Would you like a bag of chips with your frozen loan audit?

Posted on March 23, 2010. Filed under: Banking, Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Fraud, Mortgage Law, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Every day I get calls from attorneys or people facing foreclosure asking about my services as a forensic loan auditor and expert witness. Generally the callers are reasonably well informed about my work and know what they can and cannot expect from an audit. But yesterday a nice lady from Ohio called and asked for information on a frozen loan audit! And increasingly I am getting calls from people who begin by asking what I charge, immediately followed by how many pages long my audits are! Maybe I am getting a little sensitive as I am nearing my 49th birthday but I become irritated when I am made to feel like a server at a fast food joint. Not that there is anything wrong with being a server, but what would be an appropriate response to such a dumb question?  Today’s special is all you can read for $299 and a bag of chips at no extra cost. Will that be for here or to go?

What is this fascination with size and quantity that drives the average consumer? He wants a McMansion, a Big Mac, an Extra Large Latte, a Jumbo Dog, a Super Sized Pizza, and a Voluminous Frozen Audit. Or is it forensic? Who cares, as long as you get a lot of pages and one of them money back guarantees. Oh yes, we love a money back guarantee.  But seriously, why would someone facing foreclosure or having difficulty making mortgage payments care about the size of an audit? Are they calling five auditors and going with the cheapest who offers the most words for the money? Is that how you hire a professional these days?

Of course, I can’t place the entire blame on consumers who are simply trying to find the most affordable solution for perhaps the biggest problem they have had to face – losing their home. Understandably they are trying to find a method to measure the value of such an esoteric service as a forensic loan audit, which no one had even heard about until a few months ago. You can’t blame them for wanting to shop and compare products before buying and parting with their hard earned money. It is the service providers who are misleading the public and selling them a thick pile of worthless junk packaged as a forensic loan audit with a guarantee that if no violations are discovered a refund will be issued with no questions asked. I wonder how many refunds on these fake audits have been issued.

There are even law firms now peddling these audits for up to $2500 a pop but delivering nothing more than a standardized list of technical violations with some added legalese and fictitious causes of action thrown in for good measure (such as Rescission and Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, none of which are valid or independent causes of action but they sound good). After all, how can you justify charging $2500 for a template audit, if you don’t embellish it with a few Latin words no one can pronounce or omit citations to inapposite case law inserted to fill space for lack of meaningful research.

This industry has been flooded with unprofessional ex loan officers and underemployed ambulance chasing lawyers who have setup shop as auditors with cheap copycat websites and a subscription to compliance software, representing themselves as experts offering hope to distressed homeowners, who in their desperation for keeping their homes and stopping foreclosure are easy prey.

What these unsavory characters are selling is essentially overpriced data entry and a template report purporting to be a legal analysis of the homeowner’s rights and remedies for alleged violations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act, Predatory Lending, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Negligence, Fraud and Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices to name a few. After completion of the audit the borrower is usually encouraged to demand a response from the lender via a Qualified Written Request (QWR), which the auditor/lawyer sometimes offers to draft and submit as an added bonus with the assurance that as soon as the lender is served with their masterfully prepared QWR and sees the auditor’s impressive findings, its lawyers begin trembling with fear of being sued and offer to settle for pennies on the dollar. All that for $399 and a money back guarantee! How can anyone turn down such an offer? Yes please, I will have one audit and a bag of chips to munch on while laying back on my couch watching the bank get on its knees and beg for my forgiveness. I want to watch them grovel before they rescind my predatory loan and hand over the deed to my house free and clear. After all this is America.

TILA/RESPA

Of course the reality is markedly different than what is purported by these overenthusiastic yet incompetent advocates. I have seen hundreds of audits and they all have one thing in common – they are worthless. First, many of the so called violations these audits uncover, such as failure to issue a good faith estimate within three days of application, or failure to issue a HUD-1 one day prior to settlement, provide for no private right of action, so their only value may lie in establishing a pattern and practice of misrepresentation, deception or on rare occasions fraud. But even if sufficient facts exist for allegations of broker or loan officer misconduct, liability for such conduct ordinarily remains with the original tortfeasor and not the assignee of the loan, who in all likelihood is a holder in due course, unless you can show, for example, that the holder had notice of your claims prior to purchasing the Note or that the Note was not properly negotiated or for various reasons it does not qualify as a negotiable instrument.

