Connect with us

Bankers

Owl Creek v Ocwen, S.D. Fl. is a related Lawsuit to Brahman Partners Filed and by Same Law Firms

LIT has focused on the Magistrate Judge’s motion to dismiss findings and order. As with the Brahman Partners case, this law suit would be settled shortly after the motions to dismiss in both actions were released.

Published

on

Owl Creek I, L.P. v. Ocwen Financial Corporation (9:18-cv-80506)

District Court, S.D. Florida

Original Complaint by Owl Creek

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS (DE 43)

Currently before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss certain factual allegations from the Complaint based on Rule 12(b)(6) and the heightened pleading standards of Rule 9(b) and the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA). DE 43. This motion was referred to the undersigned for final disposition by the presiding District Judge, following the parties’ consent to have the undersigned Magistrate Judge decide the instant motion. DE 61, 64, 65.

The undersigned has reviewed the Complaint (DE 1), the Motion to Dismiss (DE 43), Plaintiffs’ response to the motion (DE 46), and Defendants’ reply. DE 47. The Court heard oral argument of the motion on August 29, 2018 (DE 62), and this matter is now ripe for decision.

For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss certain allegations from the Complaint (DE 43) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT

The following constitute the material facts alleged in the Complaint.1 All paragraph citations (noted as “¶” or “¶¶”) are references to the numbered paragraphs in the Complaint:

Plaintiffs are investment funds that purchased the common stock of Defendant Ocwen Financial Corporation (Ocwen) beginning in February 2014 and throughout that year. ¶¶1, 3, 188, 190.

Ocwen is a mortgage servicing company founded by Defendant Erbey. ¶2.

He ran the company until he was “forced to resign,” at which time his “right-hand man” and “long time compatriot,” Defendant Faris, took over. Id.2

According to the Complaint, Defendants sought to induce Plaintiffs to invest “tens of millions of dollars” in Ocwen by “making false and materially misleading statements concerning the accuracy of Ocwen’s financial statements, its purported regulatory compliance, and the effectiveness of its internal controls and disclosure procedures.”

¶¶4, 5.

As a mortgage servicer, Ocwen was “required to service mortgage loans in compliance with a number of overlapping servicing standards set forth in a 2011 agreement with the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS 2011 Agreement) and in the National Mortgage Settlement (NMS).” ¶7.3

These servicing standards govern, among other things, the timing of Ocwen’s communications with borrowers. Id. Particularly relevant here is NMS’s

1 For purposes of this Motion, the Court accepts all well-pled factual allegations in the Complaint, and the attached exhibits, as true and evaluates all plausible inferences derived from those facts in favor of the Plaintiffs. See Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 20112); AXA Equitable Life Ins. Co. v. Infinity Fin. Grp., LLC, 608 F. Supp. 2d 1349, 1353 (S.D. Fla. 2009) (“On a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all facts alleged by the non-moving party are accepted as true.”).

2 After Faris became CEO, Erbey remained on the executive board, with the title “Former Executive Chairman.” DE 43-4 at 3.

3 NMS was a 2012 global settlement, resulting from federal and state investigations of large mortgage servicers for improper practices. ¶58.

requirement that any denial of a homeowner’s request for an interest rate reduction be accompanied by written notice of the thirty-day appeal period. This notice was significant because failure to timely appeal a denial could result in a foreclosure action. Id. On October 21, 2014, the NYDFS revealed in an open letter that Ocwen had been “backdating . . . potentially hundreds of thousands of letters to borrowers,” thus, belatedly advising its borrowers of deadlines that had already passed. ¶¶9, 127.

Ocwen subsequently acknowledged in a consent order with the NYDFS that it had been backdating letters to borrowers “for years.”

¶¶9, 181.

This backdating issue also revealed a problem in Ocwen’s disclosure controls because an employee had discovered the problem in November 2013 and reported it to Ocwen’s Vice President of Compliance, but Ocwen “failed to investigate or disclose the problem.” ¶¶108, 123, 129. The same employee raised the backdating issue again in April 2014, but it was still not publicly disclosed by the company. Id.

Notwithstanding this history, on October 31, 2013, Defendant Faris, who was then serving as Ocwen’s CEO, President and Director, and also sat on Ocwen’s Compliance Committee, advised investors during a conference call that Ocwen had been “careful to assure . .. strong compliance” while it transferred nearly two million newly-acquired loans from Residential Capital, LLC (ResCap) to Ocwen’s electronic loan servicing platform, REALServicing. ¶¶8, 53, 74, 153, 178; DE 43-4 at 3.

Faris told investors that the transfer of the ResCap loans had been costlier than expected because of the company’s emphasis on compliance. ¶74.4

4 Although Ocwen initially was not a party to the National Mortgage Settlement, when it acquired the ResCap loans, it was required to service those loans in accordance with the NMS standards. ¶61. Thereafter, in December 2013, Ocwen reached a separate agreement with several governmental authorities to comply with the NMS. This agreement required Ocwen to service all of its loans, not just the ResCap loans, in accordance with the NMS.  ¶62.

Plaintiffs considered Ocwen’s compliance with the NYDFS 2011 Agreement and the NMS to be important because Ocwen’s failure to comply with their regulatory requirements could result in the imposition of substantial penalties that would adversely affect Ocwen’s business operations and results. ¶72, 90.   According to the Complaint, “[h]ad Faris acted with the standard of care required of a CEO of a public company . . . he would have been aware that Ocwen was not in compliance with regulatory requirements.” ¶186.

Exactly six months after Faris’ statement to investors, Erbey announced Ocwen’s operating results for the first quarter of 2014 in a press release dated May 1, 2014. The press release “touted [Ocwen’s] compliance with the [NMS].” ¶75. Specifically, Erbey stated:

Going forward, we believe compliance and counterparty strength will be among the most important factors determining long-term success in the servicing business. We consider our solid balance sheet, National Mortgage Settlement compliance and long history of success in large servicing transfers, where we are able to substantially reduce delinquencies and keep more people in their homes, to be substantial competitive advantages. ¶¶75, 154 (emphasis in Complaint).

Plaintiffs interpreted this as “statement of fact that Ocwen was in compliance with the [NMS]” (¶¶76, 154), and claim that “[h]ad Erbey acted with the standard of care required of a Chairman of a public company . . . he would have been aware that Ocwen was not in compliance with regulatory requirements . . .” ¶185. According to the Complaint, “Defendants Erbey and Faris knew of or recklessly disregarded Ocwen’s letter backdating and the issues with REALServicing throughout 2014.” ¶¶115, 177, 181.5

When several partial corrective disclosures concerning the above-described misrepresentations were released to the market, the price of Ocwen common stock dropped precipitously, and Plaintiffs suffered significant losses on their purchases of Ocwen stock. ¶125.

5 According to the Complaint, Ocwen’s Head of Servicing emailed Faris in 2014 to complain that REALServicing was “an absolute train wreck.”  ¶¶10, 113, 179.

The first disclosure occurred on August 12, 2014, when Ocwen issued a press release stating, among other things, that:

(a) its financial statements for 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 could no longer be relied upon;

(b) it had overstated its pre-tax income for the first quarter of 2014 by almost 20%; and

(c) its internal controls over financial reporting suffered from a material weakness.

On this news, Ocwen stock dropped 4.5%.

¶126.

The second disclosure occurred on October 21, 2014, when the NYDFS issued its open letter to Ocwen recounting the letter-backdating issue. ¶127.

The NYDFS letter stated that Ocwen “did not notify regulators, borrowers, or investigators of this significant issue, nor did Ocwen personnel conduct due diligence to ensure that the issue was firmly resolved . . .” ¶130.

Thus, Ocwen “was not meeting [its] obligations” under various agreements with state and federal authorities, “[a]nd given the issues with Ocwen’s systems, it may be impossible to determine the scope of Ocwen’s non-compliance.” ¶132.6

Ocwen issued a response admitting the backdating of letters “due to software errors in our correspondence systems,” and suggesting that only 283 borrowers in New York received backdated letters. ¶135.

As a result of the information released on October 21, 2014, Ocwen’s stock price fell dramatically by over 18%.

¶136.

After the markets closed on October 21, 2014, Ocwen issued another press release, stating that it wished “to correct its statement in a press release earlier . . . that 283 borrowers in New York received letters with incorrect dates” because it was “aware of additional borrowers in New York who received letters with incorrect dates” but did “not yet know how many such letters there were.” ¶137.

The next day, October 22, 2014, the price of Ocwen common stock dropped more than 11%.

Id..

6 This was a reference to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) determination that Ocwen’s “REALServicing [electronic platform] suffers from fundamental system architecture and design flaws, including a lack of properly managed data, lack of automation, and lack of capacity.” ¶¶10, 112, 156. As a result of this criticism and the Head of Servicing’s email that REALServicing was “an absolute train wreck,” Ocwen began transitioning from REALServicing in late 2017 to a different electronic servicing platform licensed by an independent third party.  ¶114.

Overall, the price of Ocwen common stock lost almost 30% of its value on October 21-22, 2014, dropping from $26.26 per share to $19.04 per share.

¶138.

Plaintiffs “specifically relied on the representations set forth above prior to purchasing Ocwen stock.” ¶¶82, 187, 189, 190. Plaintiffs also relied on Defendants’ statements “concerning the effectiveness of Ocwen’s disclosure controls and procedures . . . because [they] would ensure that regulatory violations would be publicly disclosed by Ocwen.” ¶91. Plaintiffs did not know that these representations “were either false or omitted truthful information that rendered the representations materially misleading.” ¶93. “Had [Plaintiffs] known the truth . . . [they] would not have purchased Ocwen common stock . . . or, [at least] would not have paid the prices [they] did.” ¶¶92, 192.   The Complaint charges that Defendants Erbey and Faris acted with scienter when making the materially false and misleading statements described above, and that because they were senior executives at the company, their knowledge is imputable to Ocwen. ¶173, 176, 180.

LEGAL CLAIMS

Count One alleges violations of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 against all three Defendants, claiming that they intentionally made materially false and misleading statements to artificially inflate Ocwen’s stock price and induce Plaintiffs to buy it.7

7 Section 10(b) states:

 

It shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, by the use of any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce or of the mails, or of any facility of any national securities exchange—(b) To use or employ, in connection with the purchase or sale of any security registered on a national securities exchange or any security not so registered, … any manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance in contravention of such rules and regulations as the [SEC] may prescribe as necessary or appropriate in the public interest or for the protection of investors.

15 U.S.C. § 78j(b) (2012).

Rule 10b–5 provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, by the use of any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce, or of the mails or of any facility of any national securities exchange,

To employ any device, scheme, or artifice to defraud,

To make any untrue statement of a material fact or to omit to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading, or

To engage in any act, practice, or course of business which operates or would operate as a fraud or deceit upon any person, in connection with the purchase or sale of any security.

17 C.F.R. § 240.10b–5 (2012).

Count Two alleges violations of Section 18 of the Exchange Act against all three Defendants, claiming that they negligently made misleading statements in their quarterly and annual reports upon which Plaintiffs relied.8

Count Three alleges violations of Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act against Defendants Erbey and Faris by virtue of their “controlling person” status at Ocwen, and claims that they substantially participated in the alleged wrongs.

Count Four alleges common law fraud against all three Defendants in that they knowingly made material misrepresentations and concealed material facts from Plaintiffs, knowing that Plaintiffs would rely on these misrepresentations and be induced to purchase Ocwen’s common stock at inflated prices.

Count Five alleges common law negligent misrepresentation against all three Defendants, claiming that Defendants Erbey and Faris breached their duty to exercise reasonable care and made statements that they knew, or should have known, to be false in order to induce Plaintiffs to purchase Ocwen common stock.

8 Under Section 18, a plaintiff must only plead and prove that the defendant made or caused to be made a material misstatement or omission in a document filed with the Securities Exchange Commission and that the plaintiff relied on the misstatement or omission. Magna Inv. Corp. v. John Does One Through Two Hundred, 931 F.2d 38, 39 (11th Cir. 1991). A Section 18 claim, however, does not require that defendants acted with scienter or any particular state of mind. Id.

Defendants seek to dismiss all five counts to the extent they raise issues concerning Ocwen’s disclosure controls and are predicated on Ocwen’s statements made on October 31, 2013, and May 1, 2014. Defendants contend that these claims do not state a claim for which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6), and that they do not satisfy the heightened pleading requirements of Rule 9(b) or the PSLRA.

