By Ben Mook
Dolan Media Newswires
Pressure on banks and processing firms to suspend foreclosures over concerns of paperwork errors continues to mount as a group of as many as 40 state attorneys general plans to announce a multijurisdictional investigation on Wednesday.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is heading the bipartisan group that plans to look into potentially flawed foreclosures nationwide. At issue is whether employees at lenders and foreclosure processing firms signed court documents that had unverified or false information in an attempt to speed the process.
Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for Miller, said Bank of America’s decision last week to temporarily halt foreclosures nationwide showed that the industry needed to slow down.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and GMAC Mortgage are reviewing documents in the 23 states where a judge’s approval is required, including Wisconsin.
According to news reports, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. officials said the company would halt sales of foreclosed homes for a month as it reviewed documents. On Friday, Houston-based Litton Loan Servicing LP, owned by Goldman Sachs, agreed to also halt some foreclosures.
“The mortgage industry is getting the message that this is serious, it’s wrong and we will stop it,” according to a statement attributed to Miller.
In what has become known as robo-signing, some employees have admitted under oath to signing thousands of affidavits and documents without fully reading or understanding them. The affidavits verify the accuracy of the loan information, including who owns the mortgage. The practice has sparked action from states concerned people have lost their homes to sloppy paperwork.
Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, said Maryland would be part of the multistate group to make sure the state’s residents have not been affected by the practice.
“We don’t know if there is robo-signing going on in Maryland, but there might be,” Guillory said. “Halting these foreclosures will give the banks time to figure it out.”
Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, said the state was joining the investigation. He said the bottom line, as it is for states attorneys everywhere, is to protect the rights of state residents facing foreclosure.
“We’ve been investigating some of these financial institutions as early as late September,” Wogsland said. “We need to get to the bottom of this and find out if it’s affecting the process here in Minnesota, as well as in other states. We’d like to have everyone slow down and make sure the process is fair and untainted.”
Sharon Kleinpeter, a spokeswoman for Louisiana Attorney General James D. Caldwell, said that state would also be part of the multistate effort. Louisiana has seen an increase in foreclosures related to a moratorium on deepwater drilling in place since May.
“Right now we are aggressively pursuing an investigation into what role do we play and what actions could be taken,” Kleinpeter said.
New York is calling on any and all banks involved in so-called robo-signing procedures to immediately suspend all foreclosure actions in the state.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday said his office is seeking more information from four major mortgage servicers — Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and GMAC Mortgage.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has joined the multi-state effort to collect information and review it for appropriate action, if any, according to a representative from Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s office.
A number of states are also taking state level action in addition joining the multistate effort. Holly Hollingsworth, spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, said the state will take part in the investigation while pursuing a separate lawsuit against GMAC. The state is seeking $25,000 for every violation of Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper last week sent letters and launched an inquiry to 14 lenders, including Bank of America, which is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., asking the companies to suspend foreclosures in North Carolina until they can show that their affidavit procedures have been reviewed and are in compliance with the law.
Some real estate officials are concerned a widespread moratorium could have a negative effect on the economy.
Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac Inc., said a blanket moratorium could hinder a housing market trying to recover.
“Clearly the kind of shortcuts they were taking were inexcusable, especially five years into this mess,” Sharga said. “It’s easy to understand the outrage, but you have to be a little careful of overreacting that could have some serious unintended consequences for the economy.
“The last thing this economy needs is a moratorium of any sort,” Sharga said. “It would be disastrous for the housing market.”
The Daily Reporter staff writer Marie Rohde also contributed to this report.[polldaddy poll=”3906862″]
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