NY A.G. reaches $4 Million Settlement With Steven J. Baum P.C.

On March 23, 2012, in Foreclosure, by Robbie L. Vaughn, Esq.

NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recently announced an agreement with New York Foreclosure Law Firm Steven J. Baum P.C., and Pillar Processing, LLC, which requires that they pay $4 million to the State of New York. $2 million of which will be used to assist homeowners facing foreclosure, or victims of predatory lending practices.

Excerpts from the Attorney General’s Press release:

The Attorney General’s investigation found that the Baum Firm routinely brought foreclosure proceedings without taking appropriate steps to verify the accuracy of the allegations or the plaintiff’s right to foreclose. From at least 2007 through sometime in 2009, Baum Firm attorneys repeatedly verified complaints in foreclosure actions stating, among other things, that the plaintiff was “the owner and holder of the note and mortgage being foreclosed,” when, in many securitized loan cases, the Baum Firm did not have documentary proof that the plaintiff was the owner and holder of the note and mortgage.

Complaints were prepared in an assembly-line fashion by non-attorney Pillar employees with inadequate attorney supervision. Baum Firm attorneys also improperly verified and notarized these complaints. Attorneys routinely signed complaint verifications — which stated, among other things, that the attorneys had read the complaints and knew their contents — without reviewing the contents of the complaints or the underlying documents such as the original note or mortgage or any mortgage assignments.

During certain time periods, attorneys often did not see complaints after they were prepared by Pillar employees. Instead, attorneys pre-signed and notarized verification and certification pages that were subsequently attached to the complaints and filed with the county clerks. Even after the practice of attaching pre-signed and notarized verification and certification pages changed, attorneys continued to verify complaints without reading them. Until sometime in 2011, the Baum Firm also failed to properly notarize documents signed by its attorneys. Baum Firm attorneys routinely signed documents without being in the notaries’ presence, and when documents were signed prior to notarization, did so without the required oath being administered. Indeed, some notaries even notarized documents that were signed by an attorney who was not present in the state at the time the documents were notarized.

The Baum Firm also repeatedly failed to timely file the Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI) required to be filed in residential foreclosure actions and a court-required affirmation attesting to the accuracy of the foreclosure summons and complaint. New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman implemented the attorney affirmation requirement in October 2010 in response to revelations of widespread deficiencies in foreclosure filings nationwide, including the execution of affidavits without personal knowledge of the facts, a practice referred to as “robo-signing.” The filing of the RJI triggers the scheduling of a settlement conference where potential loan modification options are explored, and also leads to notice being sent to local housing counselors that a homeowner is at risk of foreclosure so that counselors can reach out to the homeowner to provide assistance. Many homeowners were denied this assistance as a result of the Baum Firm’s failure to file RJIs in a timely manner.

….

New York homeowners who believe their homes were foreclosed based upon false or inaccurate documents filed in court should seek representation from an attorney. They may also file a complaint with the New York Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection by calling 800-771-7755 [2]or visiting www.ag.ny.gov [3].

Read the full Press Release here.

News: Man Gets Free house

On April 10, 2011, in Foreclosure, Message/News Board, by Robbie L. Vaughn, Esq.

We figured this would start happening sooner or later.

So far this year we have been made aware of three (3) cases where the lenders actually “walked away.” The homeowners appear to have been left with a home without a mortgage on it (a free house).

The following is from Jacksonville.com:

Bank gives man foreclosed house for free

By Roger Bull

Perry Laspina was in the middle of foreclosure with the possibility of losing the house he owned in Jacksonville. Then the mail came one day in late January telling him that the house was his.

Despite the $72,000 mortgage that he barely paid anything on, despite the foreclosure … the house was his.

In the middle of foreclosures gone wild, of a system overloaded by sheer volume, judicial investigations and allegations of corners cut, Laspina ended up with the house.

Despite the fact that he didn’t have an attorney in the foreclosure proceedings, the mortgage holder simply gave up and walked away.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” he said.

It’s a tale populated with many of the major players in the national foreclosure drama: The law firm of David Stern, the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (better known as MERS) and a mortgage packaged with others and sold into a securitized trust.