Specifically, Defendants argue that Faris’ October 31, 2013 statement constitutes “puffery” in that it was a “generalized and non-verifiable corporate statement[]” that is non- actionable. Defendants also claim that the Complaint fails to adequately allege Faris’ scienter when he made the statement, and that two facts actually negate his scienter, namely that (i) he did not sell any shares of Ocwen stock during the period at issue, and (ii) on the same day Faris made the statement, Ocwen announced a $500 million stock buyback program. DE 43 at 3-4.

With regard to Erbey’s May 1, 2014 statement, Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to allege that Ocwen’s compliance with the NMS was a not competitive advantage, and therefore, Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the statement is false. Defendants also claim that the Complaint “omits any mention of Mr. Erbey’s state of mind” when he made the statement, and thus, Plaintiffs have not adequately alleged his scienter. As with Faris, Defendants contend that the facts actually negate scienter because Erbey did not sell any shares of Ocwen stock during the period at issue, and “the Ocwen stock buyback program . . . continued well after Mr. Erbey’s May 1, 2014 Statement.” DE 43 at 4.

LEGAL STANDARDS

Motion to Dismiss Standard

Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion to dismiss will be granted if the plaintiff fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. According to the

federal rules, a claimant must only state “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint, as well as all attachments thereto, and evaluates all plausible inferences derived from those facts in favor of the Plaintiff. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Chaparro v. Carnival Corp., 693 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 2012).

The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).   Although a plaintiff need not state in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim, Rule 8(a)(2) “still requires a ‘showing,’ rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Id. at 555 n. 3.

In other words, a plaintiff’s pleading obligation requires “more than labels and conclusions.” Id. at 555; see also Pafumi v. Davidson, No. 05–61679–CIV, 2007 WL 1729969, at *2 (S.D. Fla. June 14, 2007) (J. Cohn).

Heightened Pleading Standard for Fraud under Rule 9(b)

In addition to the usual the notice pleading standard under Rule 8, allegations of fraud require a plaintiff to state “with particularity the circumstances constituting the fraud.” 100079 Canada, Inc. v. Stiefel Labs., Inc., No. 11-22389-CIV, 2011 WL 13116079, at *6 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 30, 2011) (J. Scola) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b)).

The Eleventh Circuit has interpreted this to mean that the complaint must set forth (1) precisely what statements or omissions were made in which documents or oral representations; (2) the time and place of each such statement and the person responsible for making (or, in the case of omissions, not making) them; (3) the content of such statements and the manner in which they misled the plaintiff; and (4) what the defendant obtained as a consequence of the fraud. FindWhat Investor Group v. FindWhat.com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1296 (11th Cir. 2011) (noting that while Rule 9(b) requires the circumstances of the fraud to be pled with particularity, “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person’s mind may be alleged generally”).

Here, Plaintiffs’ claims in Counts Four and Five for common law fraud and negligent misrepresentation are subject to Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirements. Broadway Gate Master Fund, Ltd. v. Ocwen Fin. Corp., No. 16-80056-CIV-WPD, 2016 WL 9413421, at *3 (S.D. Fla. June 29, 2016) (J. Dimitrouleas).

Specifically, the elements of Florida common law fraud are that:

(1) the defendant made a false statement or omission of material fact;

(2) the defendant knew the statement was false;

(3) the statement was made for the purpose of inducing plaintiff to rely on it;

(4) plaintiff’s reliance was reasonable; and

(5) plaintiff suffered damages. Id.

The elements of Florida common law negligent misrepresentation are:

(1) the defendant made a misrepresentation of material fact;

(2) the defendant either knew of the misrepresentation, made the misrepresentation without knowledge of its truth or falsity, or should have known the representation was false;

(3) the defendant intended to induce another to act on the misrepresentation; and (4) an injury resulted to the plaintiff who acted in justifiable reliance upon the misrepresentation. Id.

Heightened Pleading Standard for PSLRA claims

The PSLRA imposes an even higher pleading requirement on Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 claims and requires the plaintiff to set forth with particularity “each statement alleged to have been misleading, the reason or reasons why the statement is misleading, and, if an allegation regarding the statement or omission is made on information and belief, the complaint shall state with particularity all facts on which that belief is formed.” Id. (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 78u–4(b)(1)).

Further, the plaintiff must allege “with particularity facts giving rise to a strong inference that the defendant acted with the required state of mind [i.e., scienter].” 15 U.S.C. § 78u–4(b)(2). “If these PSLRA pleading requirements are not satisfied, the court ‘shall’ dismiss” those counts. FindWhat Investor Group, 658 F.3d at 1296-97 (citing 15 U.S.C. § 78u– 4(b)(3)(A)).

Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim brought under Section 10(b) or Rule 10b–5 must satisfy (1) the federal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8; (2) the special fraud pleading requirements of 9(b); and (3) the additional pleading requirements imposed by the PSLRA.   In re: Altisource Portfolio Sols., S.A. Sec. Litig., No. 14-81156-CIV-WPD, 2015 WL 11988900, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 22, 2015) (J. Dimitrouleas).

In order to state a claim under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5, a plaintiff must allege the following: “(1) a material misrepresentation or omission by the defendant; (2) scienter; (3) a connection between the misrepresentation or omission and the purchase or sale of a security; (4) reliance upon the misrepresentation or omission; (5) economic loss; and (6) loss causation.” Amgen Inc. v. Connecticut Ret. Plans & Trust Funds, 133 S. Ct. 1184, 1192 (2013).

The element of scienter, which is at issue here, requires a showing of either an “intent to deceive, manipulate, or defraud,” or “severe recklessness.”

“Severe recklessness” is a term reserved for those highly unreasonable omissions or misrepresentations that involve “extreme departure” from the standards of ordinary care and that present a danger of misleading buyers or sellers which is either known to the defendant or is “so obvious” that the defendant must have been aware of it.

In re: Altisource Portfolio Sols., S.A. Sec. Litig., 2015 WL 11988900, at *5 (quoting Mizzaro v. Home Depot, Inc., 544 F.3d 1230, 1238 (11th Cir. 2008).

Judicial Notice

In determining whether to grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court primarily considers the allegations in the complaint, however, when a plaintiff refers to documents in the complaint that are “central to the plaintiff’s claims,” the Court “may consider the documents part of the pleadings for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, and the defendant’s attaching such documents to the motion to dismiss will not require the conversion of the motion into a motion for summary judgment.” In re: Altisource Portfolio Sols., S.A. Sec. Litig., 2015 WL 11988900, at *3 (quoting Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida, Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997)).

Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit has expressly held that a court may judicially notice relevant documents legally required by, and publicly filed with, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). See Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1271, 1276–81 (11th Cir. 1999).

DISCUSSION

 At the outset, the Court finds that Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss does not implicate Count Two. That Count alleges that Defendants violated of Section 18 of the Exchange Act by filing misleading reports with the SEC upon which Plaintiffs relied. Count Two is not predicated on the allegedly false statements Defendants made on either October 31, 2013 or May 1, 2014.

Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is denied as moot with regard to Count Two.

The October 31, 2013 Statement

On its face, the Complaint satisfies Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirements as to this first statement because the allegations are made with the requisite specificity.

The Complaint alleges that on October 31, 2013, during an investor phone call, Faris stated that Ocwen had been “careful to assure . . . strong compliance” during its transfer of the ResCap loans. See Complaint at ¶¶8, 74, 153. The Complaint also alleges that Plaintiffs were misled by this statement because they later learned that Defendants had not complied with their regulatory requirements (id. at ¶¶9, 108, 123, 129), that Defendants knew or should have known that Ocwen was not in compliance, and that Defendants benefitted from this misrepresentation because it induced Plaintiffs to invest in Ocwen at inflated prices. Id. at ¶¶72, 90.

Thus, to the extent the October 31, 2013 statement is the predicate for Counts Four and Five (common law fraud and negligent misrepresentation), the Court finds that the allegations in the Complaint are sufficient.

See Hubbard v. BankAtlantic Bancorp, Inc., 625 F. Supp. 2d 1267, 1281–82 (S.D. Fla. 2008) (J. Ungaro) (Rule 9(b)’s heightened pleading requirement satisfied where the complaint pled in detail what statements were materially false (e.g., statements during investor conference calls that defendant was a conservative lender), why defendant knew or should have known that the statements were false (because defendant was making risky loans to borrowers without properly investigating their creditworthiness), and what defendant stood to gain in making the statements (e.g., artificially high stock prices)).

For the October 31, 2013 statement to be used as a predicate for Count One’s claims under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5, the Complaint must satisfy the additional criteria of the PSLRA. “Rule 10b–5 prohibits not only literally false statements, but also any omissions of material fact ‘necessary in order to make the statements . . . not misleading.’” In re Ocwen Fin. Corp. Sec. Litig., No. 14-81057-CIV-WPD, 2015 WL 12780961, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 22, 2015) (J. Dimitrouleas) (quoting 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b–5(b)). “A statement is misleading if in light of the facts existing at the time of the statement a reasonable investor, in the exercise of due care, would have been misled by it.” Id. (quoting FindWhat Investor Group v. FindWhat.com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1305 (11th Cir. 2011)). Under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b–5, “a plaintiff must show that the [defendant’s] statements were misleading as to a material fact.” Id. (quoting Basic Inc. v. Levinson, 485 U.S. 224, 238 (1988)).

Defendants contend that Faris’ October 31, 2013 statement regarding Ocwen’s “strong compliance” cannot support a claim under Section 10(b) or Rule 10b-5 because it is mere puffery, not a statement of fact, and thus, it cannot be shown to be false.

Puffery

“A statement that is vague, generalized, non-verifiable, or mere corporate puffery is immaterial because a reasonable investor would not make a decision based on such a statement.” Thorpe v. Walter Inv. Mgmt., Corp., No. 14-CV-20880, 2014 WL 11961964, at *11 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 23, 2014) (J. Ungaro). As a result, such statements are inactionable as a matter of law and cannot provide a basis for maintaining a claim under Section 10(b) or Rule 10b–5.  Id.

In Thorpe, the court ruled that the following statements regarding the defendant’s compliance and internal controls constituted inactionable puffery:

Statement touting the Company’s “active portfolio management—to improve servicing, regulatory compliance and credit performance,” “grounded in the long- term value proposition we offer clients for improved credit performance and regulatory compliance;” and

Statement touting the Company’s “culture of compliance: regulatory compliance capabilities remain at the ‘top of list’ in terms of ability to win new ”

By contrast, the following are examples of statements the court in Thorpe deemed to be beyond mere puffery and thus, actionable:

Statement touting the Company’s “culture of compliance—strong independent controls and processes for monitoring and managing compliance;”

Company’s CEO stated “

[w]e have a solid platform with distinct advantages . . . [w]e continue to execute for our clients by delivering strong portfolio performance in a regulatory-compliant matter.”

Company’s CFO stated “[w]e’re very comfortable and confident that our business practices meet all the requirements out there. You can go through the CFPB’s examination manual or any of the other information you might read publicly about what the best practices are in this business and we follow those very, very ”

Company’s COO stated “[w]e put so much emphasis on our day-to-day activities of compliance” and “[s]o where there’s opportunities . . . [but] we don’t see that it’s well-defined within state regulatory requirements, we’re going to pass on ”

Company’s Chief Compliance Officer stated “we review law changes and go through implementation to make sure we remain on Next, we prepare policies and procedures, forms and employee alerts, and all of those are reviewed by the compliance department before they’re implemented.”

Company presentation stating “we aggressively maintain compliance with all federal and state requirements and laws.”

Company’s CEO stated “[w]e have achieved this while maintaining high standards of performance and compliance across the entire ”

Thorpe, 2014 WL 11961964, at *2-4, *12.

As the court in Thorpe noted, “[d]efendants are involved in a heavily regulated industry and their statements relating to compliance with various state and federal laws and the internal controls for ensuring compliance were more than mere puffery.” Id. at *12. See also In re Ocwen Fin. Corp. Sec. Litig., No. 14-81057-CIV-WPD, 2015 WL 12780961, at *3 (comparing aspirational statements of compliance with “affirmative misrepresentation[s] that the corporation is in compliance [which are] actionable”).

Similarly, here, Faris’ October 31, 2013 statement that Ocwen had been “careful to assure. . . strong compliance” during the transfer of the newly-acquired ResCap loans to its REALServicing platform, is a “verifiable and specific factual statement,” particularly when read in context. According to the Complaint, Faris made this statement to explain why the loan transfer was more expensive than expected.

Faris’ explanation that Ocwen’s emphasis on compliance resulted in a costlier loan transfer is the sort of factual averment upon which investors would reasonably rely in their decision-making and is not mere aspirational corporate puffery.

This Court also finds that Plaintiffs have adequately alleged why the October 31st statement was false when made.

