WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 3, 2016 – A 2013 memo written by attorneys in the Consumer Law Section from the California Attorney General’s office is raising new concerns about the track record of OneWest Bank, and the ethics of its former CEO, Steve Mnuchin, who has been nominated to be Treasury Secretary by President Elect Donald Trump. David Dayen first reported on the memo earlier today in an article in the Intercept.
The memo is based on a preliminary investigation by staff at the Attorney General’s office and was triggered by an earlier settlement by the bank with its banking regulator, “together with consumer complaints and the large volume of foreclosures conducted by OneWest.”
The memo focused on a number of fraudulent practices that OneWest was alleged to have engaged in, including:
1) Backdated foreclosure notices of default and other documents and had them notarized in order to “paper over misrepresentations, including cases the attorneys identified where bank staff had backdated documents to dates prior to OneWest’s existence. In the case of the notices of default, the Attorney General staff asserts that if OneWest had corrected these errors, this would have delayed the foreclosure process. In addition, OneWest filed these foreclosure notices with country recorders throughout the State which could subject OneWest to a felony charge under state law.
2) OneWest made and directed unlawful credit bids at foreclosure sales. According to the Attorney General staff, unlawful credit bids may “freeze out other potential bidders (which could include a borrower or his family).”
3) Due to the unlawful credit bidding OneWest claimed an exemption from the applicable city and county transfer taxes and no tax was paid.
4) Performed other acts in the foreclosure process without valid legal authority; and
5) OneWest Trustees, acting on behalf of OneWest, failed to provide due process to families by speeding up the foreclosure process and timeline.
Impact on Homeowners: The memos of the author explain what the bank’s alleged practices meant for homeowners facing foreclosure:
“As reflected in the examples cited above and appended hereto, in many instances, OneWest’s false filings and unauthorized conduct in the course of the foreclosure process harmed homeowners by denying them timely and important information about their foreclosures and potentially shortening the amount of time they had available to find a way to become current on their mortgage obligations.”
Consumer advocates expressed outrage and urged a full investigation prior to any votes on Mr. Mnuchin’s nomination later this month.
Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the American people deserve a full explanation of these serious charges of fraud. Mr. Mnuchin and OneWest Bank need to turn over all of the evidence they previously obstructed so that their banking regulators can conduct a thorough investigation into these serious charges prior to any hearings about Mr. Mnuchin serving as our next Treasury Secretary. If Mr. Mnuchin’s bank wasn’t engaged in illegal behavior, why did they try and obstruct the Attorney General’s staff?” asks Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition.
The authors of the memo recommended that the Attorney General authorize a civil enforcement action against the bank, which did not happen. In citing challenges with filing the case, the authors of the memo cite concerns about federal bank regulators pre-empting their authority. OneWest and Wells Fargo have both raised pre-emption as defenses in legal cases related to the banks not complying with California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights law. The attorney general had previously filed amicus briefs arguing against OneWest’s position that it was not subject to the Homeowner Bill of Rights.
Additional Context: Senators are still missing key information about Mr. Mnuchin, OneWest Bank, and Financial Freedom:
As part of its earlier merger with CIT Group, consumer advocates had asked for more information about OneWest’s track record which the bank refused to provide, including information about:
1) Total number of national foreclosures conducted by OneWest Bank and Financial Freedom (reverse mortgages) after Mr. Mnuchin and his group of investors bought the failed IndyMac, First Federal, and La Jolla Banks.
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2) HUD OIG Investigation: CIT Group, which acquired OneWest Bank in 2015, disclosed to investors that it had received subpoenas from the Office of the Inspector General at HUD related to Financial Freedom’s servicing of reverse mortgage loans. The investigation appears to be ongoing, and likely covers a timespan when Mr. Mnuchin was at the helm of OneWest.
3) Modification and foreclosure data: While a spokesperson for Mr. Mnuchin suggested to the Washington Post that OneWest had made “over 101,000 modification offers,” advocates question how many of those modifications provided substantial enough payment relief that a homeowner could retain the home, and how many modified loans subsequently went into default, especially if the original modification didn’t provide a sustainable solution for the homeowner. Because 2/3 of OneWest foreclosures in California occurred in majority minority communities, advocates also suggest the bank should provide data about the extent to which homeowners of color received sustainable modifications, data which the bank likely already provided to the Treasury Dept.
4) Settlements and Court Cases: During the past six years, OneWest Bank and its subsidiary, Financial Freedom, have lost multiple lawsuits and/or agreed to settlements with homeowners for illegal lending, servicing, and foreclosure practices. However, the bank has never provided a comprehensive picture of these lawsuits and settlements which could help senators better understand Mr. Mnuchin’s leadership at the bank.
Example OneWest Settlement: OneWest Bank agreed to pay Greg and Irene Rigali, from San Luis Obispo, California a seven figure settlement after the bank foreclosed on the homeowners at the same time the homeowners were attempting to obtain a modification, a practice known as “dual tracking.” For more, see: CalCoastNews: “OneWest Bank pays 7 figures in mortgage fraud case.”
The California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) has been advocating for fair and equal access to credit for all California communities since 1986. Over its 30 years, CRC has grown into the largest state community reinvestment coalition in the country with a membership of 300 nonprofit organizations working for the economic vitality of low-income communities and communities of color. Among our members are a diverse set of organizations including nonprofit housing counselors, consumer advocates, community organizers, legal service providers, affordable housing developers, small business technical assistance providers, and more. www.calreinvest.org