As officials from all 50 states investigate the causes of the recent "Foreclosure-gate" fiasco, two attorneys general have decided to go after Wall Street on their own. On Friday, Arizona and Nevada's attorneys general slapped Bank of America and its mortgage servicing subsidiary with a blistering lawsuit (PDF). The states say the lender made "false assurances" about modifying homeowners' mortgages while foreclosing on them at the same time and gave "inaccurate and deceptive reasons" for rejecting loan modification requests. "Nevadans who were trying desperately to save their homes were unable to get truthful information in order to make critical life decisions," Nevada attorney general Catherine Masto said in a statement.
The states suing Bank of America are among the hardest hit in the housing meltdown. In the third quarter of 2010, Nevada led the country in foreclosures, with one in every 99 properties in foreclosure—five times the national average. What's more, 54 percent of all home sales in the Silver State were of foreclosed properties, according to RealtyTrac. Arizona had the fourth-highest foreclosure rate.
Here's more from the New York Times on Arizona and Nevada's suit:
Indeed, according to the lawsuits, Bank of America’s efforts were the most anemic of the big banks and were not confined to the Western states but rather “reflect a pervasive nationwide pattern and practice of conduct.” The lawsuit noted that Bank of America ranked last in “virtually every homeowner experience metric” monitored in a monthly report on the federal home loan modification program.
Ms. Masto of Nevada said her office’s findings were confirmed by interviews with consumers, former employees, third parties and documents. Former employees said that Bank of America’s modification staff was “chaotic, understaffed and not oriented to customers,” according to a news release. One former employee said, “The main purpose of the training is to teach us how to get customers off the phone in less than 10 minutes.”
Another employee said, “When checking on a borrower’s status, I often found that the modification request had not been dealt with or was so old that the request had become inactive. Yet, I was instructed to inform borrowers that they were ‘active and in status.’ One time I complained to a supervisor that I felt I always was lying to borrowers.”
In its defense, a Bank of America official told the New York Times that the bank was disappointed with the suit. The attorneys general, he added, didn't fully take into account Bank of America's efforts to help beleagured homeowners.
For Bank of America's foreclosure relief efforts, though, the devil is in the details. As the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel highlighted in its December report, Bank of America's success rate in the Obama administration's flagship relief effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), is a miserable 30 percent. By contrast, top performers like Wachovia Mortgage and HomeEq Servicing boast rates of 89 percent. Bank of America's mortgages, together with JPMorgan Chase and CitiMortgage, also comprised two-thirds of all loan modifications that are stuck in foreclosure limbo, waiting to either be approved or dumped from HAMP.
Protesting homeowners getting arrested? A top state investigator pledging to "put people in jail" for foreclosure fraud? When you put the data alongside the Arizona and Nevada attorneys general's body of evidence, it's not hard to see why American are so angry about the foreclosure debacle.