In particular, the Complaint alleges that a subsequent investigation by NYDFS which revealed that Ocwen had been “backdating . . . potentially hundreds of thousands of letters to borrowers” (Complaint at ¶9), and that Ocwen ultimately acknowledged in a consent order that it had been backdating letters to borrowers “for years.” Id.

These claims are sufficient to support an allegation at this stage that Ocwen was in violation of the NMS at the time Faris made the October 31st statement.

Additionally, the Complaint alleges that Defendants ignored an employee when he reported the backdating problem in November 2013 and again in April 2014, thus revealing Ocwen’s failure to investigate or disclose the problem once it was on notice. Id. at ¶¶108, 123, 129.

The Complaint also supports the claim that Ocwen was not meeting its regulatory obligations by alleging that an Ocwen executive acknowledged in an email that its electronic loan servicing platform, REALServicing, was “an absolute train wreck.”

Id. at ¶10.

Thus, the Complaint adequately alleges facts to support the claim that Faris’ October 31, 2013 statement, upon which Plaintiffs relied in deciding to invest in Ocwen, was false. See Thorpe, 2014 WL 11961964 at *13 (plaintiffs properly relied on internet postings, consumer complaints, subsequent lawsuits and a government investigation to show that defendants’ statements regarding compliance were false).

Loss Causation

The Court rejects Defendants’ argument that Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege loss causation because the corrective disclosures on October 21, 2014 do not reference the transfer of the ResCap loans. The Court finds that viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the subsequent corrective disclosures did in fact refute the subject matter of Faris’ October 31st statement, namely, that Ocwen was not in compliance with its regulatory requirements. “To be corrective, [a] disclosure need not precisely mirror the earlier misrepresentation, but it must at least relate back to the misrepresentation . . .” Meyer v. Greene, 710 F.3d 1189, 1197 (11th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

Scienter

Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to adequately allege Faris’ scienter when he made the October 31, 2013 statement. This Court agrees. “[I]n order to sufficiently allege scienter, a plaintiff must allege facts from which a reasonable person would infer that it is at least as likely as not that the individual high-ranking defendants either orchestrated the alleged fraud (and thus always knew about it), learned about the alleged fraud, or were otherwise severely reckless in not learning of the alleged fraud when they made the purportedly false or misleading statements.” Thorpe, 2014 WL 11961964, at *15.

First, the allegation that Faris “knew that Ocwen was not in compliance with regulatory standards because he sat on Ocwen’s Compliance Committee” is insufficient.

Plaintiffs essentially allege that Faris “must have” received information about the back-dated letters or Ocwen’s general lack of compliance with regulatory regulations as a result of his position on the Compliance Committee, but the Complaint does not reference any specific report or statement that was produced to the members of that committee. In re Sanofi Sec. Litig., 155 F. Supp. 3d 386, 407 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (court declined to infer that defendant had knowledge of an illegal marketing scheme by virtue of his membership on the compliance committee) (citing Novak v. Kasaks, 216 F.3d 300, 309 (2d Cir. 2000) (“Where plaintiffs contend defendants had access to contrary facts, they must specifically identify the reports or statements containing this information.”)).

Second, the timing of the Complaint’s allegations fail to establish that Faris operated with the requisite level of scienter on October 31, 2013.   In particular, Plaintiffs rely on the fact that an Ocwen employee discovered and reported the backdating scheme to Ocwen management as evidence of Faris’ scienter, but the Complaint states that this revelation did not occur until November 2013, the month after Faris made his statement regarding strong compliance on the investor conference call.

Thus, this allegation cannot form the basis of Faris’ scienter.

Moreover, the Complaint only makes the general allegation that Defendants knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that Ocwen was not in compliance with its regulatory requirements “throughout 2014.” There are no specific facts alleged in the Complaint to support the conclusory allegation that Faris acted with severe recklessness when he made his statement on October 31, 2013.

Since the Complaint as pled is insufficient to plausibly infer that Faris acted with the requisite intent under the PSLRA, the Court finds that Faris’ October 31st statement cannot be used as a predicate to support Counts One or Three.9

The May 1, 2014 Statement

Similar to Faris’ October 31st statement, this Court finds that the Complaint’s allegations regarding Erbey’s press release dated May 1, 2014 satisfy the heightened pleading standard of Rule 9(b) to provide the factual bases for Counts Four and Five (common law fraud and negligent misrepresentation). Specifically, in his May 1, 2014 press release, Erbey stated that Defendants considered their “National Mortgage Settlement compliance . . . to be [a] substantial competitive advantage[].”

The Complaint provides details regarding the speaker, date, and content of the statement, alleges that Plaintiffs were misled by this statement because they later learned that Defendants had not complied with regulatory requirements, that Defendants knew or should have known that they were not in compliance, and that Defendants benefitted from this misrepresentation because it induced Plaintiffs to invest in Ocwen.

Defendants contend that Plaintiffs failed to “offer allegations that would make the May 2014 statement false,” (i.e., that Ocwen’s compliance was not a competitive advantage), which “defeats the element of falsity.” DE 43 at 14.

This Court declines to adopt this narrow reading of Erbey’s statement.

The corrective disclosure “need not precisely mirror the earlier misrepresentation;” it must only relate back to the misrepresentation. Meyer, 710 F.3d at 1197.

Thus, Plaintiffs are not required to allege that regulatory compliance did not give Ocwen a competitive advantage for the statement to be false.

Rather, it was Erbey’s assertion that Ocwen was in fact complying with the NMS that constitutes the falsity.

The Court finds that these facts are sufficiently pled in the Complaint.

In Broadway Gate Master Fund, Ltd. v. Ocwen Fin. Corp., No. 16-80056-CIV-WPD, 2016 WL 9413421 (S.D. Fla. June 29, 2016), Judge Dimitrouleas was also confronted with Erbey’s May 1, 2014 press release in the context of a motion to dismiss Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 claims. Judge Dimitrouleas held that the alleged falsity of this very statement had been adequately pled where the complaint alleged, as it does here, that Ocwen had backdated letters in contravention of NMS standards. Id. at *8.

Moreover, given that the complaint in Broadway Gate alleged that the backdating was discovered by an Ocwen employee in November 2013, as is alleged in this case, Judge Dimitrouleas held that the plaintiffs in Broadway Gate adequately pled that Erbey and Ocwen had the requisite scienter when the May 1, 2014 press release was issued. Id. (finding that “Erbey’s knowledge and the Vice President of Compliance’s knowledge are imputable to Defendant Ocwen”).

Although, as Defendants point out, this Court is not bound by Judge Dimitrouleas’ opinion, the Court considers the reasoning to be persuasive, particularly in light of the additional legal authority regarding scienter cited below, and thus, will adopt it here.

As the United States Supreme Court has held, in determining whether the plaintiff “has alleged facts that give rise to the requisite ‘strong inference’ of scienter, a court must consider plausible, nonculpable explanations for the defendant’s conduct, as well as inferences favoring the plaintiff.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 323–24 (2007).

Here, the only nonculpable explanation for Erbey’s May 1, 2014 press release is that he did not know Ocwen was in violation of the NMS when he issued it. In light of the totality of the Complaint’s factual allegations, which must be accepted as true at this stage, the Court does not find this alternative explanation to defeat scienter.

It is well settled that in evaluating scienter under the PSLRA, “allegations must be considered collectively . . . the court’s job is not to scrutinize each allegation in isolation but to assess all the allegations holistically.” Id. at 325-26. “[T]he inference of scienter can arise from an aggregation of particularized facts, even if each individual fact standing alone does not create a sufficiently strong inference.” In re Spear & Jackson Sec. Litig., 399 F. Supp. 2d 1350, 1358 (S.D. Fla. 2005) (J. Middlebrooks) (citing Phillips v. Scientific–Atlanta, Inc., 374 F.3d 1015, 1017 (11th Cir. 2004)).

An inference of scienter may also arise where the defendants “knew facts or had access to information suggesting that their public statements were not accurate . . . or. . . failed to check information they had a duty to monitor.” Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 773 Pension Fund v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 2010 WL 961596, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 17, 2010) (plaintiff must specifically identify the reports or statements and the dates or time frame when defendants were put on notice of contradictory information) (quoting Novak, 216 F.3d at 306).

Here, the allegation that Defendants admitted in a 2014 consent order with the NYDFS that the backdating scheme had been going on “for years” is sufficient to infer that Erbey was aware of the scheme when he made the May 1, 2014 statement.

This inference is bolstered by the Complaint’s factual allegations that an employee reported the backdating problem to Ocwen in November 2013, and again in April 2014, one month before Erbey’s press release.

Although the Complaint does not specifically allege that Ocwen’s Vice President of Compliance conveyed the backdating discovery to Erbey, given Erbrey’s status as a high level executive, there is a plausible inference that he was aware of the backdating scheme.

“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “[A] plaintiff may, under certain circumstances, successfully plead scienter as to an individual executive defendant without allegations regarding that defendant’s direct knowledge.” Robb v. Fitbit Inc., 2017 WL 219673, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 19, 2017).

The Ninth Circuit has held that courts may impute scienter to individual defendants in some situations, for example, where we find that a company’s public statements are so important and so dramatically false that they would create a strong inference that at least some corporate officials knew of the falsity upon publication.

Or. Pub. Emps. Ret. Fund v. Apollo Grp. Inc., 774 F.3d 598, 607 (9th Cir. 2014) (quotation and citation omitted) (emphasis in original).

The Ninth Circuit explained that “allegations regarding management’s role in a company may be relevant and help to satisfy the PSLRA scienter requirement” when the allegations, “read together, raise an inference of scienter that is cogent and compelling, thus strong in light of other explanations.” S. Ferry LP, No. 2 v. Killinger, 542 F.3d 776, 785-86 (9th Cir. 2008) (quotation and citation omitted).

In the alternative, allegations against corporate executives “may independently satisfy the PSLRA where they are particular and suggest that [the individual] defendants had actual access to the disputed information.” Id. (emphasis added).

Here, the Court finds that viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the particularized allegation about the November 2013 and April 2014 reports regarding the backdating issue, the claim that the discovery was reported to the Vice President of Compliance, and Erbey’s high-ranking position at Ocwen, suggest that at a minimum, Erbey would have had actual access to the reported discovery.

The facts alleged in the Complaint regarding the timing and significance of the backdating discovery, the importance of the May 1, 2014 press release in bolstering investor confidence, and that the statement was “so dramatically false” in claiming that Ocwen had been and continued to be in compliance with the NMS, raises an inference of scienter that is “cogent and compelling” compared to the alternative explanation — that Erbey was simply unaware of Ocwen’s noncompliance when he issued the May 1st press release.

See Or. Pub. Emps. Ret. Fund, 774 F.3d at 607. See also Robb, 2017 WL 219673, at *6 (“[t]hat plaintiffs’ allegations do not directly connect the dots between [the COO’s] knowledge and the individual defendants will not be grounds for dismissing the complaint” where there was “a ‘cogent and compelling’ argument that [the] information . . . would also have been known to the individual defendants”).

For these reasons, the Court finds that the allegations regarding the May 1, 2014 press release and Erbey’s scienter are a sufficient predicate for the PSLRA claims in Count One.

With regard to the Section 20(a) “control person” liability alleged in Count Three, “

[w]hile there is no simple formula for how senior an employee must be in order to serve as a proxy for corporate scienter, courts have readily attributed the scienter of management-level employees to corporate defendants.” In re Sanofi Sec. Litig., 155 F. Supp. 3d 386, 409 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (quoting In re Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. Sec. Litig., 501 F.Supp.2d 452, 481 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).

Here, the Complaint alleges that Defendants Erbey and Faris are liable as “control persons,” and given that the Court has found that the Complaint properly alleges a cause of action under Count One with regard to the May 1, 2014 press release, and that Defendants do not specifically dispute Erbey and Faris’ control over Ocwen at this stage of the proceedings, the Court finds that the May 1, 2014 press release is a proper predicate for establishing control person liability under Count Three. See In re Spear & Jackson Sec. Litig., 399 F. Supp. 2d at 1359 (noting that “[o]ther courts in the 11th Circuit have held that allegations that individuals, because of their management and/or director positions, could control a company’s general affairs, including the content of public statements and financial statements disseminated by the company, are sufficient to state a cause of action for controlling person liability”) (collecting cases).

9 Given that Plaintiffs have failed to plead a primary violation under Section 10(b) or Rule 10b–5 of the Exchange Act with regard to Faris’ October 31st statement, it follows that to the extent the Section 20(a) claim in Count Three is also predicated on this statement, it must fail for the same reason. Marrari v. Med. Staffing Network Holdings, Inc., 395 F. Supp. 2d 1169, 1190 (S.D. Fla. 2005) (J. Dimitrouleas) (“to the extent that the Section 20(a) Count rests upon violations of Section 10(b) or Rule 10b–5 that have been dismissed . . . the Court must also dismiss the Section 20(a) Count”).

