Tag Archives: Jerry Brown

Florida Joins States Suing Countrywide

Florida has joined Illinois and California as states suing subprime lender Countrywide Financial for deceptive and unfair trade practices.

The Florida lawsuit claims that Countrywide put borrowers into mortgages they couldn’t afford or loans with rates and penalties that were misleading.

As in the Illinois and California actions, Countrywide CEO Executive Angelo Mozilo was also named as a defendant.

Here you can read the complaint filed Broward County Circuit Court in Attorney General, Department of Legal Affairs, State of Florida v. Countywide Financial Corp., Countrywide Home Loans Inc., and Angelo Mozilo.

Here you can read our earlier reports on the Illinois and California lawsuits against Countrywide.

In filing the lawsuit, Florida Attorney General William “Bill” McCollum said that “It is unthinkable that a company would try to take advantage of someone’s dream of homeownership. Florida homeowners who are trying to protect their homes from foreclosures shouldn’t have to worry about their mortgage brokers or lenders unfairly profiting at their expense.”

“Similar to other mortgage lenders, Countrywide attempted to generate large numbers of mortgage loans for resale on the secondary mortgage market. In doing so, the company purportedly originated loans with little concern about whether the borrower could afford and maintain payments on these loans. In the process, the company allegedly eased or ignored its own underwriting standards and encouraged borrowers to enter into “teaser” rates while concealing or misrepresenting that much larger payments would become due.”

According to Marc Taps of Legal Services of North Florida, “Our legal services programs throughout the state have seen a large number of clients who are now in default on mortgages written by Countrywide. It appears to us Countrywide did no due diligence and accepted applications which were patently fraudulent and reflected no ability on the part of the borrowers to make the required payments. We cannot help but conclude that the most financially unsophisticated segment of the population was targeted by the brokers who knew Countrywide would write these mortgages.”

The lawsuit also claims that Countrywide hid any potentially negative effects of “teaser” loans, including rising rates, prepayment penalties and negative amortization, which borrowers would inevitably face if they were making minimum payments or trying to refinance.

Traditionally, lenders require borrowers to document income and assets, but investigators with the Attorney General’s Office believe Countrywide offered reduced or no documentation loan programs to increase its loan sales. Countrywide also allegedly paid greater compensation to brokers for loans with higher interest rates and prepayment penalties because it could sell those loans for higher prices on the secondary market.

The Florida Attorney General’s Office also asserts that “[Countrywide’s] deceptive marketing practices were supposedly designed to sell costly loans while hiding or misrepresenting the terms and dangers. Countrywide’s deceptive sales practices resulted in a large number of loans ending in default and foreclosure, with the company reporting earlier this year that more than 25 percent of its subprime loans were delinquent. The Attorney General’s Office received more than 150 complaints about Countrywide, prompting a subpoena in February and ultimately leading to today’s lawsuit.”

In a sign that the growing state legal assault on Countrywide is a bipartisan project, McCollum is the first Republican state attorney general to sue Countrywide.

As we’ve observed before, Countrywide’s expanding legal troubles do not bode well for Bank of America, which plans to acquire Countrywide.

Adding to the pressure on Bank of America to abandon the Countrywide deal, McCollum vowed that he would go after Bank of America’s assets to pay for the damages owed by Countrwide if the sale goes through.

Florida asks consumers who believe they have been victimized by Countrywide to call the Attorney General’s fraud hotline at 1-866-966-7226 or  file a complaint online at: http://myfloridalegal.com.

 UPDATE:

The state of Washington is expected to file a lawsuit against Countrywide soon, accusing Countrywide of discriminating against minority borrowers. The state wants to fine the mortgage lender and revoke its license to conduct business in the state.

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California Sues Countrywide for Mortgage Deception

California has joined Illinois today as states suing beleaguered subprime mortgage giant Countrywide Financial Corp. for deceptive loan practices.

In a lawsuit filed this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court, California Attorney General Jerry Brown sued Countrywide Financial, its chief executive Angelo Mozilo, and president David Sambol, for engaging in deceptive advertising and unfair competition by pushing homeowners into mass-produced, risky loans for the sole purpose of reselling the mortgages on the secondary market.

The lawsuit alleges that Countrywide Financial used deceptive tactics to push homeowners into complicated, risky, and expensive loans so that the company could sell as many loans as possible to third-party investors. 

The complaint also alleges that the company marketed complex and difficult to understand loans with very low initial or “teaser” interest rates or payments. Countrywide employees, including loan officers, underwriters, and branch managers–who were under intense pressure to process a constantly increasing number of loans–misrepresented or obfuscated the fact that borrowers who obtained certain types of loans would experience dramatic increases in monthly payments.

