October 26, 2014

Ocwen Engaged in Continued Foreclosure Abuses, Investigation Finds

Borrowers with mortgage loans serviced by Ocwen Financial Corp. may never have had a chance when it came to avoiding foreclosures.
An investigation by the New York's Department of Financial Services revealed the company engaged in a practice of falsely backdating foreclosure warnings and letters of denied loan modifications for mortgages. Borrowers who defaulted received warning letters of the default months after deadlines for avoiding a foreclosure had passed. By the time borrowers had any notice of a problem, their options to appeal or take other action were virtually non-existent.

This did not happen just once or twice or even a handful of times. Investigators found evidence of hundreds of thousands of backdated letters.

Ocwen's reaction? According to state regulators, indifference. The official explanation for the problems is "software errors" in the correspondence systems.


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October 25, 2014

"Too Big to Jail": Wall Street Accountability Promises Fall Flat

In May, Attorney General Eric Holder insisted that no bank - or bank executive - was too large or too powerful to be prosecuted if they engaged in criminal activity. No individual or company, he said, no matter how profitable, would be able to skirt the law.
However, the announcement of Holder's resignation brings to light the fact that to date, no bank executive has been prosecuted in criminal court for the role played in the most cataclysmic financial disaster since the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression.

Former bank regulator William Black, interviewed recently by Bill Moyers, offered extensive commentary on how the approach of prosecuting banks - as opposed to bankers - ensures that nothing will change. In fact, Black claims that no one could say with a straight face that prosecuting bankers would be a negative.

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October 24, 2014

Series of Florida Foreclosure Reversals in "Robo-Witness" Cases

Over the course of three days, Florida's First District Court of Appeal tossed evidence submitted in foreclosure actions after the panel found lenders' witnesses were not qualified to testify. The panel further remanded the cases with encouragement to trial courts to dismiss the cases in favor of homeowners.
The decisions, handed down in mid-October, are suspected to be the first to overturn a foreclosure case due to "robo-witnesses," at least in a case where the lender was plaintiff.

Robo-witnesses are those called by the lender to testify as to the accuracy and origin of mortgage records. The problem is, these individuals lack firsthand knowledge of the facts to which they are attesting.

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October 20, 2014

The "Great Wage Slowdown" Has Hindered American Workers

Despite recently-reported economic gains - including an unemployment rate that has dipped below 6 percent - one aspect that continues to trouble is wages. Paychecks have been stagnant, falling or only minutely increasing over the last 15 years.
New York Times Writer David Leonhardt refers to it as, "The Great Wage Slowdown of the 21st Century." That's a rather grand title, but it's had a very real effect on all but the wealthiest Americans.

For example, the average family in the U.S. makes less money that it did 15 years ago. That wasn't something we could say at any other point in our nation's history - except during the Great Depression. The hourly pay rate climbed just 2 percent in the last year. After adjusting for inflation, that basically amounts to no pay increase. The only class of workers to see a real boost in wages were those at the 90th percentile. While median income growth began stagnating in the mid-1970s, it came to an almost grinding halt around 2000 and has yet to recover.

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October 20, 2014

Report: Middle Class Wealth Amassed Since WWII Largely Depleted

The middle class is on its way out. The income gap between wealthy and the rest of is continues to widen, as the share of middle class wealth has been contracting for most of the last three decades.
A new study conducted by economic researchers at the University of California Berkley found it recently fell to the lowest seen since 1940. To put that into perspective, remember that after WWII, the "average" American accumulated unprecedented wealth, and this was the formation of the middle class. But today, all of that is gone, at least according to the new study.

Researchers defined "middle class" as the bottom 90 percent of Americans, with wealth being all of their home equity, bond and stock holdings, pensions and other assets after subtracting the debt.

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October 15, 2014

CFPB Cracks Down on Bad Banking Practices

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has received its share of criticism since its founding, particularly from Republicans, who tend to shield big business interests.
Now, it seems large financial institutions have good reason to fear the regulator, given the recent action taken against Flagstar Bank in Michigan. The CFPB appears to have succeeded where the Department of Justice has repeatedly failed: Shutting down bad banks.