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (DE 43) is GRANTED IN PART in that Faris’ October 31, 2013 statement, as alleged, is not a proper predicate for Counts One and Three. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is DENIED in all other respects.

DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers this 4th day of October, 2018, at West Palm Beach in the Southern District of Florida.

BRUCE REINHART
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

YOUR DONATION(S) WILL HELP US:

• Continue to provide this website, content, resources, community and help center for free to the many homeowners, residents, Texans and as we’ve expanded, people nationwide who need access without a paywall or subscription.

• Help us promote our campaign through marketing, pr, advertising and reaching out to government, law firms and anyone that will listen and can assist.

Thank you for your trust, belief and support in our conviction to help Floridian residents and citizens nationwide take back their freedom. Your Donations and your Voice are so important.



Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Bankers

Another Theft of Funds Case, This Time Against SunTrust Bank

Plaintiffs, domiciled in Venezuela, assert that Truist (Sunbank) was negligent in allegedly permitting fraud and theft of funds from their bank account.

Published

on

New case. Bookmark for updates.

DE LA RIVA v. SUNTRUST BANK

(1:21-cv-24412)

District Court, S.D. Florida

DEC 21, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: DEC 24, 2021

AMENDED NOTICE OF REMOVAL1

COMES NOW Defendant, Truist Bank, formerly known as SunTrust Bank (“Truist”), by and through undersigned counsel and pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441 and 1446, appearing specially so as to preserve any and all defenses available under Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, any and all defenses under the federal laws of bankruptcy and specifically preserving the right to demand arbitration pursuant to contractual agreements and the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1, et seq., and hereby gives notice of the removal of this action from the Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County, Florida, to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division. In support of this notice of removal, Truist states as follows:

1 The amended notice of removal clarifies the Plaintiff’s country of domicile.

INTRODUCTION

  1. Plaintiffs, Shedir de La Riva, Claudia Gil, Adriana Gil C. and Eduardo La Riva C. (“Plaintiffs”) commenced this action by filing a complaint against Truist Bank, formerly known as SunTrust Bank, Inc. in the Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County, Florida, Case Number 2021- 025111-CA-04 (24) on or about November 12, 2021.
  2. Plaintiffs’ complaint asserts that Truist was negligent in allegedly permitting fraud and theft of funds from their bank ¶ 20.
  3. Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs seek to recover damages from Truist with in an amount exceeding $271,020.00. Compl. ¶
  4. This Court has jurisdiction over all of Plaintiffs’ claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, which provides federal district courts with original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000.00, and where the action is between citizens of different states. See 28 S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

A.                 The Parties are Completely Diverse.

  1. Complete diversity exists between Plaintiffs and Truist in this matter.
  2. The Plaintiffs are citizens of and domiciled in Venezuela.
  3. Truist Bank is organized under the laws of North Carolina with its principal place of business in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Truist Financial Corporation.
  4. Truist Financial Corporation was formed by the merger of SunTrust Banks, Inc. with and into BB&T Corporation on December 6, 2019, the merger of SunTrust Bank Holding Company into BB&T Corporation on December 7, 2019, and BB&T Corporation’s subsequent change of its name to Truist Financial Corporation (also on December 7, 2019). On December 7, 2019, SunTrust Bank merged with and into Branch Banking and Trust Company. Branch Banking and Trust Company was renamed Truist Bank. SunTrust Bank was a wholly-owned subsidiary of SunTrust Banks, Inc.
  5. Truist Financial Corporation is organized under the laws of North Carolina with its principal place of business in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  6. Accordingly, the parties are completely diverse, as Plaintiffs are citizens of Venezuela, and Truist is a citizen of North Carolina.

B.        The Amount in Controversy Exceeds $75,000.

  1. Removal is also proper because the amount in controversy exceeds the $75,000 jurisdictional threshold, exclusive of interest and costs.
  2. In the Complaint, Plaintiffs seek to recover against Truist damages in excess of $271,020.00 under two causes of action sounding in negligence and gross negligence/recklessness. See Compl. ¶ 15-32.
  3. The amount in controversy therefore exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.
  4. Accordingly, this case is properly removable because it is between citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs.

ADOPTION AND RESERVATION OF DEFENSES

  1. Nothing in this notice of removal shall be interpreted as a waiver or relinquishment of any of Truist’s rights to assert any defense or affirmative matter, including, but not limited to, the defenses of: (1) lack of jurisdiction over the person; (2) improper venue; (3) insufficiency of process; (4) insufficiency of service of process; (5) improper joinder of claims and/or parties; (6) failure to state a claim; (7) the mandatory arbitrability of some or all of the claims; (8) failure to join indispensable parties; or (9) any other pertinent defense available under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12, any state or federal statute, or otherwise.

PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS

  1. This case is a civil action within the meaning of 28 S.C. § 1441(a).
  2. True and correct copies of “all process, pleadings, and orders” filed to date are attached hereto as Exhibit “A”, in conformity with 28 S.C. § 1446(a). There has been no other process, pleading, or order served upon Truist to date in this case.
  3. This Notice of Removal is being filed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446, within thirty days from September 22, 2021, the date Truist was served with a copy of the See 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b).
  4. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Miami Division, is the court and division embracing the place where this action is pending in state court.
  5. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(d), contemporaneously with the filing of this notice of removal, Truist filed a copy of same with the clerk of the Clerk of Court in Miami-Dade County, Florida, as well as a notice of filing notice of removal. Written notice of the filing of this notice of removal has also been served upon the Plaintiff.
  6. Truist reserves the right to supplement this Notice of Removal by adding any jurisdictional defenses which may independently support a basis for removal.
  7. To the extent remand is sought by Plaintiff or otherwise visited by this Court, Truist requests the opportunity to brief the issues and submit additional arguments and evidence, and to be heard at oral argument.
  8. All defendants consent to the removal of this cause of action.

WHEREFORE, PREMISES CONSIDERED, Truist prays that this Court take jurisdiction of this action and issue all necessary orders and process to remove this action from the Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County, Florida, to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

DATED: December 22, 2021.

Respectfully submitted,

/s/ Nicholas S. Agnello                                               

Nicholas S. Agnello, Esq. (FL Bar No. 90844)
BURR & FORMAN LLP
350 East Las Olas Boulevard, Suite 1440
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301

Telephone: (954) 414-6200
Facsimile: (954) 414-6201

Primary Email: FLService@burr.com
Secondary Email: nagnello@burr.com
Secondary Email: rzamora@burr.com

 

David Elliott, Esq. (FL Bar No. 94237)
BURR & FORMAN LLP
420 North 20th Street, Suite 3400
Birmingham, AL 35203
Telephone: (205) 244-5631
Facsimile: (205) 244-5631

Primary Email: delliott@burr.com
Secondary Email: cwingate@burr.com
Secondary Email: sfoshee@burr.com

Counsels for Defendant Truist Bank, formerly known as SunTrust Bank, Inc.

YOUR DONATION(S) WILL HELP US:

• Continue to provide this website, content, resources, community and help center for free to the many homeowners, residents, Texans and as we’ve expanded, people nationwide who need access without a paywall or subscription.

• Help us promote our campaign through marketing, pr, advertising and reaching out to government, law firms and anyone that will listen and can assist.

Thank you for your trust, belief and support in our conviction to help Floridian residents and citizens nationwide take back their freedom. Your Donations and your Voice are so important.



U.S. District Court
Southern District of Florida (Miami)
CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 1:21-cv-24412-JAL

DE LA RIVA et al v. SUNTRUST BANK
Assigned to: Judge Joan A. Lenard

Case in other court:  11th Judicial Circuit in and For Miami-Dade Co, Fl, 2021- 025111-CA-04 (24)

Cause: 28:1332 Diversity-Notice of Removal

Date Filed: 12/21/2021
Jury Demand: None
Nature of Suit: 190 Contract: Other
Jurisdiction: Diversity
Plaintiff
SHEDIMAR DE LA RIVA represented by Victor K. Rones
Rones & Navarro
16105 NE 18th Avenue
North Miami Beach, FL 33162
305-945-6522
Email: vrones@victorkronespa.com
LEAD ATTORNEY
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED
Plaintiff
Claudia Gil represented by Victor K. Rones
(See above for address)
LEAD ATTORNEY
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED
Plaintiff
ADRIANA GIL C. represented by Victor K. Rones
(See above for address)
LEAD ATTORNEY
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED
Plaintiff
EDUARDO LA RIVA C. represented by Victor K. Rones
(See above for address)
LEAD ATTORNEY
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED
V.
Defendant
SUNTRUST BANK represented by David Alan Elliott
Burr & Forman LLP
420 North 20th Street
Suite 3400
Birmingham, AL 35203
(205) 251-3000
Fax: (205) 458-5100
Email: delliott@burr.com
LEAD ATTORNEY
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICEDNicholas Steven Agnello
Burr & Forman LLP
350 E. Las Olas Boulevard
Suite 1420
Ft Lauderdale, FL 33301
954 414-6202
Fax: 954-414-6201
Email: nagnello@burr.com
LEAD ATTORNEY
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED

 

Date Filed # Docket Text
12/21/2021 1 NOTICE OF REMOVAL (STATE COURT COMPLAINT – Complaint) Filing fee $ 402.00 receipt number AFLSDC-15266134, filed by SUNTRUST BANK. (No Answer filed/No Motion to Dismiss filed) (Attachments: # 1 Civil Cover Sheet, # 2 Docket Sheet, # 3 Exhibit State Court File)(Agnello, Nicholas) Text Modified on 12/21/2021 (scn). (Entered: 12/21/2021)
12/21/2021 2 Clerks Notice of Judge Assignment to Judge Joan A. Lenard.Pursuant to 28 USC 636(c), the parties are hereby notified that the U.S. Magistrate Judge Lauren F. Louis is available to handle any or all proceedings in this case. If agreed, parties should complete and file the Consent form found on our website. It is not necessary to file a document indicating lack of consent.

Pro se (NON-PRISONER) litigants may receive Notices of Electronic Filings (NEFS) via email after filing a Consent by Pro Se Litigant (NON-PRISONER) to Receive Notices of Electronic Filing. The consent form is available under the forms section of our website. (scn) (Entered: 12/21/2021)

12/22/2021 3 AMENDED NOTICE OF REMOVAL by SUNTRUST BANK re 1 Notice of Removal (State Court Complaint), Amended (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit) (Agnello, Nicholas) Modified on 12/22/2021 (dj). (Entered: 12/22/2021)
Continue Reading

Bankers

Andy’s Wells Fargo Bank Account Balance is Unexpectedly $455k Lighter and He Wants Those Funds Back

The complaint clearly needs to be fleshed out as the basic information provided is insufficient to determine even the basic facts. We’re trackin’ it.

Published

on

Tong v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

(3:21-cv-01236)

District Court, M.D. Florida

DEC 17, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: DEC 18, 2021

VERIFIED COMPLAINT AND DEMAND FOR JURY TRIAL

Plaintiff ANDY TONG hereby sues Defendant, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and states as follows:

Jurisdiction

1. Plaintiff, Andy Tong (“Mr. Tong”), is an individual residing in Duval County, Florida.

2. Defendant, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (“WFB”) is a Foreign Profit Corporation with a principal address of 420 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, California 94163.

3. All actions material to these proceedings occurred within Columbia County, Florida.

4. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. 1391, as all persons, local government authorities and private business entities, involved in this dispute reside or are authorized to do business within the geographic boundaries subject to the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division.

5. This Court has jurisdiction of this cause pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331, specifically under 15 U.S.C. §1693m(g) and 28 U.S.C. §1343. 

Background

6. At all times in question, Mr. Tong was the owner and holder of Money Market Account Number xxxxxxxxx5467 (the “Account”) with Defendant, WFB.

7. The Account is located in the United States.

8. An ATM/CheckCard Number xxxxxxxxxxxx5467 (“Check Card”) was issued on the Account to Mr. Tong.

9. At all times in question, Mr. Tong was the sole authorized signatory on the Account.

10. At all times in question, Mr. Tong was living in Columbia County, Florida.

11. On or about January 11, 2021 Mr. Tong went to the Wells Fargo branch in Gainesville to withdraw money from his account and noticed unauthorized funds were withdrawn.

12. On or about January 11, 2021, Mr. Tong advised WFB and reported the unauthorized transactions on the Account and requested all records pertaining to the Account.