Here’s how it happened.

Back in 2006, Laspina, a used-car dealer based in South Florida, had some extra money and decided to buy some real estate that he could resell quickly at a profit. It was, after all, the height of the housing boom with prices skyrocketing and mortgage money easily available.

“Since everyone else was making money flipping houses, I figured I would, too,” he said.

He wasn’t familiar with Jacksonville, but his brother owned a house in Fernandina Beach and found the house on Oakwood Street in the Panama Gardens neighborhood of Jacksonville off North Main Street.

It’s an old neighborhood where most of the houses are still well-maintained.

Laspina bought the house for $80,000, putting $8,000 down and taking out an adjustable rate mortgage with EquiFirst for the remaining $72,000 with an interest rate of 9.5 percent.

EquiFirst, based in Charlotte, N.C., was one of the nation’s leading sub-prime lenders in 2006. But it soon fell victim to the housing and mortgage industry collapse and it closed in 2009.

EquiFirst kept few of the mortgages it wrote; most were packaged and sold to securitized trusts which were owned by investors.

Laspina wasn’t worried about the interest rate.

“It didn’t matter,” he said. “I figured I’m going to flip this house within six months, maybe three months.”

He also figured he’d get about $120,000 for it after he did a bit of work on it, mostly tearing up the carpet and stripping the paint that covered the hardwood floors.

“But right after I put it on the market, the crash came,” he said. “I couldn’t sell it, I couldn’t rent it.”

By 2008, the increases on his payments kicked in, going from an initial payment of $605 to $894 and then $1,058 in less than a year. He quit making payments, and in September of that year, a foreclosure notice was filed against him. The plaintiff was the U.S. Bank National Association, which was simply acting as the trustee for an unnamed trust that now owned the mortgage.

The court file says that Laspina lost his foreclosure case in February 2009. A sale date was set, then postponed and then cancelled, all at the plaintiff’s request, later that year.

But the next year, the plaintiff requested that it all be vacated – the suit, the judgment, all of it. In October, Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace signed the order.

In December, officials for MERS, which acted as the mortgage holder, signed and filed the documents saying it “has received full payment and satisfaction … and does hereby cancel and discharge said mortgage.”

Laspina had paid less than $1,000 toward the principal on his $72,000 loan.

That’s what happened. But there are questions about why.

“This is crazy,” attorney David Goldman said as he looked over the files at the Times-Union’s request.

“They won,” he said referring to the mortgage holder. “They’re standing at the goal line, and they just need to sell the house.”
….
“The investor on the loan, the bondholder on the trust, decided to write off the loan balance,” said a Wells Fargo spokesman, “because of the significant decreased value of the property.”

He declined to give more details or further explanation.
….
Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296

Read more at Jacksonville.com

News: BOA to Resume Foreclosures

On October 18, 2010, in Foreclosure, Message/News Board, by Robbie L. Vaughn, Esq.

It appears, based on the following article, that BOA will be resuming foreclosure proceedings in NY and 22 other states. As we stated earlier, we doubt that foreclosures were ever really halted in NY (see our earlier post on NY foreclosures).

Alan Zibel, AP Real Estate Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The pace of U.S. home foreclosures may not slow much after all.

Bank of America said Monday that it plans to resume seizing more than 100,000 homes in 23 states next week. It said it has a legal right to foreclose despite accusations that documents used in the process were flawed.

Other major lenders have yet to say whether they will follow suit and resume foreclosures in the 23 states that require a judge’s approval. But analysts said they expect the move by the nation’s biggest bank will mean other lenders will proceed with a wave of foreclosures that have depressed the housing market.

Banking analyst Nancy Bush of NAB Research said other lenders are likely to follow because foreclosure practices were similar from bank to bank.

“We’ll be back to square one by the end of the year,” she said.

The bank’s move could mean that the costs of the foreclosure-document mess will wind up being less than some investors had feared just days ago. Bank shares sank last week after JPMorgan Chase & Co. said it set aside $1.3 billion in the third quarter to cover legal expenses that include the foreclosure document problems.

