Ten major mortgage servicers including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo entered into a $8.5 billion settlement Monday with federal regulators to settle claims related to mortgage foreclosure abuses.
Under the terms of the settlement with the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), $3.3 billion will be paid by banks directly to eligible mortgage borrowers. Over $5.2 billion in other assistance – such as loan modifications and forgiveness of deficiency judgments – will also be available.
The agreement covers 3.8 million borrowers whose homes were in foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 with participating servicers.
By agreeing to the settlement, participating lenders can cease the Independent Foreclosure Review process mandated under an enforcement action entered in April 2011.
Regulators had determined that the foreclosure review process – which involved a case-by-case review of millions of loan files – was proving too expensive, time consuming and ineffective.
“When we began the Independent Foreclosure Review, the OCC pledged to fix what was broken, identify who was harmed, and compensate them for that injury,” Chief Thomas Curry of the OCC stated in a written release. “While today’s announcement represents a significant change in direction, it meets those original objectives by ensuring that consumers are the ones who will benefit, and that they will benefit more quickly and in a more direct manner.”
Monday’s deal follows a separate $26 billion mortgage settlement entered early last year in relation to the “robo-signing” scandal.
Only $1.5 billion of that settlement was in the form of direct cash relief to 750,000 borrowers.
Eligible borrowers under the latest settlement will receive compensation whether or not they filed a request for an independent foreclosure review and mortgage borrowers do not need to take further action to be eligible for compensation.
Borrowers are expected to be contacted by the end of March with specific payment details. They will not be required to execute a waiver of any legal claims that may exist against their servicer as a condition for receiving payment.
In addition, the servicers’ internal complaint process will remain available to borrowers.
“We have learned a great deal from the reviews that have been conducted to date. However, it has become clear that carrying the process through to its conclusion would divert money away from the impacted homeowners and also needlessly delay the dispensation of compensation to affected borrowers. Our new course of action will get more money to more people more quickly, and it will speed recovery in the nation’s housing markets,” Curry concluded.
Christopher Chaney, the Florida man who hacked into the personal e-mail accounts of more than 50 people associated with the entertainment industry—including actors Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, and Renee Olstead—was sentenced late Monday to 120 months in federal prison.
In custody since March when he pleaded guilty to nine felony counts, including wiretapping and unauthorized access to protected computers, Chaney, 36, of Jacksonville, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero. He was also ordered to pay $66,179 in restitution and serve a three-year term of supervised release.
At Monday’s hearing, Judge Otero said Chaney’s conduct demonstrated a “callous disregard to the victims”—particularly, two non-celebrity victims, each of whom was stalked by Chaney for more than 10 years.
In his ruling, Judge Otero made a particular finding that extreme emotional distress can be as devastating as a physical injury in cyber related crimes.
“Illegal wiretapping gave Mr. Chaney access to every e-mail sent to more than four dozen victims and allowed him to view their most personal information,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr. “Mr. Chaney is responsible for causing dozens of illegally obtained, private photographs to be posted on the Internet, where they were available for all to see. This case is a sobering reminder that cybercrime poses a very real threat to every American, and everyone should take steps to safeguard their identities and personal information on the Internet.”
The Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office commented: “For many victims, Mr. Chaney’s actions were tantamount to breaking and entering of their private homes by a thief in the night. Mr. Chaney methodically targeted his victims based on their celebrity without regard for the law or the impact the theft of personal and intimate details would have to their lives. This case illustrates the need for cyber security vigilance by computer users and, in addition, may serve as a deterrent for anyone contemplating similar intrusions.”
When Chaney initially plead guilty, he admitted that from at least November 2010 to October 2011, he hacked into the victims’ e-mail accounts by clicking on the “Forgot your password?” feature and then re-setting the victims’ passwords by correctly answering their security questions. By properly guessing the answers using publicly available information found on the Internet, Chaney gained exclusive control of the victims’ e-mail accounts, and was able to access their e-mail boxes. While in the accounts, Chaney also went through their contact lists to find addresses of potential new hacking targets.
In relation to the wiretapping charges, Chaney admitted that he altered e-mail account settings by inserting his own e-mail address into the forwarding feature so that he would receive, without the victims’ knowledge, a duplicate copy of all incoming e-mails. Most of the victims did not check their account settings, so even after they regained control of their e-mail accounts, Chaney’s e-mail address remained in their account settings.
Chaney admitted that as his hacking scheme became more extensive, he began using a proxy service called “Hide My IP” because he wanted to “cover his tracks” and not be discovered by law enforcement agents. Even after his home computers were seized, Chaney used another computer to hack into another victim’s e-mail account.
As a result of his hacking scheme, Chaney obtained private photographs and confidential documents, including business contracts, scripts, letters, driver’s license information, and social security information. On several occasions, Chaney sent e-mails from the hacked accounts, fraudulently posing as the victims requesting more private photographs and information.