13. Upon notifying WFB of the unauthorized transactions, WFB representative advised Mr. Tong that the Account was frozen so that no further unauthorized transactions could be made.

14. The Check Card was never out of Mr. Tong’s possession or control.

15. Prior to January 11, 2021, Mr. Tong never learned of or had reason to suspect of any counterfeit card or of any loss or theft of Account information used to make the unauthorized transfers.

16. With the exception of the occasional gas purchase, all of the transactions identified on the attached Exhibit “A” were unauthorized (the “Unauthorized Transactions.”)

17. As a result of the Unauthorized Transactions, the Account and Mr. Tong have lost approximately $454,636.17.

18. WFB is considered a “financial institution” per 15 U.S.C. §1693a(9).

 

19. “Electronic funds transfer” is defined as “any transfer of funds . . . which is initiated through an electronic terminal, telephonic instrument, or computer or magnetic tape so as to order, instruct, or authorize a financial institution to debit or credit an account. Such term includes . . . direct deposits or withdrawals of funds ” 15 U.S.C. § 1693a(7); see also 12 C.F.R. § 205.3(b).

20. The rights, liabilities, and responsibilities of the parties to this action, with respect to the unauthorized transactions on the Account, are governed by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (15 U.S.C. § 1693, et seq.) (the “EFTA”).

21. The purpose of the EFTA is “to provide a basic framework establishing the rights, liabilities, and responsibilities of participants in electronic fund transfer systems. The primary objective of this subchapter, however, is the provision of individual consumer rights.” (15 U.S.C. § 1693, ¶ (b) of the introduction).

22. According to § 1693m(a) of the EFTA, “ any person who fails to comply with any provision of this subchapter with respect to any consumer, except for an error resolved in accordance with section 1693f of this title, is liable to such consumer in an amount equal to the sum of (1) any actual damage sustained by such consumer as a result of such failure; (2)(A) in the case of an individual action, an amount not less than $100 nor greater than $1,000; and (3) in the case of any successful action to enforce the foregoing liability, the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney’s fee as determined by the court.”

23. In order to be liable to Mr. Tong under § 1693m(a) of the EFTA, WFB must have failed to resolve an error in accordance with § 1693f of the EFTA.

24. For purposes of § 1693f of the EFTA, the unauthorized transactions reported by Mr. Tong constitute errors. See, 15 U.S.C. § 1693f(f)(1).

25. Pursuant to § 1693f of the EFTA, WFB was required to investigate the unauthorized transactions reported by Mr. Tong, determine whether an error had occurred, and report or mail the results of such investigation and determination to Mr. Tong and/or the other account holders within ten (10) business days after WFB received notice of the Unauthorized Transactions (i.e., within 10 business days after January 11, 2021 or, in lieu of such requirement, WFB could have, within ten (10) business days after receiving such notice, provisionally re-credited the Account for the amount of the unauthorized transactions, subject to 15 U.S.C. § 1693g, including any applicable interest, pending the timely conclusion of WFB’s investigation and determination of whether an error had occurred on the WFB Account. See, 15 U.S.C. § 1693f(a) and (c).

26. However, during the requisite ten (10) business-day period, WFB did not report or mail the results of WFB’s investigation and determination of Mr. Tong’s claim, nor did WFB provisionally re-credited the Account for any amount of the unauthorized transactions pending the conclusion of WFB’s investigation and its determination of whether an error had occurred on WFB Account.

27. Moreover, WFB was obligated to re-credit the Account for the amount of the Unauthorized Transactions, as the Check Card used to make the Unauthorized Transactions on the Account was not an accepted card or other means of access as defined in § 1693a of the EFTA. See, 15 U.S.C. § 1693g.

28. Even if the Check Card used to make the Unauthorized Transactions on the Account had been an accepted card or other means of access, as defined in § 1693a of the EFTA, WFB would have been required to reimburse their respective portions of the Account for the amount of the Unauthorized Transactions, less a maximum of fifty dollars ($50.00). See, 15 U.S.C. § 1693g.

29. WFB never re-credited the Account for any amount.

30. By letter dated January 25, 2021, WFB denied Mr. Tong’s claim of January 11, 2021. A true and correct copy of the Claim Denial Letter is attached hereto as Composite Exhibit “B.”

31. January 25, 2021 was more than ten (10) business days after January 11, 2021.

32. In the Claim Denial Letter, WFB stated that Mr. Tong had rights to obtain records upon which WFB decision was based. See Composite Exhibit “B.”

33. WFB was required, upon request, to promptly deliver or mail to Mr. Tong reproductions of all documents upon which WFB relied on to conclude that the unauthorized transactions (i.e., errors) did not occur. See, 15 U.S.C. § 1693f(d).

34. On or about February 16, 2021, Mr. Tong requested the records upon which WFB decision was based.

35. As of the date of this filing, WFB has not reimbursed Mr. Tong for the unauthorized expenditures.

36. Mr. Tong hired the undersigned counsel to represent him in this action, and has agreed to pay a reasonable fee and costs to the undersigned counsel in connection with such representation in accordance with 15 U.S.C. §1693m(a)(3).

37. All conditions precedent to this action have been performed, have occurred, or have been waived.

COUNT I VIOLATION OF 15 U.S.C. §1693f(a)

38. Plaintiff incorporates by reference in this count all allegations set forth above in Paragraphs 1 through 37.

39. This is an action for violation of 15 U.S.C. §1693f(a), which requires WFB investigate the alleged error and mail the results of the same to the consumer within ten (10) business days.

40. WFB did not, within ten (10) business days after receiving Mr. Tong’s claim of January 11, 2021, investigate the unauthorized transactions reported by Mr. Tong, determine whether an error had occurred, and report or mail the results of such investigation and determination to Mr. Tong.

41. WFB did not, within ten (10) business days after receiving Mr. Tong’s claim of January 11, 2021, provisionally re-credited the Account for the amount of the unauthorized transactions, subject to 15 U.S.C. § 1693g, including any applicable interest, pending the timely conclusion of WFB’s investigation and determination of whether an error had occurred on the Account.

42. By failing to timely report or mail the results of its purported investigation or, in lieu thereof, provisionally re-credit the Account, WFB violated 15 U.S.C. § 1693f(a).

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff ANDY TONG demands judgment against the Defendant, WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., for actual damages, statutory damages of $1,000.00, attorneys’ fees and costs, and interest, plus any and all other relief this Honorable Court deems just and proper.

COUNT II VIOLATION OF 15 U.S.C. §1693f(c)

43. Plaintiff incorporates by reference in this count all allegations set forth above in Paragraphs 1 through 37.

44. This is an action for violation of 15 U.S.C. §1693f(c), which permits WFB, in lieu of investigating and providing the results to the consumer within ten (10) days, provisionally recredit the consumer’s account pending the conclusion of an investigation in to the alleged errors of the account.

45. WFB did not, within ten (10) business days after receiving Mr. Tong’s claim of January 11, 2021 investigate the Unauthorized Transactions reported by Mr. Tong, determine whether an error had occurred, and report or mail the results of such investigation and determination to Mr. Tong; therefore, WFB was required to provisionally re-credited the Account, within said ten (10)-business day period, for the amount of the Unauthorized Transactions, subject to 15 U.S.C. § 1693g, including any applicable interest, pending the timely conclusion of WFB’s investigation and determination of whether an error had occurred on the Account.

46. By failing to provisionally re-credit the Account, WFB violated 15 U.S.C. § 1693f(c).

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff ANDY TONG demands judgment against the Defendant, WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., for actual damages, statutory damages of $1,000.00, attorneys’ fees and costs, and interest, plus any and all other relief this Honorable Court deems just and proper.

COUNT III VIOLATION OF 15 U.S.C. §1693f(d)

47. Plaintiff incorporates by reference in this count all allegations set forth above in Paragraphs 1 through 37.

48. This is an action for violation of 15 U.S.C. §1693f(d), which requires that WFB provide an explanation of its findings to the consumer within three (3) business days of the conclusion of its investigation. Moreover, upon the request of the consumer, it shall promptly deliver reproduction of all financial documents relied upon in concluding that an error did not occur.

49. Upon receipt of the records request by Mr. Tong, WFB was required to promptly deliver or mail reproductions of all documents upon which WFB relied to conclude that the Unauthorized Transactions did not occur.

50. WFB did not promptly deliver or mail any documents or otherwise respond to the Mr. Tong’s records request.

51. By failing to promptly deliver or mail reproductions of all documents upon which WFB relied to conclude that the Unauthorized Transactions did not occur, WFB violated 15 U.S.C. §1693f(d).

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff, ANDY TONG demands judgment against the Defendant, WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., for actual damages, statutory damages of $1,000.00, attorneys’ fees and costs, and interest, plus any and all other relief this Honorable Court deems just and proper.

 

COUNT IV

TREBLE DAMAGES UNDER 15 U.S.C. §1693f(e)

52. Plaintiff incorporates by reference in this count all allegations set forth above in Paragraphs 1 through 37.

53. This is an action for violation of 15 U.S.C. §1693f(e), which provides that a consumer shall be entitled to treble damages for any action if the trial court finds a violation of subsection 15 U.S.C. §1693f(c) and the financial institution did not make a good faith investigation of the alleged error; have a reasonable basis for believing the consumer’s account was not in error; or knowingly and willfully concluding the consumer’s account was not in error when such a conclusion could not reasonably have been drawn for the evidence available to the financial institution at the time of the investigation.

54. Upon information and belief, WFB (a) did not make a good faith investigation of the alleged error, or (b) did not have a reasonable basis for believing that the Account was not in error; or (c) knowingly and willfully concluded that the Account was not in error when such conclusion could not reasonably have been drawn from the evidence available to WFB at the time of its investigation; therefore, pursuant to § 1693f(e) of the EFTA, Mr. Tong is entitled to treble damages determined under § 1693m(a)(1) of the EFTA.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff, ANDY TONG demands judgment against the Defendant, WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., for treble the amount of actual damage suffered by Plaintiff, ANDY TONG as a result of Defendant’s violations of the EFTA, plus any and all other relief this Honorable Court deems just and proper.

COUNT V

VIOLATION OF UCC ARTICLE 4A (Fla. Stat. Chap. 670)

55. Plaintiff incorporates by reference in this count all allegations set forth above in Paragraphs 1 through 37.

56. The Unauthorized Transactions in Exhibit “A” are governed by Article 4A of the Uniform Commercial Code, codified at Fla. Stat. §§670.101, et seq. (“Article 4A”).

57. WFB’s conduct, as more fully set forth herein, violates Article 4A.

58. The Unauthorized Transactions were processed and facilitated by WFB in violation of §670.202 and/or §670.203, Fla. Stat. and is, therefore, unenforceable against the Plaintiff.

59. Specifically, the Unauthorized Transactions was not caused, directly or indirectly, by a person who was authorized to originate a wire pursuant on the WFB Account as an “Originator.”

60. By failing to contact the Plaintiff, WFB failed to comply with, and adhere to, a commercially reasonable security procedure as expressed to WFB and specifically chosen by the Plaintiff.

61. WFB failed to comply with the security procedures designed to protect the Plaintiff when it failed to contact the Plaintiff to confirm the Unauthorized Transactions. By doing so, WFB failed to accept the wire transfer require in good faith and in compliance with commercially reasonable security procedures.

62. Accordingly, the Unauthorized Transactions were not authorized and is not effective as the order of Plaintiff pursuant to §670.202, Fla. Stat. and/or is not enforceable against Plaintiffs under §670.203, Fla. Stat.

63. WFB is obligated to refund the entire amount of the Unauthorized Transactions to Plaintiff, plus interest pursuant to §670.204, Fla. Stat.

64. As a direct and proximate result of WFB’s multiple statutory violations, Plaintiff has suffered and continue to suffer damages.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff, ANDY TONG, demands judgment against Defendant, WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., for damages, costs and such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.
Demand for Jury Trial

Plaintiff, ANDY TONG, demands trial by jury on all issues so triable.

DATED this 16th day of December, 2021.

LAW OFFICE OF KELLY B. MATHIS

By: Kelly B. Mathis, Esquire
Florida Bar No. 0768588

James M. Oliver, Esquire
Florida Bar No. 0124458

3577 Cardinal Point Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32257
(904) 549-5755
Primary: kmathis@mathislaw.net
Secondary: carmen@mathislaw.net

Attorneys for Plaintiff

 

YOUR DONATION(S) WILL HELP US:

• Continue to provide this website, content, resources, community and help center for free to the many homeowners, residents, Texans and as we’ve expanded, people nationwide who need access without a paywall or subscription.

• Help us promote our campaign through marketing, pr, advertising and reaching out to government, law firms and anyone that will listen and can assist.

