A Florida Times-Union investigation finds that the rampant foreclosure fraud in Florida even extends to court summonses.
Even the summons, the simple but important legal notice required to inform homeowners that they are being foreclosed on, has not been immune to the massive problems surrounding what has become known in Florida and across the nation as the foreclosure mess.
The Times-Union has reviewed documents where the same name with obviously different signatures was used to certify that papers were served to the homeowner.
While there is no simple way to know how often every type of irregularity occurs, there is documentation showing a sharp rise in one narrow area of concern.
Instances where summonses entrusted to servers have been reported as lost, once fairly rare, have skyrocketed, making it harder to document the fate of important paperwork. From barely more than 100 annually six years ago, more than 2,000 summonses have been lost in Duval County in each of the last two years.
And the paper shows how this plays out:
Mark Browne was in Iraq when a process server tried to give his mother in New Mexico a summons to inform him that his house in Jacksonville was being foreclosed on. She didn’t accept it, but the server signed a document that said she did. A judge threw that out, too.
Nancy Rush sold her Jacksonville condo in March, walking away poorer after the short sale and was getting on with her life when her phone rang with unlikely news: She was in foreclosure. A week after she unloaded the unit at Kendall Town in Arlington, a Jacksonville judge ordered the home sold at auction to settle a $190,000 mortgage debt, even though Rush had never received a summons saying she was being sued. “I didn’t even know there was a court date,” Rush said. “It scared the crap out of me.”
So, what part of the mortgage chain is not plagued with fraud?
— The Nation takes a long look at that giant Countrywide/Bank of America settlement it agreed to with state attorneys general a couple of years ago and calls it a “fiasco.”
And it’s got the goods:
If all fifty states were to sign on to the settlement, Brown’s office estimates (forty-four have so far), it would provide $8.68 billion in reduced payments and fee waivers to some 400,000 Countrywide borrowers struggling to stay in their homes. And a small Foreclosure Relief Fund of $150 million would provide direct payments to Countrywide borrowers who have already lost their homes to foreclosure. Various media called the settlement a “landmark,” “a win for homeowners” and “the nation’s most comprehensive mortgage-modification program,” reporting that 8,000 homeowners in Ohio, 13,000 in Arizona, 57,000 in Florida and 120,000 in California would all “escape foreclosure” through major loan modifications. Relief Is in Sight, read one headline.
But two years later, many Countrywide borrowers facing foreclosure have not even been notified that they may qualify for the settlement. It has kept, at best, about 134,000 families in their homes, and most of these only temporarily. Countrywide and its parent company, Bank of America, have blocked many subprime borrowers from access to the best aspect of the deal—principal reduction—in favor of short-term fixes that could easily spell disaster down the road. The settlement is silent on the question of second liens—home equity loans—which have played such a significant part in the foreclosure crisis, jeopardizing the possibility of truly affordable modifications. And the biggest loophole of all? Bank of America has the right to foreclose on the victims of Countrywide’s predation whenever its analysts determine—using an undisclosed formula—that it can recoup more money through foreclosure than by modifying the loan.
In fact, the settlement has functioned more as loss mitigation for BofA and investors in mortgage-backed securities than as recompense for victims of predatory lending, says Alan White, an associate professor of law at Valparaiso University and an expert on the subprime crisis. “You are not actually asking [Bank of America] to give up money,” says White, who frequently testifies before Congress on mortgage issues. “You are asking them to do something that will make them more money or mitigate their losses. It is a weird way to have somebody pay for past misconduct.”
Read the whole thing.
— Good things happen when reporters start snooping around the courthouses. The Wall Street Journal’s Dawn Wotapka sat in on a rocket docket foreclosure case in Florida and helped right a wrong:
Ms. Cervantes says she and her longtime partner Julio Bermudez fell behind on their mortgage payments two years ago. In August of last year, they applied for and were granted a loan modification from J.P. Morgan Chase, which services the mortgage. Since then, Ms. Cervantes says they never missed the $659.30 payment.
Then, last Saturday, the couple received a letter saying Chase foreclosed and the condo was sold online.
Just a few minutes after 9 a.m., on Tuesday Ms. Cervantes and Mr. Bermudez stood before the judge. In broken English, they tried to explain the situation. “There’s nothing I can do about the sale,” Judge Deehl says matter-of-factly. “You’re going to have to deal with the bank.”
They tried calling Chase many times, they said, but couldn’t get anywhere. After inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, Chase looked into the matter and discovered they made a mistake. In an email, a Chase spokesman said, “We are working to reverse the sale, and are reaching out to the customer to apologize. We have also been reviewing the application for a permanent modification.”
Excellent.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.