Former employees of Bank of America gave sworn statements that the bank lied to homeowners, denied loan modifications for bogus reasons and rewarded employees for sending homeowners to foreclosure
Bank of America employees regularly lied to homeowners seeking loan modifications, denied their applications for made-up reasons, and were rewarded for sending homeowners to foreclosure, according to sworn statements by former bank employees.
The employee statements were filed late last week in federal court in Boston as part of a multi-state class action suit brought on behalf of homeowners who sought to avoid foreclosure through the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) but say they had their cases botched by Bank of America.
In a statement, a Bank of America spokesman said that each of the former employees’ statements is “rife with factual inaccuracies” and that the bank will respond more fully in court next month. He said that Bank of America had modified more loans than any other bank and continues to “demonstrate our commitment to assisting customers who are at risk of foreclosure.”
Six of the former employees worked for the bank, while one worked for a contractor. They range from former managers to front-line employees, and all dealt with homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure through the government’s program.
When the Obama administration launched HAMP in 2009, Bank of America was by far the largest mortgage servicer in the program. It had twice as many loans eligible as the next largest bank. The former employees say that, in response to this crush of struggling homeowners, the bank often misled them and denied applications for bogus reasons.
Sometimes, homeowners were simply denied en masse in a procedure called a “blitz,” said William Wilson, Jr., who worked as an underwriter and manager from 2010 until 2012.
As part of the modification applications, homeowners were required to send in documents with their financial information. About twice a month, Wilson said, the bank ordered that all files with documentation 60 or more days old simply be denied. “During a blitz, a single team would decline between 600 and 1,500 modification files at a time,” he said in the sworn declaration. To justify the denials, employees produced fictitious reasons, for instance saying the homeowner had not sent in the required documents, when in actuality, they had.
Such mass denials may have occurred at other mortgage servicers. Chris Wyatt, a former employee of Goldman Sachs subsidiary Litton Loan Servicing, told ProPublica in 2012 that the company periodically conducted “denial sweeps” to reduce the backlog of homeowners. A spokesman for Goldman Sachs said at the time that the company disagreed with Wyatt's account but offered no specifics.
Five of the former Bank of America employees stated that they were encouraged to mislead customers. “We were told to lie to customers and claim that Bank of America had not received documents it had requested,” said Simone Gordon, who worked at the bank from 2007 until early 2012 as a senior collector. “We were told that admitting that the Bank received documents ‘would open a can of worms,’” she said, since the bank was required to underwrite applications within 30 days of receiving documents and didn’t have adequate staff. Wilson said each underwriter commonly had 400 outstanding applications awaiting review.
Anxious homeowners calling in for an update on their application were frequently told that their applications were “under review” when, in fact, nothing had been done in months, or the application had already been denied, four former employees said.
Employees were rewarded for denying applications and referring customers to foreclosure, according to the statements. Gordon said collectors “who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus.” Other rewards included gift cards to retail stores or restaurants, said Gordon and Theresa Terrelonge, who worked as a collector from 2009 until 2010.|
This is certainly not the first time the bank has faced such allegations. In 2010, Arizona and Nevada sued Bank of America for mishandling modification applications. Last year, Bank of America settled a lawsuit brought by a former employee of a bank contractor who accused the bank of mishandling HAMP applications.
The bank has also settled two major actions by the federal government related to its foreclosure practices. In early 2012, 49 state attorneys general and the federal government crafted a settlement that, among other things, provided cash payments to Bank of America borrowers who had lost their home to foreclosure. Authorities recently began mailing out those checks of about $1,480 for each homeowner. Earlier this year, federal bank regulators arrived at a settlement that also resulted in payments to affected borrowers, though most received $500 or less.
The law suit with the explosive new declarations from former employees is a consolidation of 29 separate suits against the bank from across the country and is seeking class action certification. It covers homeowners who received a trial modification, made all of their required payments, but who did not get a timely answer from the bank on whether they’d receive a permanent modification. Under HAMP, the trial period was supposed to last three months, but frequently dragged on for much longer, particularly during the height of the foreclosure crisis in 2009 and 2010.
ProPublica began detailing the failures of HAMP from the start of the program in 2009. HAMP turned out to be a perfect storm created by banks that refused to adequately fund their mortgage servicing operations and lax government oversight.
Bank of America was far slower to modify loans than other servicers, as other analyses we've cited have shown. A study last year found that about 800,000 homeowners would have qualified for HAMP if Bank of America and the other largest servicers had done an adequate job of handling homeowner applications.
The Moneylife campaign to streamline and speed up issuance of passports has resulted in TCS launching an online payment system, which will reduce tout menace as well as absenteeism of applicants who take appointments but do not turn up
In a major step that would reduce absenteeism of around 20% passport applicants per day, who take appointment but do not turn up and prevent alleged block booking of appointments by illegal agents, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), the private operator in partnership with the Passport Division of ministry of external affairs (MEA), has launched the online payment system for passport applications.
The company has provided various options for online payment in a very inclusive way as those who are not Internet-savvy have been given the option of depositing money in any of the State Bank of India branches after issuance of the challan online. So, in this case, the appointment would be given upon confirmation of payment by the bank. Otherwise, you can use your credit/debit card for online payment or opt for Internet banking of State Bank of India. Thereafter, the applicant would be automatically given the earliest appointment available.