Here you can read the complaint filed in California v. Countrywide Financial Corp, Full Spectrum Lending, Angelo Mozilo, and David Sabol.

According to the Calfornia Attorney General’s Office, “In the past, lenders like Countrywide sold home loans to customers and held the loans in their own portfolio, an incentive to maintain strong underwriting standards. Countrywide, however, sold its loans to third-parties in the form of securities or whole loans, often earning more profit for riskier loans. The business model generated windfall profits for Countrywide.”

“The company pushed these loans by emphasizing a low “teaser” or initial rate, often as low as 1 percent for pay option ARMs. Countrywide obscured the negative effects–including rising rates, prepayment penalties and negative amortization–which would inevitably result from making minimum payments or trying to refinance. The company misrepresented or hid the fact that borrowers who obtained its home loans–including exploding adjustable rates and negatively amortizing loans–would experience dramatic increases in monthly payments.”

“In an effort to rope in as many customers as possible, Countrywide greatly relaxed and liberally granted exceptions to its mortgage lending standards. Traditionally, lenders required borrowers to document income and assets but Countrywide offered reduced or no documentation loan programs to increase its loan sales. Angelo Mozilo and David Sambol actively pushed for easing underwriting standards and granting exceptions to documentation requirements.”

“In Countrywide’s 2006 annual report, the company touted the massive growth of its loan production from $62 billion in 2000 to $463 billion in 2006–three times the increase of the U.S. residential loan production market, which tripled from $1.0 trillion in 2000 to $2.9 trillion in 2006. 26 percent of Countywide loans were for California properties. The company sold an ever-increasing number of loans in an effort to gain a 30 percent market share of loan originations and then sell its loans on the secondary market, as mortgage-backed securities or pools of whole loans. Countrywide’s securities trading volume increased from $647 billion in 2000 to $3.8 trillion in 2006.”

“Countrywide routinely sold loans based upon a borrower’s stated income and without verifying the information. Loan officers memorized scripts that marketed low payments by focusing on the potential customer’s dissatisfaction, saying, for example, ‘Which would you rather have, a long-term fixed payment, or a short-term one that may allow you to realize several hundred dollars a month in savings?’ The loan officer did not state that the payment on this new loan would exceed the payment on the current loan.

“Countrywide paid greater compensation to brokers for loans with a higher interest rates, as well as prepayment penalties, because it could sell those loans for higher prices on the secondary market. Countrywide also paid rebates to brokers who originated loans with prepayment penalties, adjustable rates and high margins.”

“Countrywide operated an extensive telemarketing operation in which it touted its expertise and claimed to find the best financial options for customers. Customer Service representatives at Countrywide call centers were required to complete calls within three minutes, often processing sixty-five to eight-five calls per day. Employees who did not meet quotas were terminated. The company’s deceptive marketing practices, designed to sell costly loans while hiding or misrepresenting the terms and dangers, included:

  • Encouraging borrowers to refinance or obtain financing with complicated mortgage instruments like hybrid adjustable rate mortgages or payment option adjustable mortgages;
  • Marketing complex loan products by emphasizing a very low “teaser” rate while misrepresenting the steep monthly payments, increased interest rates and risk of negative amortization;
  • Dramatically easing underwriting standards to qualify more people for loans;
  • Using low or no-documentation loans which allowed no verification of stated income;
  • Hiding total monthly payment obligations by selling homeowners a second mortgage in the form of a home equity line of credit;
  • Making borrowers sign a large stack of documents without provider time to read the paperwork; and
  • Misrepresenting or hiding the fact that loans had prepayment penalties.”

“As the secondary market’s appetite for loans increased, Countrywide further relaxed its standards to finance borrowers with ever-decreasing credit scores. Countrywide employees routinely overrode the company’s computerized underwriting system, known as CLUES, which issued loan analysis reports recommending or discouraging loans based on factors such as a consumer’s credit rating. As the pressure to produce loans increased, Countrywide set up an entire department in Plano, Texas, at the direction of Mozilo and Sambol, where employees could submit requests for underwriting exceptions. In 2006, 15,000 to 20,000 loans a month were processed through this exception process.>

“Countrywide’s deceptive sales practices resulted in a large number of loans ending in default and foreclosure. According to Countrywide’s February 2008 records, a staggering 27 percent of its subprime mortgages were delinquent. Overall, approximately 20,000 Californians lost their homes to foreclosure in May 2008 and 72,000 California homes were in default, roughly 1 out of 183 homes.”

“Despite receiving numerous complaints from borrowers claiming that they did not understand their loan terms, Countrywide ignored loan officer’s deceptive practices and loose underwriting standards. Countrywide also pushed its borrowers to serially refinance, repeatedly urging borrowers to obtain home loans to pay off their current debt.”