Flagstar was reportedly cited for violating the bureau's new rules on mortgage servicing, which took effect earlier this year. Not only did the company cross the line, according to a Financial Times writer, "It violated (the rules) in earnest." For this, the company was not only slapped with a $38 million fine, it is also banned from acquiring new mortgage servicing rights, particularly for defaulted loans, until it can satisfactorily prove it can comply with the law.

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October 10, 2014

Housing Crisis Six Years Later: Still Sorting Through the Wreckage

It's been six years since the housing market imploded. We all knew the economic reverberations would be severe. We knew the implications were dire, and that some government action would probably be needed to cushion the blow.
However, as a nation, we were deeply conflicted about the right course of action. That same sense of uncertainty remains today, as we continue to sort through the wreckage that Wall Street left behind. Questions remain about whether policymakers acted appropriately in bailing out AIG, allowing Lehman Brothers to slide into bankruptcy and in the several settlement offers that have followed revelations of extensive mortgage fraud by these and other financial giants.

There is a also pervasive belief by some that policymakers and regulators acted arbitrarily and randomly.

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October 2, 2014

"Relief" Of National Mortgage Settlement a Farce

The American public has been made to believe that banks would be made to pay for at least part their misdeeds related to mortgage servicing and trading prior to and in the wake of the national housing bubble burst. That's what the whole series of national mortgage settlements were all about. You may recall headlines over the course of the last year or so, announcing multi-billion dollar deals that large banks had agreed to pay for ripping off the American public.
$17 billion here. $25 billion there. It sounded like a lot, though the truth is it wasn't nearly enough for what we'd all lost. Still, the hope was that it would help, and maybe at least it would deter these companies from engaging in such poor behavior again.

Now, we learn the impact to these large financial institutions for paying these large "fines"? Likely miniscule. In fact, more than likely, if you're investing in a retirement account or rely on a public pension, you're the one who is paying. That's according to a recent report from Forbes.com.

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September 27, 2014

Middle Class Bears Greatest Burden of Economic Risk

If there was ever a need for more proof of the gap between America's wealthiest and the rest of us, look no further than the recent bankruptcy of the Trump Plaza and Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
On one hand, there is billionaire Donald Trump, who 30 years earlier touted opening of the casino as one of his greatest investments, a crown achievement and possibly one of the greatest buildings in the country. When the venture folded, he was offering his own praises for having the foresight and "great timing" to sell the casino beforehand.

On the other hand are approximately 1,000 workers left to pick up the pieces after losing jobs, where they had learned skills that aren't so easily transferable in communities where they purchased homes for which they the value has plummeted and they can no longer pay the mortgage.

Our Miami foreclosure defense lawyers know this is just one in a cascade of examples revealing how our laws and practices advance corporate interests and shield them from the consequences of poor financial decisions, while brutally punishing the rest of us.

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September 24, 2014

Florida Foreclosure Decisions Skewed Toward Banks

The Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board voiced strong condemnation of Florida's newest "foreclosure rocket docket," part of the state's effort to plow through a backlog of cases in the wake of the housing crisis.
The problem was highlighted in a recent article published by The Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit investigative news organization. The piece detailed how the courts, working under explicit instructions from the state Legislature and Florida Supreme Court, are pushing quickly through each case, often by trampling homeowner rights and awarding thousands of homes to banks - regardless of whether the financial giants have the proper paperwork as required by law. As our Miami foreclosure defense lawyers previously noted, this new approach has compromised the entire court system, leaving borrowers overwhelmingly wronged.

The Sentinel editorial characterized it as a form of bribery, akin to banks slipping judges cash-filled envelopes in exchange for favorable verdicts. Were it that blatant, the public would be outraged. What's occurring is less obvious, but potentially no less corrupting, as money is being funneled indirectly from the banks to the courts in order to keep the foreclosure courts open.