As mentioned ordinarily the holder in due course is not liable for disputes or claims you may have against the originator or mortgage broker who sold you the loan unless certain conditions pursuant to HOEPA have been met, or the TILA violation is apparent on the face of the loan documents, or you are using the claim as a defense in a collection action, or if you can state with particularity facts that would make the note and mortgage void under other legal theories. Some courts, however, have held that you cannot use certain claims in nature of recoupment in non judicial foreclosure proceedings in states such as California, while, on the other hand,  a West Virginia court has said: “Securitization model – a system wherein parties that provide the money for loans and drive the entire origination process from afar and behind the scenes – does nothing to abolish the basic right of a borrower to assert a defense to the enforcement of a fraudulent loan, regardless of whether it was induced by another party involved in the origination of the loan transaction, be it a broker, appraiser, closing agent, or another”. Generally a fraudulent loan is not enforceable regardless of the holder in due course status of the party with the right to enforce. The trick is in providing sufficient facts to prove fraud, which, under normal circumstances is not an easy task to accomplish.

Fiduciary Duty

A popular finding proffered by some practitioners is an alleged violation of fiduciary duty by the lender. In general, however, a lender does not owe a fiduciary duty to a borrower. “A commercial lender is entitled to pursue its own economic interests in a loan transaction. This right is inconsistent with the obligations of a fiduciary which require that the fiduciary knowingly agree to subordinate its interests to act on behalf of and for the benefit of another.” Nymark v. Heart Fed. Savings & Loan Assn., 231 Cal. App. 3d 1089, 1093 n.1, 283 Cal. Rptr. 53 (1991). “[A]bsent special circumstances . . . a loan transaction is at arm’s length and there is no fiduciary relationship between the borrower and lender.” Oaks Management Corporation v. Superior Court, 145 Cal. App. 4th 453, 466, 51 Cal. Rptr. 3d 561 (2006).

Determining the existence of a fiduciary relationship involves a highly individualized inquiry into whether the facts of a given transaction establish that there has been a special confidence reposed in one who, in equity and good conscience, is bound to act in good faith and with due regard to the interests of the one reposing the confidence. Mulligan v. Choice Mortg. Corp. USA, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13248 (D.N.H. Aug. 11, 1998).

As such, an audit must inquire in to the circumstances surrounding the borrower’s initial introduction to and meeting with the lender’s agent and the content of all verbal and written communications between them. It is important for the auditor to determine the level and extent of trust and confidence reposed by borrower in the lender’s agent. A lender may owe to a borrower a duty of care sounding in negligence when the lender’s activities exceed those of a conventional lender. For example if it can be shown the appraisal was intended to induce borrower to enter into the loan transaction or to assure him that his collateral was sound the lender may have a duty to exercise due care in preparing the appraisal. See Wagner v. Benson, 101 Cal. App. 3d 27, 35, 161 Cal. Rptr. 516 (1980) (“Liability to a borrower for negligence arises only when the lender actively participates in the financed enterprise beyond the domain of the usual money lender.”).

Vicarious Liability

A lender may be secondarily liable through the actions of a mortgage broker, who may have a fiduciary duty to its borrower-client, but only if there is an agency relationship between the lender and the broker. See Plata v. Long Beach Mortg. Co., 2005 U.S. Dist. Lexis 38807, at *23 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 13, 2005); Keen v. American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100803, 2009 WL 3380454, at *21 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 21, 2009).

Therefore, the audit must propound sufficient facts to establish an agency relationship between lender and broker. An agency relationship exists where a principal authorizes an agent to represent and bind the principal. Although lenders offer the brokers incentives to act in ways that further their interests, there needs to be a showing that a lender gave the broker authority to represent or bind it, or that a lender took some action that would have given borrower the impression that such a relationship existed. I have yet to see an audit that provided facts for such a conclusion but instead they are filled with conclusory allegations unsupported by facts. It is not enough to merely state that lender is vicariously liable through the broker or that broker is lender’s authorized agent without specific facts to support such conclusions.

Civil Conspiracy

Under the conspiracy theory a party may be vicariously liable for another’s tort in a civil conspiracy where the plaintiff shows “(1) formation and operation of the conspiracy and (2) damage resulting to plaintiff (3) from a wrongful act done in furtherance of the common design.” Rusheen v. Cohen, 37 Cal. 4th 1048, 1062, 39 Cal. Rptr. 3d 516, 128 P.3d 713 (2006) (citing Doctors’ Co. v. Superior Court, 49 Cal.3d 39, 44, 260 Cal. Rptr. 183, 775 P.2d 508 (1989)), see also Applied Equipment Corp. v. Litton Saudi Arabia Ltd., 7 Cal. 4th 503, 511, 28 Cal. Rptr. 2d 475, 869 P.2d 454 (1994). The California Supreme Court has held that even when these elements are shown, however, a conspirator cannot be liable unless he personally owed the duty that was breached. Applied Equipment, 7 Cal. 4th at 511, 514.