Once the online payment is introduced in any city, it will be compulsory for the passport applicant to make the payment online. Under this facility, an applicant will be able to cancel/reschedule the appointment only twice within one year of the first appointment date. The system will not allow booking of online appointment for that ARN once two reschedule options are exercised or the first appointment was scheduled more than one year ago.
The press release elaborates: “Under the new process, payments can be made while booking an appointment on the website—www.passportindia.gov.in—either by credit /debit card (both Master and Visa) or internet banking of State Bank of India. Applicants can also use the challan option provided on thewebsite and deposit the money in the State Bank of India (SBI) branch after generating the challan online. In such cases, upon the confirmation of payment receipt by SBI in the online system, applicants can take an appointment.” Further, instead of the applicant choosing the date and time slot of the appointment, the system will automatically give earliest available appointment.
As per the press release, “with the launch of the online payment-based appointments, applicants will be required to make payment at the time of booking the appointment on the MEA website. With this, only genuine applicants will book the appointment and number of no-shows will reduce.” Clearly, the role of illegal touts who indulge in block bookings, thus denying an appointment to the genuine applicant, would greatly diminish.
The facility, launched in Dehradun in the first week of June, has now been extended to 15 more cities, two days back. These include the Passport Seva Kendras (PSKs) of Ahmedabad, Varsha, Rajkot, Vadodra, Surat, Jammu, Srinagar, Guwahati, Saligramam, Tambaram, Aminjikarai, Madurai, Thirunelveli City, Trichy, Thanjavur, Coimbatore, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur. The Online Payment System is already applicable at Dehradun, Chandigarh, Ambala, Ludhiana and Vizag PSKs. Pune and Mumbai would soon be included in this scheme.
According to TCS officials, an average of 20% absenteeism is observed on a daily basis—which means, those applicants who take appointments do not turn up. The press release issued by the MEA states, “Reviewing the operations over the last one year, it was observed that a large number of applicants were not turning up at the PSKs despite taking a valid appointment. This not only resulted in lesser utilization of processing capacity of the PSK, but also caused denial of appointments for other genuine applicants. To resolve the issue of non-availability of appointments and to reduce no-shows of applicants, the ministry has launched the online payment system for booking appointments.”
The new system will be gradually rolled out to all PSKs across the country in coming weeks.
Other improvements in the Passport Seva Project after a successful campaign carried out by Moneylife since March 2013 include:
*Longer working hours to benefit the citizens
* 24X7 Call Center Support in 17 languages
For further information, please refer to MEA website – www.passportindia.gov.in or contact the corresponding Regional Passport Office. You may also call up National Passport Call Centre at 1800 258 1800.
Steps for Online Registration & Appointment:
Following steps may be followed to obtain and manage appointment:
Step 1: Visit the website www.passportindia.gov.in
Step 4: Fill the online application form as the case may be and submit online
For more details, log in to: http://passportindia.gov.in/AppOnlineProject/pdf/New_Online_Appointment_
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
The power ministry is moving the newly constituted Cabinet Committee on Investment to seek diversion of as much as 6 mmscmd currently consumed by non-core sectors like steel and petrochemicals, to power plants
With gas supplies to power plants drying up, the power ministry will approach the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) seeking fuel meant for other sectors and approval for pooling price of domestic and imported gas.
The power ministry is moving the newly constituted Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) to seek diversion of as much as 6 million standard cubic meters per day of gas (mmscmd) currently consumed by non-core sectors like steel and petrochemicals, to power plants, sources privy to the development said.
Besides, it also wants 6.47 mmscmd of gas state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) will produce from new fields as well as 5.24 mmscmd gas from Gujarat State Petroleum Corp’s (GPSC) Deen Dayal West (DDW) gas field in KG basin.
These proposals are parallel to the oil ministry’s approach to an Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on gas allocation for abolishing the priority ranking in natural gas allocation so that fuel currently consumed by urea plants can be diverted to fuel-starved power stations.
Abolishing priority ranking, according to which power plants get gas only if any is left after meeting requirements of front ranking sectors of fertilizer and LPG, would make available another 8 mmscmd to electricity generating units.
These moves would help generate 16,044 MW of power, sources said quoting the power ministry’s proposal.
The power ministry had last year rejected pooling of gas prices as it would have meant older plants of state-owned firms paying higher price for the fuel just to make feedstock affordable to newer units that are mostly owned by private sector.
But at the request of Association of Power Producers—a body of private power producers— it is now proposing to CCI to consider averaging the price of cheaper domestic gas with costlier imported liquid gas or LNG.
Sources said the power ministry has projected an electricity generation cost of between Rs4.10 to Rs7.90 per KiloWatt-hour or unit as compared to Rs2.8 per unit cost of producing power currently.
Under the ministry’s most viable pooling option, price of all the gas—domestic as well as LNG—consumed by power and fertiliser sector are to be clubbed and an average rate applied to them all.
This would mean that fertiliser plants and old power plants which currently pay $4.2 per million British thermal unit for the gas would end up paying more than double the price, while the newer power plants would have to pay much less than the average LNG price of $12-$13 per mmBtu.
Not just increase in power tariff, it would also mean an additional fertiliser subsidy of up to Rs20,210 crore per annum, they said, adding this subsidy was in addition to the Rs5,591 crore a year outgo on account of urea having to be imported because of 8 mmscmd of gas they use being diverted to power plants.