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September 20, 2014

Florida's Foreclosure Law Stripping Homeowners of Property Rights

It began with an effort by Florida's judicial leaders and state legislators to boost the state's economy by sorting through the gargantuan foreclosure backlog and getting these homes back on the market. However, for those trying to hang onto their homes, it's turned into what one reporter described as a "Kafkaesque nightmare," referring to the complex, bizarre and illogical stories penned by German author Franz Kafka.
Our Miami foreclosure defense lawyers have noted state leaders have mostly turned their backs to the ramifications of tossing thousands of families out of their homes, only to return those foreclosed properties back to the banks and mortgage servicers, who must maintain and then sell them. Failure to maintain the properties has become a blight on neighborhoods, and they aren't moving nearly as fast as they should.

But what's worse is the fact that Florida's entire court system has been compromised, because lawmakers effectively sidestepped property rights by effectively transferring billions of dollars in real estate assets from individual owners to large financial institutions. These were essentially the explicit orders from the state Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court, both more concerned with clearing the docket than protecting the rights of homeowners.

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September 16, 2014

Study: Millions Have Paychecks Garnished for Old Debts

A study by ADP, the largest payroll provider in the U.S., found that of 13 million employees on file, 1 in every 10 of prime working age (35 to 44) had their paychecks garnished for recovery of past debt. The research was prompted by a journalistic inquiry from ProPublica and NPR, which sought to find out how past debts were affecting people trying to recover from the financial knock-out of the recession.
One such affected worker described his wage garnishment as, "A roundhouse kick." Just as he thought he might be turning the corner, his credit card company began automatically deducting twice-monthly payments from his paychecks - one quarter of what he made, which is the maximum allowable by law. The company deducts this whether he can afford it or not. The total bill now stands at $15,000, which is grossly inflated by fees and interests, and had originally started at $7,000.

"It just knocks you down and out," he was quoted as saying.

Our Miami credit card defense attorneys know many of these individuals end up in this situation after failing to respond to legal notices, warning them debtors plan to take them to court. By not showing up, debtors effectively forfeit their right to dispute the charges or at least negotiate a solution that's reasonable.

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September 3, 2014

Deficiency Judgments Plaguing South Florida Foreclosure Victims

Many of those who endured a foreclosure in the last six years may have feared the worst that could happen was they would lose their homes, and suffer a damaged credit score. They are now learning the worst may have been yet to come.
A recent article in the Palm Beach Post detailed how banks and debt collection firms are going after borrowers for unpaid mortgage debt from homes that were lost years ago.

It's called a deficiency judgment, and in the single month beginning June 1, there were more than 300 filed in Broward County, 200 in Miami-Dade County and 110 in Palm Beach County. Those were just from a single, Texas-based debt collection agency. More are pending from other firms.

Our Miami foreclosure lawyers believe the change in Florida law recently set off a flurry of these filings. Previously, there had been a five-year deadline to collect unpaid mortgage debt. Now, the deadline is one year.

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September 2, 2014

Bank of America's Mortgage Abuses Laid Bare

It didn't take long after the announcement of the $17 billion settlement deal with Bank of America over mortgage abuses committed by its executives, as well as those at Countrywide and Merrill Lynch, for pundits to decry it as an attack on big business by an overzealous regulatory agency.
However, our Miami foreclosure lawyers recognize that what this firm will have to pay still does not make whole all of those affected. What's more, Bank of America still profited more from its actions than what it will pay out.

But it's also important to remind these naysayers of what Bank of America and its subsidiaries actually did wrong. The U.S. Justice Department did not pursue Bank of America because it was an easy target. In fact, to the contrary.

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August 31, 2014

Many Underwater Homeowners in Florida Unlikely to Benefit From $17B Deal

When the U.S. Justice Department first began crowing about the $17 billion settlement deal it wrangled from Bank of America over mortgage abuses, there was immediately a question of how much real homeowners could be expected to benefit.
The answer? It's not clear. We know a portion of those funds are to be paid directly in cash to the federal government. Some will go to state governments. And approximately $7 billion is supposed to be offered as aid to distressed homeowners in the form of loan modifications, short sales, etc. But what does that mean in actuality? Our Miami foreclosure defense lawyers believe probably not much.

The Huffington Post recently published an article on this very subject. Quoting a housing counselor in Fort Myers, principle reductions are rare, and many housing experts aren't clear on where the money is directed.

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