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Former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone testifying before Congress in 2010.

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK — Bank of America was found liable for fraud Wednesday over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit, a major win for the U.S. government in one of the few trials stemming from the financial crisis.

After a four-week trial, a federal jury in New York found the bank liable on one civil fraud charge. Countrywide originated shoddy home loans in a process called “Hustle” and sold them to government mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government said.

The four men and six women on the jury also found former Countrywide executive Rebecca Mairone liable on the one fraud charge she faced.

The U.S. Justice Department has said it would seek up to $848.2 million, the gross loss it said Fannie and Freddie suffered on the loans. But it will be up to U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff to decide on the penalty. Arguments on how the judge will assess penalties are set for Dec. 5.

Any penalty would add to the more than $40 billion Bank of America (BAC) has spent on disputes stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

“The jury’s decision concerned a single Countrywide program that lasted several months and ended before Bank of America’s acquisition of the company,” Bank of America spokesman Lawrence Grayson said. “We will evaluate our options for appeal.”

Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for Mairone, called his client a “woman of integrity, ethics and honesty,” adding they would fight on. “She never engaged in fraud, because there was no fraud,” he said.

Wednesday’s verdict was a major victory for the Justice Department, which has been criticized for failing to hold banks and executives accountable for their roles in the events leading up to the financial crisis.

The government continues to investigate banks for conduct related to the financial crisis. The verdict comes as the government is negotiating a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase (JPM) to resolve a number of probes and claims arising from its mortgage business, including the sale of mortgage bonds.

Risky Loans

The lawsuit stemmed from a whistleblower case originally brought by Edward O’Donnell, a former Countrywide executive who stands to earn up to $1.6 million for his role.

The case centered on a program called the “High Speed Swim Lane” — also called “HSSL” or “Hustle” — that government lawyers said Countrywide started in 2007.

The Justice Department contended that fraud and other defects were rampant in HSSL loans because Countrywide eliminated loan-quality checkpoints and paid employees based on loan volume and speed.

The Justice Department said the process was overseen by Mairone, a former chief operating officer of Countrywide’s Full Spectrum Lending division. Mairone is now a managing director at JPMorgan.

Amy Bonitatibus, a JPMorgan spokeswoman, said, “We are reviewing the decision.”

About 43 percent of the loans sold to the mortgage giants were materially defective, the government said.

Bank of America bought Countrywide in July 2008. Two months later, the government took over Fannie and Freddie. Bank of America and Mairone denied wrongdoing. Lawyers for the bank sought to show the jury that Countrywide had tried to ensure it was issuing quality loans and that no fraud occurred.

The lawsuit was the first financial crisis-related case against a bank by the Justice Department to go to trial under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act.

The law, passed in the wake of the 1980s savings-and-loan scandals, covers fraud affecting federally insured financial institutions.

The Justice Department, and particularly lawyers in the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in the Southern District of New York, have sought to dust off the rarely used law and bring cases against banks accused of fraud.

Among its attractions, FIRREA provides a statute of limitations of 10 years and allows the government to bring civil cases for alleged criminal wrongdoing.

Virginia Gibson, a lawyer at the law firm Hogan Lovells, said the Bank of America verdict was a “big deal because it shows the scope of a tool the government has not used frequently since its inception.”

Gibson and other lawyers say any appeal by Bank of America would likely focus on a ruling made by the judge before the trial that endorsed a government position that it can bring a FIRREA case against a bank when the bank itself was the financial institution affected by the fraud.

The case was one of three lawsuits in New York where judges had endorsed that interpretation. Banks have generally argued that the interpretation is contrary to the intent of Congress, which they said is more focused on others committing fraud on banks.

Bank of America’s case was the first to go to trial, a rarity given that banks more typically choose to settle government claims instead of face a jury. But Bank of America had said that it “can’t be expected to compensate every entity that claims losses that actually were caused by the economic downturn.”

In a statement, Bharara said Bank of America “chose to defend Countrywide’s conduct with all its might and money, claiming there was no case here.”

“This office will never hesitate to go to trial to expose fraudulent corporate conduct and to hold companies accountable, particularly when it has caused such harm to the public,” Bharara said.


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foreclosure in new canaan ct

By Christine DiGangi

The number of distressed properties last month decreased 27 percent from September 2012, with a little less than 1.3 million properties in some stage of foreclosure (default, auction or bank owned). That’s one in every 998 homes in foreclosure across the nation. Data from real estate site RealtyTrac showed that while foreclosures were up 2 percent from August, filings have continued to fall over the course of this past year. Prices of those foreclosed homes have also declined, in conjunction with rising values of non-distressed properties, resulting in a more significant discount.

