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Bank of America’s mortgage servicing unit systematically lied to homeowners, fraudulently denied loan modifications, and paid their staff bonuses for deliberately pushing people into foreclosure: Yes, these allegations were suspected by any homeowner who ever had to deal with the bank to try to get a loan modification – but now they come from six former employees and one contractor, whose sworn statements were added last week to a civil lawsuit filed in federal court in Massachusetts.
“Bank of America’s practice is to string homeowners along with no apparent intention of providing the permanent loan modifications it promises,” said Erika Brown, one of the former employees. The damning evidence would spur a series of criminal investigations of BofA executives, if we still had a rule of law in this country for Wall Street banks.
The government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which gave banks cash incentives to modify loans under certain standards, was supposed to streamline the process and help up to 4 million struggling homeowners (to date, active permanent modifications number about 870,000 ). In reality, Bank of America used it as a tool, say these former employees, to squeeze as much money as possible out of struggling borrowers before eventually foreclosing on them. Borrowers were supposed to make three trial payments before the loan modification became permanent; in actuality, many borrowers would make payments for a year or more, only to find themselves rejected for a permanent modification, and then owing the difference between the trial modification and their original payment. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner famously described HAMP as a means to “foam the runway ” for the banks, spreading out foreclosures so banks could more readily absorb them.
These Bank of America employees offer the first glimpse into how they pulled it off. Employees, many of whom allege they were given no basic training on how to even use HAMP, were instructed to tell borrowers that documents were incomplete or missing when they were not, or that the file was “under review” when it hadn’t been accessed in months. Former loan-level representative Simone Gordon says flat-out in her affidavit that “we were told to lie to customers” about the receipt of documents and trial payments. She added that the bank would hold financial documents borrowers submitted for review for at least 30 days.
“Once thirty days passed, Bank of America would consider many of these documents to be ‘stale’ and the homeowner would have to re-apply for a modification,” Gordon writes. Theresa Terrelonge, another ex-employee, said that the company would consistently tell homeowners to resubmit information, restarting the clock on the HAMP process.
Worse than this, Bank of America would simply throw out documents on a consistent basis. Former case management supervisor William Wilson alleged that, during bimonthly sessions called the “blitz,” case managers and underwriters would simply deny any file with financial documents that were more than 60 days old. “During a blitz, a single team would decline between 600 and 1,500 modification files at a time,” Wilson wrote. “I personally reviewed hundreds of files in which the computer systems showed that the homeowner had fulfilled a Trial Period Plan and was entitled to a permanent loan modification, but was nevertheless declined for a permanent modification during a blitz.” Employees were then instructed to make up a reason for the denial to submit to the Treasury Department, which monitored the program. Others say that bank employees falsified records in the computer system and removed documents from homeowner files to make it look like the borrower did not qualify for a permanent modification.
Senior managers provided carrots and sticks for employees to lie to customers and push them into foreclosure. Simone Gordon described meetings where managers created quotas for lower-level employees, and a bonus system for reaching those quotas. Employees “who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus,” Gordon wrote. “Bank of America also gave employees gift cards to retail stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond as rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure.” Employees were closely monitored, and those who didn’t meet quotas, or who dared to give borrowers accurate information, were fired, as was anyone who “questioned the ethics … of declining loan modifications for false and fraudulent reasons,” according to William Wilson.
Bank of America characterized the affidavits as “rife with factual inaccuracies.” But they match complaints from borrowers having to resubmit documents multiple times, and getting denied for permanent modifications despite making all trial payments. And these statements come from all over the country from ex-employees without a relationship to one another. It did not result from one “rogue” bank branch.