Officials in 49 states launch foreclosure probe
Posted October 13, 2010 11:02 a.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2010 12:18 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — Officials in 49 states and the District of Columbia have launched a joint investigation into allegations that mortgage companies mishandled documents and broke laws in foreclosing on hundreds of thousands of homeowners.
The states’ attorneys general and bank regulators will examine whether mortgage company employees made false statements or prepared documents improperly.
Alabama was the only state not to join the investigation.
“Serious errors have been identified in the foreclosure process and procedures of major mortgage servicers,” North Carolina Chief Deputy Commissioner of Banks Mark Pearce said in a statement. “We intend to work with other States to ensure that homeowners are treated fairly and that mortgage companies follow the law.”
Attorneys general have taken the lead in responding to a nationwide scandal that’s called into question the accuracy and legitimacy of documents that lenders relied on to evict people from the homes. Employees of four large lenders have acknowledged in depositions that they signed off on foreclosure documents without reading them.
The allegations raise the possibility that foreclosure proceedings nationwide could be subject to legal challenge. Some foreclosures could be overturned. More than 2.5 million homes have been lost to foreclosure since the recession started in December 2007, according to RealtyTrac Inc.
The state officials said they intend to use their investigation to fix the problems that surfaced in the mortgage industry.
“This is not simply about a glitch in paperwork,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is leading the probe. “It’s also about some companies violating the law and many people losing their homes.”
Ally Financial Inc.’s GMAC Mortgage Unit, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. already have halted some questionable foreclosures. Other banks, including Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. have not stopped processing foreclosures, saying they did nothing wrong.
The North Carolina Attorney General's Office has launched an investigation into the foreclosure practices of 15 major mortgage lenders and recently asked all of them to halt pending foreclosures in the state until the probe is completed.
In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the state officials said they would review evidence that legal documents were signed by mortgage company employees who “did not have personal knowledge of the facts asserted in the documents. They also said that many of those documents appear to have been signed without a notary public witnessing that signature — a violation of most state laws.
“What we have seen are not mere technicalities,” said Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. “This is about the private property rights of homeowners facing foreclosure and the integrity of our court system, which cannot enter judgments based on fraudulent evidence.”