The California Attorney General’s Office asks that consumers who believe they have been victimized by Countrywide Consumers should file a complaint by contact the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit in writing at Attorney General’s Office California Department of Justice Attn: Public Inquiry Unit P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, California or through an online complaint form available at http://ag.ca.gov/contact/complaint_form.php?cmplt=CL

 

California Takes Action (But Not Very Much Action) Against Mortgage Fraud

With great fanfare, California Attorney General Jerry Brown and local prosecutors in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties announced yesterday that they had shut down subprime mortgage fraud schemes that had victimized thousands of homeowners.

The San Bernardino County district attorney’s office arrested five people and were waiting for two more to surrender to face charges of conspiracy, grand theft and elder abuse, and a related lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court accusing six companies — Lifetime Financial Inc., Nations Mortgage Inc., Greenleaf Lending Inc., Virtual Escrow Inc., Olympic Escrow and Direct Credit Solutions Inc. — of using predatory lending practices to trap homeowners in illegal and expensive loans.

All of the companies participating in the fraud were allegedly operated by one family.

According to prosecutors, the schemes operated by promising borrowers unrealistically low interest rates of less than 6% a year and then having them sign contracts that carried higher rates. The companies are also alleged to have charged hidden loan fees of as much as $20,000 per transaction.

“As the mortgage crisis worsens, a growing number of fly-by-night companies are employing utterly brazen tactics to push homeowners into illegal and unconscionable loans,” California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said. “The illegal sales practices of these companies . . . included psychological pressure, forgery and outright lies.”

The predatory practices that were alleged included:

“Offering thousands of dollars in cash back without disclosing that the money would be used to cover high fees;

Falsely promising to reimburse prepayment penalties from the victim’s current lender;

Pressuring victims to sign inaccurate loan documents by promising to correct excessive fees;

Failing to provide copies of signed documents;

Forging victims names and signatures on loan documents;

Falsifying income information on loan applications and creating fake references;

Refusing to honor written demands to cancel loans.

If a consumer tries to back out of the transaction, the companies promise to waive thousands of dollars in various processing, application, origination and underwriting fees. If the consumers agree, sales representatives provide a new statement but then resubmit the original forms, ultimately charging the same excessive fees.”

Brown’s office is seeking civil penalties of $2,500 for each violation of law and full restitution as well as a permanent injunction against operation these businesses. Penalties and restitution are estimated by prosecutors to exceed $20 million.

Although the announcement of the prosecutions was staged for maximum political effect, the response from the local media and consumer groups probably hasn’t been what Jerry Brown expected.

Rather than congratulating Brown on his prosecution of mortgage fraud, the commentary has criticised Brown for taking so long to do so little.

Paul Leonard, director of the California office of the Center for Responsible Lending, said that while the prosecution would help “to rid the marketplace of the most egregious illegal practices,” the real problems in the subprime market are caused by practices that are still legal.  “The illegal practices are only the tip of the iceberg,” Leonard said. “The vast proportion of the problems in the sub-prime market were caused by perfectly legal but systematic failures.”

Los Angeles Times real estate blogger Peter Viles was even more skeptical.  Viles noted that “The companies accused in the crackdown are not exactly household names and were operated by a single family in Tarzana.”

More caustic still was John Gittelsohn at the Orange County Register.

Gittelsohn observed that this appears to be Brown’s first attempt to prosecute mortgage fraud since he took office. 

“Since early 2007,” Gittelsohn wrote, “federal authorities have initiated civil and criminal probes of lenders such as New Century Financial Corp., a bankrupt subprime lender in Irvine. Attorneys general in New York, Ohio and other states have announced investigations into mortgage writing, financing and other industry players.”

“Brown’s predecessor, Bill Lockyer, in cooperation with other prosecutors won multi-million dollar settlements in predatory lending cases against Orange-based Ameriquest Mortgage Co., Illinois-based Household Finance Corp. and Irvine-based First Alliance Mortgage Corp. among other companies.”

“As the birthplace of America’s subprime lending boom and bust, you’d expect California’s Attorney General to be a national leader in policing the mortgage industry.”

Gittelsohn then asked: “So what’s taken Brown so long?” 

Brown says that he intends to bring additional legal actions, both civil and criminal, against other mortgage lenders and foreclosure consultants who are taking advantage of homeowners in California.

We hope he does. 

But we also agree with Paul Leonard that illegal practices are only the tip of the iceberg in the current mortgage crisis, and that the vast proportion of the problems in the sub-prime market are the result of perfectly legal but systematic failures in the mortage industry and credit market.