000 percent the amount of money it needed to have on reserve to buy back bad loans. As a result, it reported a profit of $63.5 million in the third quarter of 2006, when it should have reported a loss.

New Century also failed to include the interest that it was obligated to pay to investors whenever it was forced to buy back bad loans.

In addition, the report concluded that New Century’s accounting firm, KPMG LLC, one of the Big Four accounting firms, actively enabled New Century’s improper accounting practices. 

Court-appointed examiner Michael J. Missal observed that “As an independent auditor [KPMG is] supposed to look very skeptically at any client, and here they became advocates for the client and in fact even suggested some improper accounting treatment that ultimately started New Century down the road it’s taken.”

The improper accounting also led to higher bonuses for New Century executives.

New Century once billed itself as “A New Shade of the Blue Chip.”

Creditors of New Century now say they are owed $35 billion.

The former subprime lending giant’s stock peaked at nearly $65.95 in late 2004 — on Wednesday it was trading at a penny.

You can read New Century’s Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filings here.

New Century is being sued by hundreds of investors and remains the target of a federal criminal investigation.