Thank you for your trust, belief and support in our conviction to help Floridian residents and citizens nationwide take back their freedom. Your Donations and your Voice are so important.




U.S. District Court
Middle District of Florida (Jacksonville)
CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 3:21-cv-01236-MMH-LLL

 

Tong v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
Assigned to: Judge Marcia Morales Howard
Referred to: Magistrate Judge Laura Lothman Lambert
Demand: $455,000
Cause: Civil Miscellaneous Case
Date Filed: 12/16/2021
Jury Demand: None
Nature of Suit: 430 Banks and Banking
Jurisdiction: Federal Question
Plaintiff
Andy Tong represented by Kelly B. Mathis
Law Offices of Kelly B. Mathis
3577 Cardinal Point Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32257
904/549-5755
Email: kmathis@mathislaw.net
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED
V.
Defendant
Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
a foreign profit corporation
Date Filed # Docket Text
12/16/2021 1 COMPLAINT against WELLS FARGO BANK, NA with Jury Demand (Filing fee $ 402 receipt number AFLMDC-19038015) filed by ANDY TONG. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Cover Sheet, # 2 Exhibit Exhibit A, # 3 Exhibit Exhibit B)(Mathis, Kelly) (Entered: 12/16/2021)
12/17/2021 2 NEW CASE ASSIGNED to Judge Marcia Morales Howard and Magistrate Judge Laura Lothman Lambert. New case number: 3:21-cv-1236-MMH-LLL. (SJB) (Entered: 12/17/2021)

L21000185243
Company Name:
ANDY TONG INVESTMENTS LLC

Date of Incorporation:
2021-04-21

Status:
ACTIVE

Company Type:
Florida Limited Liability Company

State
Florida

Annual Reports
No Annual Reports Filed

Principal Address
1044 NW EADIE ST. LAKE CITY, FL 32055

Registered Agent Name:
CASE, JONATHAN A

Registered Agent Address:
4615 WESCONNETT BLVD. JACKSONVILLE, FL 32210

updated on
2021-05-05

Director details (1)

TONG, ANDY

MGR

1044 NW EADIE ST LAKE CITY, FL 32055

Other companies with agent name CASE, JONATHAN A

A-JAX LOCAL VAPE L.L.C.
2021-02-22
ACTIVE

ACS LOADING SERVICES LLC
2019-03-11
INACTIVE

JACASE INVESTMENTS LLC
2017-08-30
ACTIVE

Continue Reading

Acceleration

Rewind 2008: The Home Snatchers Stole Millions of Homes, Lives and Citizen’s Trust By Unimaginable Fraud

Wall Street and the Government decided, if they were to make it through the Greatest Depression, they’d have to spin their biggest lie in the history of the United States of America. It worked.

Published

on

Invasion of the Home Snatchers

How foreclosure courts are helping big banks screw over homeowners

NOV 10, 2010 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: DEC 4, 2021

The foreclosure lawyers down in Jacksonville had warned me, but I was skeptical. They told me the state of Florida had created a special super-high-speed housing court with a specific mandate to rubber-stamp the legally dicey foreclosures by corporate mortgage pushers like Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan Chase.

This “rocket docket,” as it is called in town, is presided over by retired judges who seem to have no clue about the insanely complex financial instruments they are ruling on — securitized mortgages and laby­rinthine derivative deals of a type that didn’t even exist when most of them were active members of the bench.

Their stated mission isn’t to decide right and wrong, but to clear cases and blast human beings out of their homes with ultimate velocity. They certainly have no incentive to penetrate the profound criminal mysteries of the great American mortgage bubble of the 2000s, perhaps the most complex Ponzi scheme in human history — an epic mountain range of corporate fraud in which Wall Street megabanks conspired first to collect huge numbers of subprime mortgages, then to unload them on unsuspecting third parties like pensions, trade unions and insurance companies (and, ultimately, you and me, as taxpayers) in the guise of AAA-rated investments.

Selling lead as gold, shit as Chanel No. 5, was the essence of the booming international fraud scheme that created most all of these now-failing home mortgages.

Looting Main Street

The rocket docket wasn’t created to investigate any of that. It exists to launder the crime and bury the evidence by speeding thousands of fraudulent and predatory loans to the ends of their life cycles, so that the houses attached to them can be sold again with clean paperwork.

The judges, in fact, openly admit that their primary mission is not justice but speed.

One Jacksonville judge, the Honorable A.C. Soud, even told a local newspaper that his goal is to resolve 25 cases per hour.

Given the way the system is rigged, that means His Honor could well be throwing one ass on the street every 2.4 minutes.

Foreclosure lawyers told me one other thing about the rocket docket. The hearings, they said, aren’t exactly public.

“The judges might give you a hard time about watching,” one lawyer warned. “They’re not exactly anxious for people to know about this stuff.”

Inwardly, I laughed at this — it sounded like typical activist paranoia. The notion that a judge would try to prevent any citizen, much less a member of the media, from watching an open civil hearing sounded ridiculous.

Fucked-up as everyone knows the state of Florida is, it couldn’t be that bad. It isn’t Indonesia. Right?

Well, not quite.

When I went to sit in on Judge Soud’s courtroom in downtown Jacksonville, I was treated to an intimate, and at times breathtaking, education in the horror of the foreclosure crisis, which is rapidly emerging as the even scarier sequel to the financial meltdown of 2008:

Invasion of the Home Snatchers II.

In Las Vegas, one in 25 homes is now in foreclosure.

In Fort Myers, Florida, one in 35.

In September, lenders nationwide took over a rec­ord 102,134 properties; that same month, more than a third of all home sales were distressed properties.

All told, some 820,000 Americans have already lost their homes this year, and another 1 million currently face foreclosure.

Throughout the mounting catastrophe, however, many Americans have been slow to comprehend the true nature of the mortgage disaster. They seemed to have grasped just two things about the crisis:

One, a lot of people are getting their houses foreclosed on.

Two, some of the banks doing the foreclosing seem to have misplaced their paperwork.

For most people, the former bit about homeowners not paying their damn bills is the important part, while the latter, about the sudden and strange inability of the world’s biggest and wealthiest banks to keep proper records, is incidental.

Just a little office sloppiness, and who cares?

Those deadbeat homeowners still owe the money, right?

“They had it coming to them,” is how a bartender at the Jacksonville airport put it to me.

But in reality, it’s the unpaid bills that are incidental and the lost paperwork that matters.

It turns out that underneath that little iceberg tip of exposed evidence lies a fraud so gigantic that it literally cannot be contemplated by our leaders, for fear of admitting that our entire financial system is corrupted to its core — with our great banks and even our government coffers backed not by real wealth but by vast landfills of deceptively generated and essentially worthless mortgage-backed assets.

You’ve heard of Too Big to Fail — the foreclosure crisis is Too Big for Fraud.

Think of the Bernie Madoff scam, only replicated tens of thousands of times over, infecting every corner of the financial universe. The underlying crime is so pervasive, we simply can’t admit to it — and so we are working feverishly to rubber-stamp the problem away, in sordid little backrooms in cities like Jacksonville, behind doors that shouldn’t be, but often are, closed.

And that’s just the economic side of the story.

The moral angle to the foreclosure crisis — and, of course, in capitalism we’re not supposed to be concerned with the moral stuff, but let’s mention it anyway — shows a culture that is slowly giving in to a futuristic nightmare ideology of computerized greed and unchecked financial violence.

The monster in the foreclosure crisis has no face and no brain.

The mortgages that are being foreclosed upon have no real owners. The lawyers bringing the cases to evict the humans have no real clients. It is complete and absolute legal and economic chaos.

No single limb of this vast man-­eating thing knows what the other is doing, which makes it nearly impossible to combat — and scary as hell to watch.

What follows is an account of a single hour of Judge A.C. Soud’s rocket docket in Jacksonville.

Like everything else related to the modern economy, these foreclosure hearings are conducted in what is essentially a foreign language, heavy on jargon and impenetrable to the casual observer.

It took days of interviews with experts before and after this hearing to make sense of this single hour of courtroom drama. And though the permutations of small-time scammery and grift in the foreclosure world are virtually endless — your average foreclosure case involves homeowners or investors being screwed at least five or six creative ways — a single hour of court and a few cases is enough to tell the main story.

Because if you see one of these scams, you see them all.

It’s early on a sunny Tuesday morning when I arrive at the chambers of Judge Soud, one of four rotating judges who preside over the local rocket docket.

These special foreclosure courts were established in July of this year, after the state of Florida budgeted $9.6 million to create a new court with a specific mandate to clear 62 percent of the foreclosure cases that were clogging up the system.

Rather than forcing active judges to hear thousands of individual cases, this strategy relies on retired judges who take turns churning through dozens of cases every morning, with little time to pay much attention to the particulars.

What passes for a foreclosure court in Jacksonville is actually a small conference room at the end of a hall on the fifth floor of the drab brick Duval County Courthouse. The space would just about fit a fridge and a pingpong table.

At the head of a modest conference table this morning sits Judge Soud, a small and fussy-looking man who reminds me vaguely of the actor Ben Gazzara.

On one side of the table sits James Kowalski, a former homicide prosecutor who is now defending homeowners.

A stern man with a shaved head and a laconic manner of speaking, Kowalski has helped pioneer a whole new approach to the housing mess, slowing down the mindless eviction machine by deposing the scores of “robo-signers” being hired by the banks to sign phony foreclosure affidavits by the thousands.

For his work on behalf of the dispossessed, Kowalski was recently profiled in a preposterous Wall Street Journal article that blamed attorneys like him for causing the foreclosure mess with their nuisance defense claims.

The headline: “Niche Lawyers Spawned Housing Fracas.”

On the other side of the table are the plaintiff’s attorneys, the guys who represent the banks.

On this level of the game, these lawyers refer to themselves as “bench warmers” — volume stand-ins subcontracted by the big, hired-killer law firms that work for the banks.

One of the bench warmers present today is Mark Kessler, who works for a number of lenders and giant “foreclosure mills,” including the one run by David J. Stern, a gazillionaire attorney and all-Universe asshole who last year tried to foreclose on 70,382 homeowners.

Which is a nice way to make a living, considering that Stern and his wife, Jeanine, have bought nearly $60 million in property for themselves in recent years, including a 9,273-square-foot manse in Fort Lauderdale that is part of a Ritz-Carlton complex.

Kessler is a harried, middle-aged man in glasses who spends the morning perpetually fighting to organize a towering stack of folders, each one representing a soon-to-be-homeless human being. It quickly becomes apparent that Kessler is barely acquainted with the names in the files, much less the details of each case.

“A lot of these guys won’t even get the folders until right before the hearing,” says Kowalski.

When I arrive, Judge Soud and the lawyers are already arguing a foreclosure case; at a break in the action, I slip into the chamber with a legal-aid attorney who’s accompanying me and sit down. The judge eyes me anxiously, then proceeds.

He clears his throat, and then it’s ready, set, fraud!

Judge Soud seems to have no clue that the files he is processing at a breakneck pace are stuffed with fraudulent claims and outright lies.

“We have not encountered any fraud yet,” he recently told a local newspaper. “If we encountered fraud, it would go to [the state attorney], I can tell you that.”

But the very first case I see in his court is riddled with fraud.

Kowalski has seen hundreds of cases like the one he’s presenting this morning.

It started back in 2006, when he went to Pennsylvania to conduct what he thought would be a routine deposition of an official at the lending giant GMAC.

What he discovered was that the official — who had sworn to having personal knowledge of the case — was, in fact, just a “robo-signer” who had signed off on the file without knowing anything about the actual homeowner or his payment history.

(Kowalski’s clients, like most of the homeowners he represents, were actually making their payments on time; in this particular case, a check had been mistakenly refused by GMAC.)

Following the evidence, Kowalski discovered what has turned out to be a systemwide collapse of the process for documenting mortgages in this country.

If you’re foreclosing on somebody’s house, you are required by law to have a collection of paperwork showing the journey of that mortgage note from the moment of issuance to the present.

You should see the originating lender (a firm like Countrywide) selling the loan to the next entity in the chain (perhaps Goldman Sachs) to the next (maybe JP Morgan), with the actual note being transferred each time.

But in fact, almost no bank currently foreclosing on homeowners has a reliable record of who owns the loan; in some cases, they have even intentionally shredded the actual mortgage notes.

That’s where the robo-signers come in.

To create the appearance of paperwork where none exists, the banks drag in these pimply entry-level types — an infamous example is GMAC’s notorious robo-signer Jeffrey Stephan, who appears online looking like an age-advanced photo of Beavis or Butt-Head — and get them to sign thousands of documents a month attesting to the banks’ proper ownership of the mortgages.