Civil conspiracy “cannot create a duty . . . . [i]t allows tort recovery only against a party who already owes the duty.” Courts have specifically held that civil conspiracy cannot impose liability for breach of fiduciary duty on a party that does not already owe such a duty. Everest Investors 8 v. Whitehall Real Estate Ltd. Partnership XI, 100 Cal. App. 4th 1102, 1107, 123 Cal. Rptr. 2d 297 (2002) (citing Doctors’ Co., 49 Cal. 3d at 41-42, 44 and Applied Equipment, 7 Cal. 4th at 510-512).

Thus, civil conspiracy allows imposition of vicarious liability on a party who owes a tort duty, but who did not personally breach that duty. Doctors’ Co., 49 Cal. 3d at 44 (A party may be liable “irrespective of whether or not he was a direct actor and regardless of the degree of his activity.”).

Joint Venture

Participation in a joint venture with a broker or other party in a predatory lending context gives rise to liability for such claims under a claim of joint venture. See Short v. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A., 401 F. Supp. 2d 549, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28612, available in 2005 WL 3091873, at 14-15 (S.D.W.Va. Nov. 18, 2005); see also generally Armor v. Lantz, 207 W. Va. 672, 677-78, 535 S.E.2d 737, 742-43 (2000); Sipple v. Starr, 205 W. Va. 717, 725, 520 S.E.2d 884, 892 (1999); Price v. Halstead, 177 W.Va. 592, 594, 355 S.E.2d 380, 384 (1987).

Similarly, if one party is directing or exercising control over loan origination in the circumstance of securitized lending, it is a factual question as to whether there is a principal/agency relationship sufficient to impose such liability on all the participants. See Short v. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A., supra, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28612, 2005 WL 3091873, at 14-15; England v. MG Investments, Inc., 93 F. Supp. 2d 718, 723 (S.D.W.Va. 2000); Arnold, 204 W.Va. at 240, 511 S.E.2d at 865.

An audit must inquire in to the relationships between parties involved in the joint venture and determine the level of control exercised by one party over another. Again, it is not sufficient to merely recite legal conclusions such as “Crooked Funding LLC controlled Scam Brokers Inc.”.

Fraud and Deceit

In most jurisdictions, “[t]he elements of fraud, which give rise to the tort action for deceit, are (a) misrepresentation (false representation, concealment, or nondisclosure); (b) knowledge of falsity (or scienter); (c) intent to defraud, i.e., to induce reliance; (d) justifiable reliance; and (e) resulting damage.” Small v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 30 Cal. 4th 167, 173, 132 Cal. Rptr. 2d 490, 65 P.3d 1255 (2003).

To prove mail fraud, as an example, the auditor must propound facts with particularity as follows:

Johnny Crookland, Crooked Broker’s President, misrepresented his intention to get borrowers the best rate available at their initial meeting in March 2006. The audit should also contain the date and content of all mailings and communications between the Crooked Broker and the borrowers through which the broker with the aid of a warehouse lender (Scam Fundings LLC) effectuated its scheme to defraud: (1) direct mail advertisement from Crooked Broker showing a teaser interest rate of 6.75% with zero broker fees or points (2) a “good faith estimate” of the loan terms mailed by Crooked Broker on March 26 which did not mention anything about a $5,890 fee for origination, (3) the first (rejected) loan document, with an interest rate of 7% which included a $ 5,890 fee, presented to the borrowers on April 13 at the first closing (though presumably mailed or faxed from the warehouse lender’s office in New York shortly before that date) (4) borrowers refusal to sign the closing documents because of the unauthorized fee that appeared on the HUD-1 on closing day, (5) a second good faith estimate mailed by Crooked Broker on April 16, showing 7% interest but this time without the unauthorized fee; and the second (accepted) loan document, which was presented in Baltimore on April 19 but at a higher rate of 7.125% and now subject to a yield spread premium that was never disclosed or explained  as to how it may impact total finance charges over the length of the loan. (6) Crooked Broker’s statement in response to borrowers’ inquiry about the yield spread premium that it was standard practice and paid by lender with no impact on total finance charges payable by borrowers.

Show Me the Note

The template audits invariably omit a detailed inquiry in to the securitization process after the loan was funded by the Originator and sold to investors through securitization. Often the only theory proffered by incompetent auditors revolves around the “show me the note” defense, which has been shot down by almost every court in every jurisdiction because it lacks merit. A lost note affidavit can easily overcome this argument, so by itself as a foreclosure defense strategy this does nothing but cast doubt on a borrower’s credibility.