Chaney e-mailed many of the stolen photographs to others, including another hacker and two gossip websites. As a result, some of the stolen photographs were posted on the Internet.
The investigation of Chaney and his hacking activities was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
I recently reported on important relief available to homeowners facing foreclosure, paying more than their house is worth or those who have been foreclosed upon and lost their home.
As crucial deadlines are fast approaching, I am providing an updated summary of assistance available for struggling homeowners and other victims of unfair lending practices — and what you need to do to access it.
Remember, these programs matter but unless you take advantage of them, help is not available. A proactive approach is required.
Thousands of Floridians qualify for help. Below is a list of settlements and reviews that were created to help struggling borrowers. In some cases, application deadlines are coming up. If you miss the deadline, you will not qualify for relief.
If you believe your home mortgage foreclosure was conducted unfairly or mistakes were made, relief is available in several forms:
In April 2011, the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency took action against over 20 large mortgage servicers. If your primary home was involved in a foreclosure between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010, you may qualify for a free independent foreclosure review.
Independent fact-checkers will determine whether you were harmed by mortgage foreclosure errors or other problems and should be paid to make up for that harm. Borrowers seeking a review must apply by December 31, 2012.
The following mortgage servicers are participating in the Independent Foreclosure Review process:
- America’s Servicing Company
- Aurora Loan Services
- BAC Home Loans Servicing
- Bank of America
- EverBank/EverHome Mortgage Company
- Financial Freedom
- GMAC Mortgage
- IndyMac Mortgage Services
- MetLife Bank
- National City Mortgage
- PNC Mortgage
- Sovereign Bank
- SunTrust Mortgage
- U.S. Bank
- Washington Mutual
- Wells Fargo
- Wilshire Credit Corporation
“Homeowners who believe they were wrongfully injured by a foreclosure error in 2009 and 2010, should request a review,” stated Bryan Hubbard, an Office of the Comptroller of the Currency spokesman. “They give up no rights by requesting a review.”
In effort to assist with the application process, the Federal Reserve has put together a short “Independent Foreclosure Review PSA” video. The video provides program details in English and in Spanish.
For in-depth information on how to spread the word to your local area, please visit the community partner toolkit.
Last February, the U.S. Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general announced a $25 billion settlement with five major banks over so-called “robo-signing,” in which foreclosure documents were signed without properly verifying their accuracy.
While not a perfect deal, the settlement offers meaningful relief for some homeowners in the form of principal or interest reductions, in addition to other relief.
The National Mortgage Settlement administrator recently mailed Notice Letters and Claim Forms to those borrowers who lost their home due to foreclosure between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 whose loans were serviced by one of the five servicers: Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.
Impacted homeowners can now submit their claim form online. The deadline to file is January 18, 2013.
If you think you may be eligible, you can contact your bank directly for additional information:
Bank of America: 877-488-7814 (Available M-F 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Central Time.)
JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901
Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212 (Available M-F 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Central Time)
For more information, please visit the National Mortgage Settlement website or call them at 888-995-HOPE (4673).
“Whether it be through the Independent Foreclosure Review or the National Foreclosure Settlement, homeowners faced with a foreclosure should take advantage of this review,” stated Fort Lauderdale foreclosure defense attorney Carlos Reyes. “The process is free and totally without fee. Don’t let someone charge you for completing an application that you can complete yourself online in less than 30 minutes.”
Governor Rick Scott will announce Monday a promotion from within at the Florida Department of Corrections. Currently holding the number two spot as deputy secretary, Michael Crews will be elevated to the top position within the nation’s third largest prison system.
Crews will succeed Ken Tucker, whose retirement becomes official on December 28th. Like his predecessor, Crews was a long-time official at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before switching agencies and joining the Department of Corrections.
Crews will be Scott’s third prisons chief in less than two years. Scott had previously selected Edwin Buss, a highly-regarded former Indiana corrections director. Following several clashes with the governor’s office, he was forced out after just eight months as secretary.
In following Buss, Tucker was seen more or less as a caretaker as he long ago planned to retire in March 2013 by entering the DROP program, or the state’s deferred retirement option program.
Turnover at the Florida Department of Corrections is not unique. The appointment of Crews is the sixth in six years for an agency that has been hit by scandal and controversy. For example, former secretary James Crosby is serving eight years in federal prison following a 2007 plea agreement involving kickbacks and bribes from a prison contractor.
Crews will take charge at a time when a state court dealt the agency a major setback by striking down the planned outsourcing of all inmate health care services for most of the state. The agency is appealing that decision.
With more than 100,000 inmates and an annual budget of more than $2 billion, Florida’s prison system is the nation’s third largest.
According to Melissa Sellers, a governor’s office spokeswoman, an official announcement of Crews’ promotion will be made early Monday.
