Managers at Wells Fargo and other major banks ignored widespread errors in the foreclosure process and, in some cases, instructed employees to adopt made-up titles and push documents through the system despite internal objections, according to a wide-ranging review by federal investigators.
The banks have largely focused the blame for mistakes on low-level employees, attributing many of the problems to the surge in the volume of foreclosures after the housing market collapsed and the economy weakened in 2008.
But the report concludes that managers were aware of the problems and did nothing to correct them. The shortcuts were directed by managers in some cases, according to the report, which is by the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question – How could so many people have participated in this misconduct?” David Montoya, the inspector general of the housing department, said in a statement. “The answer – simple greed.”
At Bank of America, which until late last year was the nation’s largest mortgage servicer, two employees testified that they had raised concerns about whether documents were being properly notarized, but managers told them to proceed. One vice president said documents in her department were checked only for “formatting and spelling errors,” not the underlying figures or facts in the case.
At San Francisco’s Wells Fargo, now the nation’s largest mortgage servicer and originator, employees told the inspector general’s office that the company’s management had assigned them bogus titles, including “vice president of loan documentation,” even though they had no training in document review. Before becoming vice president, one employee worked at a pizza restaurant.
And instead of remedying the problems, Wells Fargo’s management shortened the review period to less than 48 hours instead of five to seven days, the employees said.
The banks have argued that despite document errors, foreclosures were justified because borrowers had fallen behind on their payments. But the report, which focused on foreclosures from 2008 to 2010 of federally backed loans serviced by five major banks, suggests that the banks violated state laws governing the foreclosure process.