Shares of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America had been flat earlier Monday but jumped on the news. They rose 36 cents, or 3 percent, to close at $12.34.

Bank of America Corp. said it’s confident of its foreclosure decisions. The bank is still delaying foreclosures in the 27 states that don’t require a judge’s approval. It said it’s still reviewing its cases in those states.

The bank’s move comes two weeks after it began halting foreclosures nationwide amid allegations that bank employees signed but didn’t read documents that may have contained errors. These employees have earned the nickname “robo-signers.”

The company said it plans to resubmit documents with new signatures in the 23 states that require judicial authorization to restart the foreclosure process. It will delay fewer than 30,000 foreclosures.

“The basis for our foreclosure decisions is accurate,” Dan Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said in announcing the bank’s new approach.

Bank of America had been the only lender to halt foreclosures in all 50 states. Other companies, including Ally Financial Inc.’s GMAC Mortgage unit, PNC Financial Services Inc. and JPMorgan, have halted tens of thousands of foreclosures after similar practices became public.

Analysts at FBR Capital Markets said in a note to clients that the bank’s announcement demonstrates that the foreclosure document issue may be “overblown.”

Still, more problems surfaced Monday that suggest the controversy may be far from over.

A deposition released by the Florida attorney general’s office revealed that the office manager at a Florida law firm under investigation for fabricating foreclosure documents signed 1,000 files a day without reviewing them. The manager also would allow paralegals to sign her name for her when she got tired, the deposition said.

Cheryl Salmons, office manager at the Law Offices of David Stern, would sign 500 files in the morning and another 500 files in the afternoon without reviewing them and with no witnesses, former assistant Kelly Scott said in a deposition released by the Florida attorney general’s office.

Jeffrey Tew, an attorney for Stern’s firm, didn’t immediately return a phone call.

Government-controlled mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have stopped referring foreclosures to Stern’s firm while they review the firm’s filings.

In some states, lenders can foreclose quickly on delinquent mortgage borrowers. By contrast, the 23 states in which Bank of America is restarting foreclosures use a lengthy court process. They require documents to verify information on the mortgage, including who owns it.

Those states are:

Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Associated Press Writer Mike Schneider contributed reporting from Orlando, Fla.

As always, The Foreclosure Defense Law Firm of VAUGHN & WEBER, PLLC is here to assist you. We are conveniently located in the heart of Nassau County, Long Island, at 217 Willis Avenue in Mineola, NY 11501. Contact us at (516) 858-2620 to arrange a consultation with a foreclosure defense lawyer.

Please visit our Foreclosure category to learn more about foreclosure issues.

The following article is from NY Attorney General Cuomo’s website. It calls for suspension of foreclosures by mortgage servicers engaged in “robo-signing” and offers sound advice to New York homeowners who are facing foreclosure proceedings.

ATTORNEY GENERAL CUOMO EXPANDS PROBE OF NEW YORK FORECLOSURE ACTIONS

Demands information from Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and GMAC Mortgage/Ally ~ Calls for suspension of foreclosures by mortgage servicers engaged in “robo-signing” in New York until accuracy of court documents and integrity of process are assured

NEW YORK, NY (October 12, 2010) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he is seeking information from four major mortgage servicers – Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and GMAC Mortgage/Ally – concerning the filing of affidavits that falsely attest the signer has personal knowledge of the facts presented in home foreclosure proceedings, a practice known as “robo-signing.”

In view of the prevalence of this practice in the industry, Cuomo also called on mortgage servicers engaged in “robo-signing” in New York to immediately suspend all foreclosure actions in the state until they correct their procedures to comply with New York law and can assure the public and the courts that integrity has been restored.

“I will not allow New Yorkers to lose their homes due to mortgage goliaths that buck the system by submitting affidavits signed without knowledge of the facts,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Such conduct is a fraud upon our courts and a slap in the face of New Yorkers struggling to get by in this economy. My office will continue to root out these practices so homeowners receive the full protections afforded by our judicial system.”

