From my own personal experience and 20 years of research and investigation, nothing — and I mean nothing — that a bank, lender, loan servicer or their lawyer says or puts on paper can be trusted and accepted as true.
The quote above comes from Nye Lavalle, who after his personal experience of losing his home to foreclosure, set out to learn all he could about the mortgage industry, traveling nationwide to dig into records. In 2003, he compiled a dossier of practices at Fannie Mae.
For two years, he corresponded with Fannie executives and lawyers. Fannie later hired a Washington law firm to investigate his claims. In May 2006, that firm, using some of Mr. Lavalle’s research, issued a confidential, 147-page report corroborating many of his findings.
And there, apparently, is where it ended. There is little evidence that Fannie Mae’s management or board ever took serious action. Known internally as O.C.J. Case No. 5595, in reference to the company’s Office of Corporate Justice, this 2006 report suggests just how deep, and how far back, our mortgage and foreclosure problems really go.
“It is axiomatic that the practice of submitting false pleadings and affidavits is unlawful,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “With his complaint, Mr. Lavalle has identified an issue that Fannie Mae needs to address promptly.”
What Fannie Mae knew about abusive foreclosure practices, and when it knew it, are crucial questions as Congress and the Obama administration weigh the future of the company and its cousin, Freddie Mac. These giants eventually blew themselves apart and, so far, they have cost taxpayers $150 billion. But before that, their size and reach — not only through their own businesses, but also through the vast amount of work they farm out to law firms and loan servicers — meant that Fannie and Freddie shaped the standards for the entire mortgage industry.
Almost all of the abuses that Mr. Lavalle began identifying in 2003 have since come to widespread attention. The revelations have roiled the mortgage industry and left Fannie, Freddie and big banks with potentially enormous legal liabilities. More worrying is that the kinds of problems that Mr. Lavalle flagged so long ago, and that Fannie apparently ignored, have evicted people from their homes through improper or fraudulent foreclosures.
According to the report, Fannie held about two million mortgage notes in its offices in Herndon, Va., in 2005 — a fraction of the 15 million loans it actually owned or guaranteed. Various third parties owned the rest of the notes. At that time, Fannie typically destroyed 40 percent of the notes once the mortgages were paid off. It returned the rest to the respective lenders, only without marking the notes as canceled. According to Mr. Lavalle, Fannie Mae lacked a centralized system for reporting lost notes. And so the the potential for confusion and abuse became rampant. The piece explains that anyone who gains control of a note can, in theory, try to force the borrower to pay it, even if it has already been paid. Or that someone might try to force homeowners to pay the same mortgage twice. Or that loans could be improperly pledged as collateral by some other institution, even though the loans have been paid. All of these things happened during and and after the financial crisis of 2006-2008. It’s refreshing to read that there were some people who took matters into their own hands and fought for the consumer.