This isn’t some rare goof-up by a low-level cubicle slave: Virtually every case of foreclosure in this country involves some form of screwed-up paperwork.

“I would say it’s pretty close to 100 percent,”

says Kowalski. An attorney for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid tells me that out of the hundreds of cases she has handled, fewer than five involved no phony paperwork.

“The fraud is the norm,” she says.

Kowalski’s current case before Judge Soud is a perfect example.

The Jacksonville couple he represents are being sued for delinquent payments, but the case against them has already been dismissed once before. The first time around, the plaintiff, Bank of New York Mellon, wrote in Paragraph 8 that “plaintiff owns and holds the note” on the house belonging to the couple.

But in Paragraph 3 of the same complaint, the bank reported that the note was “lost or destroyed,” while in Paragraph 4 it attests that “plaintiff cannot reasonably obtain possession of the promissory note because its whereabouts cannot be determined.”

The bank, in other words, tried to claim on paper, in court, that it both lost the note and had it, at the same time. Moreover, it claimed that it had included a copy of the note in the file, which it did — the only problem being that the note (a) was not properly endorsed, and (b) was payable not to Bank of New York but to someone else, a company called Novastar.

Now, months after its first pass at foreclosure was dismissed, the bank has refiled the case — and what do you know, it suddenly found the note. And this time, somehow, the note has the proper stamps.

“There’s a stamp that did not appear on the note that was originally filed,” Kowalski tells the judge. (This business about the stamps is hilarious. “You can get them very cheap online,” says Chip Parker, an attorney who defends homeowners in Jacksonville.)

The bank’s new set of papers also traces ownership of the loan from the original lender, Novastar, to JP Morgan and then to Bank of New York.

The bank, in other words, is trying to push through a completely new set of documents in its attempts to foreclose on Kowalski’s clients.

There’s only one problem: The dates of the transfers are completely fucked.

According to the documents, JP Morgan transferred the mortgage to Bank of New York on December 9th, 2008. But according to the same documents, JP Morgan didn’t even receive the mortgage from Novastar until February 2nd, 2009 — two months after it had supposedly passed the note along to Bank of New York.

Such rank incompetence at doctoring legal paperwork is typical of foreclosure actions, where the fraud is laid out in ink in ways that make it impossible for anyone but an overburdened, half-asleep judge to miss.

“That’s my point about all of this,”

Kowalski tells me later.

“If you’re going to lie to me, at least lie well.”

The dates aren’t the only thing screwy about the new documents submitted by Bank of New York.

Having failed in its earlier attempt to claim that it actually had the mortgage note, the bank now tries an all-of-the-above tactic.

“Plaintiff owns and holds the note,” it claims, “or is a person entitled to enforce the note.”

Soud sighs. For Kessler, the plaintiff’s lawyer, to come before him with such sloppy documents and make this preposterous argument — that his client either is or is not the note-holder — well, that puts His Honor in a tough spot.

The entire concept is a legal absurdity, and he can’t sign off on it.

With an expression of something very like regret, the judge tells Kessler,

“I’m going to have to go ahead and accept [Kowalski’s] argument.”

Now, one might think that after a bank makes multiple attempts to push phony documents through a courtroom, a judge might be pissed off enough to simply rule against that plaintiff for good.

As I witness in court all morning, the defense never gets more than one chance to screw up. But the banks get to keep filing their foreclosures over and over again, no matter how atrocious and deceitful their paperwork is.

Thus, when Soud tells Kessler that he’s dismissing the case, he hastens to add:

“Of course, I’m not going to dismiss with prejudice.” With an emphasis on the words “of course.”

Instead, Soud gives Kessler 25 days to come up with better paperwork.

Kowalski fully expects the bank to come back with new documents telling a whole new story of the note’s ownership.

“What they’re going to do, I would predict, is produce a note and say Bank of New York is not the original note-holder, but merely the servicer,” he says.

This is the dirty secret of the rocket docket

The whole system is set up to enable lenders to commit fraud over and over again, until they figure out a way to reduce the stink enough so some judge like Soud can sign off on the scam.

“If the court finds for the defendant, the plaintiffs just refile,” says Parker, the local attorney.

“The only way for the caseload to get reduced is to give it to the plaintiff. The entire process is designed with that result in mind.”

Now all of this — the obviously cooked-up documents, the magically appearing stamp and the rest of it — may just seem like nothing more than sloppy paperwork. After all, what does it matter if the bank has lost a few forms or mixed up the dates?

The homeowners still owe what they owe, and the deadbeats have no right to keep living in a house they haven’t paid for.

But what’s going on at the Jacksonville rocket docket, and in foreclosure courts all across the country, has nothing to do with sloppiness.

All this phony paperwork was actually an essential part of the mortgage bubble, an integral element of what has enabled the nation’s biggest lenders to pass off all that subprime lead as AAA gold.

In the old days, when you took out a mortgage, it was probably through a local bank or a credit union, and whoever gave you your loan held on to it for life.

If you lost your job or got too sick to work and suddenly had trouble making your payments, you could call a human being and work things out.

It was in the banker’s interest, as well as yours, to make a modified payment schedule.

From his point of view, it was better that you pay something than nothing at all.

But that all changed about a decade ago, thanks to the invention of new financial instruments that magically turned all these mortgages into high-grade investments.

Now when you took out a mortgage, your original lender — which might well have been a big mortgage mill like Countrywide or New Century — immediately sold off your loan to big banks like Deutsche and Goldman and JP Morgan.

The banks then dumped hundreds or thousands of home loans at a time into tax-exempt real estate trusts, where the loans were diced up into securities, examined and graded by the ratings agencies, and sold off to big pension funds and other institutional suckers.

Even at this stage of the game, the banks generally knew that the loans they were buying and reselling to investors were shady.

A company called Clayton Holdings, which analyzed nearly 1 million loans being prepared for sale in 2006 and 2007 by 23 banks, found that nearly half of the mortgages failed to meet the underwriting standards being promised to investors.

Citi­group, for instance, had 29 percent of its loans come up short, but it still sold a third of those mortgages to investors.

Goldman Sachs had 19 percent of its mortgages flunk the test, yet it knowingly hawked 34 percent of the risky deals to investors.

D. Keith Johnson, the head of Clayton Holdings, was so alarmed by the findings that he went to officials at three of the main ratings agencies — Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch’s — and tried to get them to properly evaluate the loans.

“Wouldn’t this information be great for you to have as you assign risk levels?” he asked them.

(Translation: Don’t you ratings agencies want to know that half these loans are crap before you give them a thumbs-up?)

But all three agencies rejected his advice, fearing they would lose business if they adopted tougher standards. In the end, the agencies gave large chunks of these mortgage-backed securities AAA ratings — which means “credit risk almost zero.”

Since these mortgage-backed securities paid much higher returns than other AAA investments like treasury notes or corporate bonds, the banks had no trouble attracting investors, foreign and domestic, from pension funds to insurance companies to trade unions.

The demand was so great, in fact, that they often sold mortgages they didn’t even have yet, prompting big warehouse lenders like Countrywide and New Century to rush out into the world to find more warm bodies to lend to.

In their extreme haste to get thousands and thousands of mortgages they could resell to the banks, the lenders committed an astonishing variety of fraud,

from falsifying income statements to making grossly inflated appraisals to misrepresenting properties to home buyers.

Most crucially, they gave tons and tons of credit to people who probably didn’t deserve it, and why not?

These fly-by-night mortgage companies weren’t going to hold on to these loans, not even for 10 minutes.

They were issuing this credit specifically to sell the loans off to the big banks right away, in furtherance of the larger scheme to dump fraudulent AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities on investors.

If you had a pulse, they had a house to sell you.

As bad as Countrywide and all those lenders were, the banks that had sent them out to collect these crap loans were a hundred times worse.

To sell the loans, the banks often dumped them into big tax-exempt buckets called REMICs, or Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits. Each one of these Enron-ish, offshore-like real estate trusts spelled out exactly what kinds of loans were supposed to be in the pool, when they were to be collected, and how they were to be managed.

In order to both preserve their tax-exempt status and deserve their AAA ratings, each of the loans in the pool had to have certain characteristics. The loans couldn’t already be in default or foreclosure at the time they were sold to investors.

If they were advertised as nice, safe, fixed-rate mortgages, they couldn’t turn out to be high-interest junk loans. And, on the most basic level, the loans had to actually exist.

In other words, if the trust stipulated that all the loans had to be collected by August 2005, the bank couldn’t still be sticking in mortgages months later.

Yet that’s exactly what the banks did. In one case handled by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, a homeowner refinanced her house in 2005 but almost immediately got into trouble, going into default in December of that year.

Yet somehow, this woman’s loan was placed into a trust called Home Equity Loan Trust Series AE 2005-HE5 in January 2006 — five months after the deadline for that particular trust.

The loan was not only late, it was already in foreclosure — which means that, by definition, whoever the investors were in AE 2005-HE5 were getting shafted.

Why does stuff like this matter?

Because when the banks put these pools together, they were telling their investors that they were putting their money into tidy collections of real, performing home loans.

But frequently, the loans in the trust were complete shit. Or sometimes, the banks didn’t even have all the loans they said they had. But the banks sold the securities based on these pools of mortgages as AAA-rated gold anyway.

In short, all of this was a scam — and that’s why so many of these mortgages lack a true paper trail.

Had these transfers been done legally, the actual mortgage note and detailed information about all of these transactions would have been passed from entity to entity each time the mortgage was sold.

But in actual practice, the banks were often committing securities fraud (because many of the mortgages did not match the information in the prospectuses given to investors) and tax fraud (because the way the mortgages were collected and serviced often violated the strict procedures governing such investments).

Having unloaded this diseased cargo onto their unsuspecting customers, the banks had no incentive to waste money keeping “proper” documentation of all these dubious transactions.

“You’ve already committed fraud once,” says April Charney, an attorney with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. “What do you have to lose?”

Sitting in the rocket docket, James Kowalski considers himself lucky to have won his first motion of the morning.

To get the usually intractable Judge Soud to forestall a foreclosure is considered a real victory, and I later hear Kowalski getting props and attaboys from other foreclosure lawyers.

In a great deal of these cases, in fact, the homeowners would have a pretty good chance of beating the rap, at least temporarily, if only they had lawyers fighting for them in court.

But most of them don’t.

In fact, more than 90 percent of the cases that go through Florida foreclosure courts are unopposed.

Either homeowners don’t know they can fight their foreclosures, or they simply can’t afford an attorney.

These unopposed cases are the ones the banks know they’ll win — which is why they don’t sweat it if they take the occasional whipping.

That’s why all these colorful descriptions of cases where foreclosure lawyers like Kowalski score in court are really just that — a little color.

The meat of the foreclosure crisis is the unopposed cases; that’s where the banks make their money. They almost always win those cases, no matter what’s in the files.

This becomes evident after Kowalski leaves the room.

“Who’s next?” Judge Soud says. He turns to Mark Kessler, the counsel for the big foreclosure mills. “Mark, you still got some?”

“I’ve got about three more, Judge,” says Kessler.

Kessler then drops three greenish-brown files in front of Judge Soud, who spends no more than a minute or two glancing through each one.

Then he closes the files and puts an end to the process by putting his official stamp on each foreclosure with an authoritative finality:

Kerchunk!
Kerchunk!
Kerchunk!

Each one of those kerchunks means another family on the street.

There are no faces involved here, just beat-the-clock legal machinery.

Watching Judge Soud plow through each foreclosure reminds me of the scene in Fargo where the villain played by Swedish character actor Peter Stormare pushes his victim’s leg through a wood chipper with that trademark bored look on his face.

Mechanized misery and brainless bureaucracy on the one hand, cash for the banks on the other.

What’s sad is that most Americans who have an opinion about the foreclosure crisis don’t give a shit about all the fraud involved. They don’t care that these mortgages wouldn’t have been available in the first place if the banks hadn’t found a way to sell oregano as weed to pension funds and insurance companies.

They don’t care that the Countrywides’ of the world pushed borrowers who qualified for safer fixed-­income loans into far more dangerous adjustable-rate loans, because their brokers got bigger commissions for doing so.

They don’t care that in the rush to produce loans, people were sold houses that turned out to have flood damage or worse, and they certainly don’t care that people were sold houses with inflated appraisals, which left them almost immediately underwater once housing prices started falling.

The way the banks tell it, it doesn’t matter if they defrauded homeowners and investors and taxpayers alike to get these loans.

All that matters is that a bunch of deadbeats aren’t paying their fucking bills.

