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NY State Regulators Eyeing Wells Fargo Foreclosure Manual

nypost.com | March 17, 2014

By Catherine Curan

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and three major regulators are investigating allegations made in a federal court case that Wells Fargo has set up detailed internal procedures to fabricate foreclosure papers on demand.

A spokesman for Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest mortgage servicer, denied the allegations. He said the manual excludes details of the bank’s internal procedures and checkpoints, which would demonstrate that the bank has not engaged in any misconduct.

“Wells Fargo’s foreclosure processes — today and back in 2012 — are appropriate [and] legal. To allege otherwise is simply misrepresenting the facts,” said the spokesman.

“Wells Fargo’s Foreclosure Attorney Procedures Manual provides guidelines for outside attorneys to be compliant with state and regulatory requirements.”

The Post broke the story online Wednesday of the allegations, made in court papers, that the manual was evidence of improper practices for procuring foreclosure documents.

Since then, four major watchdogs have taken notice. New York’s attorney general, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the New York State Department of Financial Services and the United States Trustee Program — a unit of the Department of Justice that oversees bankruptcy courts — have obtained copies of the 150-page Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Foreclosure Attorney Procedures Manual cited in the allegations filed in federal court in New York, sources said.

Regulators have begun looking into the charges made by attorney Linda Tirelli, sources said.

Tirelli, who is representing a local homeowner in bankruptcy, alleges in court papers that the Wells Fargo manual sets forth “in detail a procedure for processing notes without endorsements and obtaining endorsements and alleges.”

Those are the technical terms for the paperwork that proves that the company that’s foreclosing owns the loan, and therefore has the right to kick a family out of its home. Wells Fargo services roughly 9 million home loans, according to Inside Mortgage Finance.

Lawyers, forensic accountants and consumer advocates have long suspected that banks were systematically creating improper documents to prove ownership of loans. Foreclosure defense lawyers use the term “ta-da endorsement” to describe situations in which they say a document appears, as if by magic, in the bank’s possession as needed in a foreclosure case — even though the proper endorsement was not included in the original foreclosure filing.

The regulators declined to comment.

But sources said that experts at these offices are digging deep into the manual.

One source said questions are arising about the dates of the manual, which states that it was originated Nov. 9, 2011, and last published Feb. 24, 2012 — dates that partially overlap the time period in which Wells Fargo was negotiating with 49 state attorneys general (including Schneid-erman) and the federal government to settle allegations of foreclosure abuse.

The National Mortgage Settlement with Wells Fargo and four other big banks was announced Feb. 9, 2012, and court orders approving the deal were entered in US District Court for the District of Columbia on April 4, 2012.

Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Wells Fargo last year, alleging that the company is failing to live up to some of the terms of that deal.
Banks have mainly themselves to blame for the foreclosure paperwork morass, according to experts.

For hundreds of years, Americans could rely on clear homeownership records kept in county courthouses.

But the securitization of mortgages destroyed this system, thanks to the loans changing hands multiple times, and MERS, an unreliable electronic record-keeping system created by banks to bypass county courthouses and the associated filing fees.

 

Back to March 2014 Archive

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