As Christmas is approaching and Bill Lewis prepares to announce his New Years resolutions for 2013, interesting guests and timely topics will be on AM 740 WSBR and AM 1470 WWNN the weekend of December 17th and The Credit Report with Bill Lewis.
As a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues, The Credit Report with Bill Lewis can be found on AM 740 WSBR in south Florida. Hosted by Bill Lewis, the show broadcasts live weekdays at 7am.
Originally launched on AM 1400 WFTL in 2004, as the “Credit Restoration Consultants Hour,” Bill Lewis provided self-help tips and advice regarding credit repair, finances, and related topics. Throughout the years, Bill’s show strayed from the original concept of providing financial awareness to his listeners.
In an effort to strengthen his listener base and to broaden the topics hosted, Bill launched The Credit Report with Bill Lewis upon moving to AM 1470 WWNN within the Beasley Broadcasting group.
Listeners were searching for help regarding a myriad of topics from credit repair, extreme coupon shopping, and foreclosure matters, but welcomed the political format that Bill introduced locally to a south Florida audience.
Since the show’s inception, Bill Lewis has interviewed some of the country’s leading politicians, including: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Herman Cain, Chris Christie, Jon Huntsman, Allen West, Rick Scott, George LeMieux, Jeff Atwater, Pam Bondi, Marco Rubio, Sharon Day, Alex Sink, Adam Putnam, Charlie Crist, Bill McCollum, Jeff Kottkamp, Jennifer Carroll, Christine O’Donnell, among others.
In addition, The Credit Report with Bill Lewis has hosted a number of politicians as well as attorneys and financial experts in the south Florida area. Among the dozens that have appeared on the show are Carlos Reyes, Al Lamberti, Chip LaMarca, Adam Hasner, Ellyn Bogdanoff, Tom Rooney, Roger Stone, Bob Davids, Lori Parrish, Richard Denapoli, Rico Petrocelli, Jamie McDonnell, Jim Lewis, Tom Lauder, and John Contini.
The Credit Report with Bill Lewis airs live, Monday through Friday from 7am-8am Eastern Time with an encore presentation Saturday’s at 3pm on AM 740 WSBR. Streaming audio is available at http://www.wsbrradio.com and on air participation is welcome at (888) 721-0074.
If you miss the early broadcast, The Credit Report with Bill Lewis is still available weeknights at 9pm Eastern Time, Saturday’s at 6pm and Sunday’s at 8pm on AM 1470 WWNN by streaming audio at www.wwnnradio.com.
Going head-to-head against Steve Kane and Jimmy Cefalo, Bill Lewis promises more “talk” and fewer commercials.
For daily updates on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, you can join Bill’s 21,950 plus fans on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/thecreditreportwithbilllewis.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R- Miami, has joined the effort to release a 27-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran from South Florida being held in a Mexican prison since August for carrying a shotgun he had declared at the border crossing.
Ros-Lehtinen has circulated a letter in Congress urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to continue working with Mexican authorities, decrying the treatment Jon Hammar has received while at the notorious Centro de Ejecución de Sanciones de Matamoros, Mexico, and seeking his release.
“Although U.S. officials have told us that Jon is no longer chained to his bed, I have received conflicting reports from Mexican authorities who have clearly told me that Jon must be chained to his bed to prevent his escape,” Ros-Lehtinen stated.
“When I heard about this mistreatment I was outraged. The extortion attempts, the threats, and the wanton disregard by the Mexican authorities for Jon’s basic human rights are inexcusable.”
In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, stated that the former Marine “does not deserve the treatment” that Mexico is giving the Miami-Dade native, including chaining him to a bed to “prevent an escape.”
“I’m bringing this to the attention of the Senate so that we can further get through to the Mexican government,” Nelson said. “If it requires me speaking on the Senate floor day in and day out to keep this issue alive, I will do so.”
Former Marine Lance Cpl. Hammar – who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan – now faces between 12 and 15 years in prison for possessing an antique .410 bore Sears & Roebuck shotgun that he inherited from his great-grandfather.
Traveling with a former Marine friend in a Winnebago to Costa Rica, Hammar presented the firearm to U.S. Customs and Border Control at the border in Brownsville, Texas. Federal agents allegedly advised that he could legally enter Mexico with the weapon as long as it was declared.
When Hammar allegedly presented registration papers for the antique shotgun to Mexican authorities, he was immediately arrested and charged with possession of an illegal weapon.
Olivia Hammar, the former Marine’s mother, claims the family has received extortion threats since taking her son’s imprisonment public last week.
“‘We have him.’ They put him on the phone, ‘We are going to kill him if you don’t wire money into this account,’” Hammar stated in a Fox News interview.
The family went public with Hammar’s story because they said drug cartels have threatened his life.
“Jon has suffered enough; let’s bring him home to his family where he rightly belongs for Christmas,” concluded Ros-Lehtinen in her speech before Congress.
Ros-Lehtinen is expected to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next week to discuss the Hammar situation.