“If you didn’t pay your mortgage, you shouldn’t be in your house — period,” is how Walter Todd, portfolio manager at Greenwood Capital Associates, puts it.

“People are getting upset about something that’s just procedural.”

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan, is even more succinct in dismissing the struggling homeowners that he and the other megabanks scammed before tossing out into the street.

“We’re not evicting people who deserve to stay in their house,” Dimon says.

There are two things wrong with this argument. (Well, more than two, actually, but let’s just stick to the two big ones.)

The first reason is: It simply isn’t true.

Many people who are being foreclosed on have actually paid their bills and followed all the instructions laid down by their banks. In some cases, a homeowner contacts the bank to say that he’s having trouble paying his bill, and the bank offers him loan modification. But the bank tells him that in order to qualify for modification, he must first be delinquent on his mortgage.

“They actually tell people to stop paying their bills for three months,” says Parker.

The authorization gets recorded in what’s known as the bank’s “contact data­base,” which records every phone call or other communication with a home­owner. But no mention of it is entered into the bank’s “number history,” which records only the payment record.

When the number history notes that the home­owner has missed three payments in a row, it has no way of knowing that the homeowner was given permission to stop making payments. “One computer generates a default letter,” says Kowalski. “Another computer contacts the credit bureaus.”

At no time is there a human being looking at the entire picture.

Which means that homeowners can be foreclosed on for all sorts of faulty reasons: misplaced checks, address errors, you name it. This inability of one limb of the foreclosure beast to know what the other limb is doing is responsible for many of the horrific stories befalling homeowners across the country.

Patti Parker, a local attorney in Jacksonville, tells of a woman whose home was seized by Deutsche Bank two days before Christmas. Months later, Deutsche came back and admitted that they had made a mistake: They had repossessed the wrong property.

In another case that made headlines in Orlando, an agent for JP Morgan mistakenly broke into a woman’s house that wasn’t even in foreclosure and tried to change the locks.

Terrified, the woman locked herself in her bathroom and called 911. But in a profound expression of the state’s reflexive willingness to side with the bad guys, the police made no arrest in the case. Breaking and entering is not a crime, apparently, when it’s authorized by a bank.

The second reason the whole they still owe the fucking money thing is bogus has to do with the changed incentives in the mortgage game.

In many cases, banks like JP Morgan are merely the servicers of all these home loans, charged with collecting your money every month and paying every penny of it into the trust, which is the real owner of your mortgage.

If you pay less than the whole amount, JP Morgan is now obligated to pay the trust the remainder out of its own pocket. When you fall behind, your bank falls behind, too. The only way it gets off the hook is if the house is foreclosed on and sold.

That’s what this foreclosure crisis is all about: fleeing the scene of the crime.

Add into the equation the fact that some of these big banks were simultaneously betting big money against these mortgages — Goldman Sachs being the prime example — and you can see that there were heavy incentives across the board to push anyone in trouble over the cliff.

Things used to be different.

Asked what percentage of struggling homeowners she used to be able to save from foreclosure in the days before securitization,

Charney is quick to answer.

“Most of them,” she says. “I seldom came across a mortgage I couldn’t work out.”

In Judge Soud’s court, I come across a shining example of this mindless rush to foreclosure when I meet Natasha Leonard, a single mother who bought a house in 2004 for $97,500.

Right after closing on the home, Leonard lost her job. But when she tried to get a modification on the loan, the bank’s offer was not helpful.

“They wanted me to pay $1,000,” she says. Which wasn’t exactly the kind of modification she was hoping for, given that her original monthly payment was $840.

“You’re paying $840, you ask for a break, and they ask you to pay $1,000?” I ask.

“Right,” she says.

Leonard now has a job and could make some kind of reduced payment. But instead of offering loan modification, the bank’s lawyers are in their fourth year of doggedly beating her brains out over minor technicalities in the foreclosure process.

That’s fine by the lawyers, who are collecting big fees.

And there appears to be no human being at the bank who’s involved enough to issue a sane decision to end the costly battle.

“If there was a real client on the other side, maybe they could work something out,” says Charney, who is representing Leonard.

In this lunatic bureaucratic jungle of securitized home loans issued by trans­national behemoths, the borrower-lender relationship can only go one of two ways: full payment, or total war.

The extreme randomness of the system is exemplified by the last case I see in the rocket docket.

While most foreclosures are unopposed, with homeowners not even bothering to show up in court to defend themselves, a few pro se defendants — people representing themselves — occasionally trickle in.

At one point during Judge Soud’s proceeding, a tallish blond woman named Shawnetta Cooper walks in with a confused look on her face.

A recent divorcee delinquent in her payments, she has come to court today fully expecting to be foreclosed on by Wells Fargo. She sits down and takes a quick look around at the lawyers who are here to kick her out of her home.

“The land has been in my family for four generations,” she tells me later. “I don’t want to be the one to lose it.”

Judge Soud pipes up and inquires if there’s a plaintiff lawyer present; someone has to lop off this woman’s head so the court can move on to the next case.

But then something unexpected happens: It turns out that Kessler is supposed to be foreclosing on her today, but he doesn’t have her folder.

The plaintiff, technically, has forgotten to show up to court.

Just minutes before, I had watched what happens when defendants don’t show up in court: kerchunk! The judge more or less automatically rules for the plaintiffs when the homeowner is a no-show.

But when the plaintiff doesn’t show, the judge is suddenly all mercy and forgiveness. Soud simply continues Cooper’s case, telling Kessler to get his shit together and come back for another whack at her in a few weeks.

Having done this, he dismisses everyone.

Stunned, Cooper wanders out of the courtroom looking like a person who has stepped up to the gallows expecting to be hanged, but has instead been handed a fruit basket and a new set of golf clubs.

I follow her out of the court, hoping to ask her about her case. But the sight of a journalist getting up to talk to a defendant in his kangaroo court clearly puts a charge into His Honor, and he immediately calls Cooper back into the conference room.

Then, to the amazement of everyone present, he issues the following speech:

“This young man,” he says, pointing at me, “is a reporter for Rolling Stone. It is your privilege to talk to him if you want.” He pauses. “It is also your privilege to not talk to him if you want.”

I stare at the judge, open-mouthed. Here’s a woman who still has to come back to this guy’s court to find out if she can keep her home, and the judge’s admonition suggests that she may run the risk of pissing him off if she talks to a reporter.

Worse, about an hour later, April Charney, the lawyer who accompanied me to court, receives an e-mail from the judge actually threatening her with contempt for bringing a stranger to his court.

Noting that “we ask that anyone other than a lawyer remain in the lobby,” Judge Soud admonishes Charney that “your unprofessional conduct and apparent authorization that the reporter could pursue a property owner immediately out of Chambers into the hallway for an interview, may very well be sited [sic] for possible contempt in the future.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment that Charney never said a word to me about speaking to Cooper.

And let’s overlook entirely the fact that the judge can’t spell the word cited.

The key here isn’t this individual judge — it’s the notion that these hearings are not and should not be entirely public. Quite clearly, foreclosure is meant to be neither seen nor heard.

After Soud’s outburst, Cooper quietly leaves the court.

Once out of sight of the judge, she shows me her file. It’s not hard to find the fraud in the case.

For starters, the assignment of mortgage is autographed by a notorious robo-signer — John Kennerty, who gave a deposition this summer admitting that he signed as many as 150 documents a day for Wells Fargo.

In Cooper’s case, the document with Kennerty’s signature on it places the date on which Wells Fargo obtained the mortgage as May 5th, 2010. The trouble is, the bank bought the loan from Wachovia — a bank that went out of business in 2008.

All of which is interesting, because in her file, it states that Wells Fargo sued Cooper for foreclosure on February 22nd, 2010.

In other words, the bank foreclosed on Cooper three months before it obtained her mortgage from a nonexistent company.

There are other types of grift and outright theft in the file.

As is typical in many foreclosure cases, Cooper is being charged by the bank for numerous attempts to serve her with papers.

But a booming industry has grown up around fraudulent process servers; companies will claim they made dozens of attempts to serve homeowners, when in fact they made just one or none at all. Who’s going to check?

The process servers cover up the crime using the same tactic as the lenders, saying they lost the original summons.

From 2000 to 2006, there was a total of 1,031 “affidavits of lost summons” here in Duval County; in the past two years, by contrast, more than 4,000 have been filed.

Cooper’s file contains a total of $371 in fees for process service, including one charge of $55 for an attempt to serve process on an “unknown tenant.”

But Cooper’s house is owner-occupied — she doesn’t even have a tenant, she tells me with a shrug.

If Mark Kessler had had his shit together in court today, Coop­er would not only be out on the street, she’d be paying for that attempt to serve papers to her nonexistent tenant.

Cooper’s case perfectly summarizes what the foreclosure crisis is all about.

Her original loan was made by Wachovia, a bank that blew itself up in 2008 speculating in the mortgage market. It was then transferred to Wells Fargo, a megabank that was handed some $50 billion in public assistance to help it acquire the corpse of Wachovia.

And who else benefited from that $50 billion in bailout money?

Billionaire Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway fund, which happens to be a major shareholder in Wells Fargo.

It was Buffett’s vice chairman, Charles Munger, who recently told America that it should “thank God” that the government bailed out banks like the one he invests in, while people who have fallen on hard times — that is, homeowners like Shawnetta Cooper — should “suck it in and cope.”

Look: It’s undeniable that many of the people facing foreclosure bear some responsibility for the crisis. Some borrowed beyond their means. Some even borrowed knowing they would never be able to pay off their debt, either hoping to flip their houses right away or taking on mortgages with low initial teaser rates without bothering to think of the future.

The culture of take-for-yourself-now, let-someone-else-pay-later wasn’t completely restricted to Wall Street. It penetrated all the way down to the individual consumer, who in some cases was a knowing accomplice in the bubble mess.

But many of these homeowners are just ordinary Joes who had no idea what they were getting into. Some were pushed into dangerous loans when they qualified for safe ones.

Others were told not to worry about future jumps in interest rates because they could just refinance down the road, or discovered that the value of their homes had been overinflated by brokers looking to pad their commissions.

And that’s not even accounting for the fact that most of this credit wouldn’t have been available in the first place without the Ponzi-like bubble scheme cooked up by Wall Street, about which the average home­owner knew nothing — hell, even the average U.S. senator didn’t know about it.

At worst, these ordinary homeowners were stupid or uninformed — while the banks that lent them the money are guilty of committing a baldfaced crime on a grand scale.

These banks robbed investors and conned homeowners, blew themselves up chasing the fraud, then begged the taxpayers to bail them out.

And bail them out we did:

We ponied up billions to help Wells Fargo buy Wachovia, paid Bank of America to buy Merrill Lynch, and watched as the Fed opened up special facilities to buy up the assets in defective mortgage trusts at inflated prices.

And after all that effort by the state to buy back these phony assets so the thieves could all stay in business and keep their bonuses, what did the banks do?

They put their foot on the foreclosure gas pedal and stepped up the effort to kick people out of their homes as fast as possible, before the world caught on to how these loans were made in the first place.

Why don’t the banks want us to see the paperwork on all these mortgages?

Because the documents represent a death sentence for them.

According to the rules of the mortgage trusts, a lender like Bank of America, which controls all the Countrywide loans, is required by law to buy back from investors every faulty loan the crooks at Countrywide ever issued.

Think about what that would do to Bank of America’s bottom line the next time you wonder why they’re trying so hard to rush these loans into someone else’s hands.

When you meet people who are losing their homes in this foreclosure crisis, they almost all have the same look of deep shame and anguish.

Nowhere else on the planet is it such a crime to be down on your luck, even if you were put there by some of the world’s richest banks, which continue to rake in record profits purely because they got a big fat handout from the government.

That’s why one banker CEO after another keeps going on TV to explain that despite their own deceptive loans and fraudulent paperwork, the real problem is these deadbeat homeowners who won’t pay their fucking bills.

And that’s why most people in this country are so ready to buy that explanation.

Because in America, it’s far more shameful to owe money than it is to steal it.

YOUR DONATION(S) WILL HELP US:

• Continue to provide this website, content, resources, community and help center for free to the many homeowners, residents, Texans and as we’ve expanded, people nationwide who need access without a paywall or subscription.

• Help us promote our campaign through marketing, pr, advertising and reaching out to government, law firms and anyone that will listen and can assist.

Thank you for your trust, belief and support in our conviction to help Floridian residents and citizens nationwide take back their freedom. Your Donations and your Voice are so important.



Continue Reading

Most Read

Copyright © 2022 LawsInFlorida.com is an online brand name which is wholly owned by Blogger Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) registered in Delaware | Caricatures by DonkeyHotey