Recent reports indicate that employees of these mortgage servicers routinely signed affidavits submitted in foreclosure proceedings without personal knowledge of the underlying facts or verification of loan file information, and without even reading the documents they signed. This practice, known as “robo-signing,” has tainted the integrity of the foreclosure process by which homeowners in New York lose their homes. Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage announced that they were temporarily halting pending foreclosures, while Wells Fargo has not suspended foreclosures despite the deficiencies uncovered.

Attorney General Cuomo is calling on these mortgage servicers to submit documents and information to his office concerning how foreclosure documents are prepared, verified, attested to and notarized, and how required notices are provided to New York homeowners. The letters request that the mortgage servicers stop re-filing foreclosures that had been suspended (and in Wells Fargo’s case, cease proceeding with pending foreclosures) until the Attorney General’s Office is assured that reliable and fair procedures are in place and that accurate, trustworthy documentation will be submitted to the New York courts. The letters also request that the mortgage servicers refrain from filing any new foreclosures until they can provide assurances that their procedures comply with New York law and are neither tainted nor inaccurate.

Because of the gravity of these transgressions and the high volume of foreclosures, Attorney General Cuomo is calling on all mortgage servicers engaged in “robo-signing” in New York to immediately suspend all pending foreclosure actions in the state, including evictions and foreclosure sales. Cuomo is also requesting that the mortgage servicers not file any new foreclosures until the companies correct their procedures.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been devastated by the foreclosure crisis. In fact, the foreclosure rates in Nassau and Suffolk Counties rank among the ten highest in the nation. More than 60,000 New York homes are currently in foreclosure, and 130,000 New York homeowners have received pre-foreclosure notices this year after falling behind on their mortgage payments.

In addition to his office’s review of Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo and GMAC Mortgage/Ally, Attorney General Cuomo is working with other state attorneys general, banking regulators and other interested parties to assess the veracity of servicers’ foreclosure filings and ensure the fairness and accuracy of their processes.

Attorney General Cuomo advises New York homeowners who are facing foreclosure proceedings to do the following:

  • Contact the court to find out the status of your foreclosure proceeding.
  • Seek representation or advice from a qualified attorney. If necessary, contact your local bar association or legal services office for a referral. If you are unable to retain counsel, carefully review any documents filed thus far with the court to ensure their accuracy.
  • If you have not done so already, immediately contact your lender or servicer to discuss available alternatives to foreclosure such as a loan modification.
  • For a general description of the foreclosure process, refer to www.nyprotectyourhome.com/fc_timeline.html.
  • Consult with a government-approved housing counseling agency. To find counselors approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in your local area, call 800-569-4287 or visit www.hud.gov. A list of housing counselors also can be found via the NYS Banking Department at www.banking.state.ny.us.
  • Call HOPE NOW at 1-888-995-HOPE. HOPE NOW is an alliance of housing counselors, mortgage companies, investors and other mortgage market participants that provides free foreclosure prevention assistance.
  • If you live in New York City, call 311 to schedule free foreclosure counseling sessions at the Center for New York City Neighborhoods.

New York homeowners who believe their homes were foreclosed based upon false or inaccurate documents filed in court by their lender or servicer should seek representation from an attorney. They may also file a complaint with the New York Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection by calling 800-771-7755 or visiting www.ag.ny.gov.

The investigation, led by Special Deputy Attorney General for Consumer Frauds & Protection Joy Feigenbaum, is being handled by Special Counsel Mary Alestra, Assistant Attorney General Brian Montgomery and Deputy Bureau Chief Jeffrey Powell of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection under the direction of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Maria Vullo and Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Michael Berlin.

As always, The Foreclosure Defense Law Firm of VAUGHN & WEBER, PLLC is here to assist you. We are conveniently located in the heart of Nassau County, Long Island, at 217 Willis Avenue in Mineola, NY 11501. Contact us at (516) 858-2620 to arrange a FREE consultation with a foreclosure defense lawyer.

Please visit our Foreclosure category to learn more about foreclosure issues.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. This website is Attorney Advertising. It does not form an attorney-client relationship. We are a debt relief agency and a law firm that helps people file for bankruptcy relief under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code – Title 11. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Proudly assisting residents of Long Island, Nassau county, Suffolk county, New York City, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Manhattan