Wall Street in Manhattan. (Reuters Photo)
From the homeowner who died fighting a foreclosure based on a typo to the family evicted at gunpoint at 3am, there is no shortage of heartbreaking stories of improper evictions. But while victims of wrongful foreclosures are frequently too small to find justice, the banks perpetuating the crimes against them remain far too big to be held accountable. The most recent entry in the “banks got bailed out, we got sold out” saga is the latest report by the Government Accountability Office on the Independent Foreclosure Review.
In the wake of the foreclosure crisis and the myriad abuses perpetuated by mortgage servicers, the Office of the Comptroller for the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve created the Independent Foreclosure Review. Fourteen servicers owned by banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase were ordered to investigate foreclosures between 2009 and 2010 and figure out if these foreclosures were fraudulent. In order to give the semblance of independence, the banks were told to hire third-party consultants to conduct the reviews.
By announcing this supposedly far-ranging “investigation” with much fanfare, the regulators wanted to create the impression that they were getting to the bottom of the practices perpetrated during the foreclosure crisis. However, when reading the fine print, the “Independent” Foreclosure Review merely replicated the worst patterns and practices that caused the financial crisis—with regulators again deferring to banks and allowing them to hire their own investigators.
In January 2012, undoubtedly fearing that the Review would be yet another whitewash of the foreclosure crisis, Representative Maxine Waters and Senator Robert Menendez, together with Representatives Brad Miller and Luis Gutierrez, requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) monitor the review. Last week, the GAO issued its second report on the topic, unveiling a slew of deep failings. The report revealed what was long suspected by many observers: that the OCC and the Fed had no interest in actually discovering what went wrong. Here are just four of the many deceptions outlined by the GAO.
Deception #1: Regulators obfuscated abuses by failing to provide a consistent approach.
The GAO report shows that regulators failed to design a single methodology for all consultants to use, instead leaving it up to each consulting firm. Without a clear methodology set by the regulators, consultants had vastly different approaches, reviewed different categories of problems and created data that could not be aggregated. Because of this inconsistency, we have no easy way of knowing if Citigroup’s servicing violations were more or less egregious than Wells Fargo’s. And really, how better for the regulators to obscure the consistent harm banks commit against homeowners than to inject as much chaos as possible into the process of reviewing said harm?