A skilled auditor will carefully examine all documents including the Note, Mortgage/DOT, Mortgage/DOT Assignment, Note Endorsement/Allonge, Notice of Default and the Pooling and Servicing Agreement to determine the identity of all parties involved in the chain of securitization and their respective interests in the Note and Mortgage.

Once settlement occurs the Note and Mortgage are normally transferred to a document custodian (e.g. Wells Fargo), while numerous book entries record their movement through the securitization chain which normally begins with the Originator (e.g. Mason Mortgage) who then sells them to an aggregator (e.g. Countrywide Home Loans) who then sells them with a thousand other loans to a Depositor (e.g. Asset Securities Inc.) who then deposits them with a Trustee (e.g Wells Fargo) for the benefit of the securitization trust (e.g Asset Securities Trust IV-290989 – 2003) which issues securities backed with the pool of mortgages (MBS).  The trustee also selects a Servicer (e.g Countrywide Home Loans) to collect borrower payments and process foreclosures/short sales on behalf of the investors who own the MBS.

When there is default and in order to effectuate foreclosure, the Servicer asks the document custodian for the collateral file that pursuant to the PSA should contain the original Note indorsed by the Originator (e.g. Mason Mortgage), usually in blank thereby converting it in to a bearer instrument, and the Mortgage/DOT with an executed assignment either already recorded or in recordable form. Usually this is where everything can fall apart for the secured party attempting to foreclose and where the best defense opportunities may be uncovered by a skilled examiner.  Without giving away too much proprietary information here is a list of some questions a diligent auditor should be asking:

  1. Was the execution of the Mortgage/DOT by the borrower properly witnessed and acknowledged?
  2. Was the Note legally negotiated and formally transferred from the Originator to the Aggregator, from the Aggregator to the Depositor and from the Depositor to the Trustee?
  3. Was the Note indorsed by an authorized agent of its holder before each transfer?
  4. Is the Indorsement evidenced by an Allonge while there is room for an Indorsement on the original Note?
  5. Was the Note negotiated to its current holder prior to the date of default?
  6. Did the Mortgage travel with the Note through the chain of securitization?
  7. Is the Mortgage held by MERS?
  8. Has the Mortgage assignment been properly recorded?
  9. Was the Mortgage and Note assigned to the Trustee by MERS?
  10. Was MERS authorized or allowed to assign the Mortgage?
  11. Who signed the assignment on behalf of MERS?

MERS and Splitting the DOT from the Note

The practical effect of splitting the deed of trust from the promissory note is to make it impossible for the holder of the note to foreclose, unless the holder of the deed of trust is the agent of the holder of the note. Without the agency relationship, the person holding only the note lacks the power to foreclose in the event of default. The person holding only the deed of trust will never experience default because only the holder of the note is entitled to payment of the underlying obligation.  The mortgage loan becomes ineffectual when the note holder did not also hold the deed of trust.”  Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 284 S.W.3d 619, 623 (Mo. App. 2009).

Some courts have found that, because MERS is not the original holder of the promissory note and because there is no evidence that the original holder of the note authorized MERS to transfer the note, the language of the assignment purporting to transfer the promissory note is ineffective. “MERS never held the promissory note, thus its assignment of the deed of trust to Ocwen separate from the note had no force.” 284 S.W.3d at 624; see also In re Wilhelm, 407 B.R. 392 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2009) (standard mortgage note language does not expressly or implicitly authorize MERS to transfer the note); In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511, 517 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008) (“[I]f FHM has transferred the note, MERS is no longer an authorized agent of the holder unless it has a separate agency contract with the new undisclosed principal. MERS presents no evidence as to who owns the note, or of any authorization to act on behalf of the present owner.”); Saxon Mortgage Services, Inc. v. Hillery, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100056, 2008 WL 5170180 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (unpublished opinion) (“[F]or there to be a valid assignment, there must be more than just assignment of the deed alone; the note must also be assigned. . . . MERS purportedly assigned both the deed of trust and the promissory note. . . . However, there is no evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory note or was given the authority . . . to assign the note.”).

IN CONCLUSION, the value of a forensic loan audit lies not in its word count, size or thickness but rather in the knowledge and expertise of the individual performing the work and examining the documents. Many of the worthless template audits produced by scammers consist of more than 100 pages of garbage and pointless recitations of statutes you can find online or in any library. Moreover, finding a technical violation in loan documents is a virtual certainty, so a money back guarantee is merely a marketing gimmick offered by unscrupulous con artists to gain your trust and to distract you from what really counts. If you are worried about word count and a money back guarantee you are missing the point. And if you are looking for the least expensive audit advertised on the web, you will certainly get what you pay for. An authentic audit done right takes at least 3 hours to complete (a more detailed analysis can take over 8 hours) and a skilled auditor charges between $250 to $300 per hour, so do the math.

Remember an audit is merely a tool that should be handled with care by a seasoned attorney. It does not magically stop foreclosure while you lay back on the couch with a bag of chips. A lengthy template audit attached to a lengthy QWR sent to a lender’s loss mitigation department will most likely end up in the trash. The best way to measure the quality and value of an auditor’s work, short of a referral, is by picking up the phone, speaking to him and making sure he knows what he is talking about. Surround yourself with smart and skilled advocates and you will be a step or two ahead of the bank trying to take your home away.  That I can guarantee.

Dean Mostofi, President

National Loan Audits

Tel: 301-867-3887

E-mail: dean@lenderaudits.com

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11 Responses to “Would you like a bag of chips with your frozen loan audit?”

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Dean, you are so right!!! This is why we refer all clients to you if they request a loan audit. We only refer to professional experts. Thank you for the post. Emily

Thanks Emily. I appreciate the referrals.

Great article, but did you know there’s a free informational ebook and video that explains how to payoff your mortgage in 90 days so you wouldn’t have to worry about foreclosure ever again? It’s great information and a helpful tool to stop foreclosure.

I love this blog! I think it is a great resource. I googled us loan auditors is not a scam and your site came up as relevant. In any event, I found your article helpful and informative.

[…] saw this blog post from Dean Mostofi, a loan auditor on the east coast, and called him to ask his permission to repost it. I have to […]

A most Excellent article Dean.
Eric

Dean,

Those are very informative and truthful points and guidelines you have presented on your blog about the loan audit business. Please keep up the good work.

Well said, Dean.
I’m an independent loan auditor/analyst in Miami, FL with trial experience and I can tell you I have had a few instances where a lender will produce their own third party “audit”. The concept of garbage-in-garbage-out truly applies here.
99.9% of the time the “audit” is nothing more than another cracker-jack template you refered to. If the person entering the information doesn’t know what to look for or where to find it, they’re just spinning their wheels.
A well-versed, intelligent analyst that can perform a true audit, provide a detailed affidavit and spell it out in layman’s terms is worth his or her weight in gold.

Many cases are won not because of a lawyers expertise, but the knowledge employed by a competent loan auditor who knows the industry, it’s policies, procedures and compliance and can instruct the lawyers on how to proceed.

“Here’s a shovel….dig here!”

Of course, that’s just my opinion.

MERSCORP Inc. (MERS) is the operating company that owns and operates the MERS® System. It is a company that provides support services to the mortgage industry. The MERS® System is a national electronic registry system that tracks the changes in servicing rights and beneficial ownership interests in mortgage loans that are registered on the registry. The MERS® System tracks mortgage loan information by use of a unique numeric mortgage identifier that helps streamline the residential mortgage process. MERSCORP Inc. is also the parent company of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., a corporation whose sole purpose is to be the mortgagee of record and nominee for the beneficial owner of the mortgage loan.

Residential mortgage loans typically consist of two elements: 1) a note between the lender and the borrower that sets forth the terms of the loan and establishes the obligation to repay the loan to purchase a property; and 2) a security instrument which, depending on the state, may be called a “mortgage” or a “deed of trust.” The security instrument is recorded in the county land records, telling the world that there is a lien on the borrower’s property. This lien allows the property to be foreclosed upon and sold if the borrower defaults on her or his obligation to repay the promissory note.

The homebuyer at the closing table signs the security instrument (“mortgage” or “deed of trust”). By signing this document, the lender and the borrower agree to appoint Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS) as the mortgagee as nominee for the lender and the lender’s successors and assigns. By doing so, the borrower grants the mortgage lien to the property to MERS, and the security instrument is recorded in the county land records. As long as the sale of note involves a member of MERS, MERS remains the mortgagee of record, and continues to act as a nominee for the new note-holder.

When a borrower signs the mortgage security instrument at closing, they grant and convey the legal title to the mortgage to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS) and MERS is the mortgagee. As the agent for the promissory note owner, upon instructions from the owner, MERS will commence a foreclosure. The mortgage instrument states that MERS has the right to foreclose and sell the property. Courts around the country have repeatedly upheld and recognized this right.

I am curious why MERS would post this promotional piece of literary art here. If you are willing and able to engage in an intelligent debate with the readers please say so.


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