In August, the most recent sales data available on RealtyTrac, the discount on foreclosed homes was 39.5 percent, or an average of $73,900. That’s an increased discount of $3,900 (5.6 percent) from last year, at a median sale price of $113,000. The median sale price for a non-distressed property in August was $186,900.

But the news isn’t good everywhere. Foreclosure activity spiked 104 percent in Nevada from July to August, as it overtook Florida as the state with the most foreclosures. It remained on top in September with activity increasing 44 percent from August. With 1 in every 249 properties in foreclosure, Nevada’s foreclosure rate is up 97 percent from September 2012.

Florida, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey join Nevada as the five states with the highest foreclosure rates. In June, 1 in every 328 Florida homes had a foreclosure filing, and the rate has declined to 1 in 406 in September.

Below, AOL Real Estate has selected a gallery of higher-end foreclosed homes that are for sale in the 10 states with the most foreclosures on the market, as of September.


More on Credit.com:
Why You Should Check Your Credit Before Buying a Home
How to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
How to Search for Your Next Home

More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
homes for sale in your area.
foreclosures in your area.

Find homes for rent.

Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.


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Nearly a decade after moving to a hotel after losing her home in foreclosure, a Wisconsin woman faces eviction for an unpaid bill of $29,000. Jana Ganjian says that her poor health put her out of a job and then her home, and that she’s only stayed at the hotel all this time because she was unable to find a place to rent.

“I had no vision of staying for nine and a half years,” Ganjian told Milwaukee TV station WISN, “but with no family, no longer with a home, the hotel became home and the staff became family.” The Journal Times of Racine quoted her as saying that she’s disabled by a disease similar to lupus and “If I could be working, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

jana ganjian lawyer joseph seifert

Ganjian reportedly has been paying $89 a day, with the help of Social Security disability benefits, to stay at the Racine Marriott in Mount Pleasant, but the hotel sought to evict her after she filed for bankruptcy in August. Ganjian said that although she reached the highest level under Marriott’s rewards points program, she wasn’t allowed to apply those points to her stay. A judge ruled last week that Ganjian must leave the hotel by Oct. 24.

The Associated Press said that it was unclear how Ganjian managed to stay long enough to accrue such a large bill at the hotel, and that the hotel’s general manager, Brian Wismar, declined to discuss Ganjian’s situation, as a matter of customer privacy. As seen in the video above, Ganjian’s attorney (pictured) says it’s also unclear where his client will go after she must leave the Marriott.

More about foreclosure and eviction:
Facing Eviction, Man Finds $4.85 Million Lottery Ticket

Robo-Signing Scandal: Hundreds More Military Members Were Victims

See the $2.8 Million Home Ex-NBA Star Lost to Foreclosure

More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
homes for sale in your area.
foreclosures in your area.

Find homes for rent.

Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.


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LOS ANGELES — The number of U.S. homes set on the path to foreclosure slid to a seven-year low in the third quarter, reflecting a gradually improving housing market and fewer homeowners falling behind on mortgage payments.

Lenders initiated foreclosure action on 174,366 homes in the July-September period, the lowest level since the second quarter of 2006, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

Foreclosure starts declined 13 percent from the previous quarter and were down 39 percent from the third quarter last year, the firm said.

The national slowdown in foreclosure starts comes as the U.S. housing market continues to recover from a deep slump, a rebound driven by rising home prices, steady job growth and fewer troubled loans dating back to the housing bubble days. Fewer homes entering the foreclosure pipeline should translate into fewer properties that eventually end up lost to foreclosure.

“It’s looking really good that there are not more coming into the pipeline,” said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac. “Barring any other economic shock to the system, we expect that to bode well going forward.”

Foreclosure starts fell on an annual basis in the third quarter in 38 states, including Colorado, Arizona, California and Illinois. They increased from a year earlier in 11 states, including Maryland, Oregon, New Jersey and Connecticut.

While fewer homes are entering the foreclosure process, lenders stepped up home repossessions, which led to a quarterly increase in homes lost to foreclosure.

Completed foreclosures rose 7 percent in the third quarter versus the April-June period, the firm said. Completed foreclosures were down 24 percent from the third quarter last year, however.

All told, 119,485 homes were taken back by lenders in the July-September quarter. That puts the nation on pace to end this year with roughly 507,497 completed foreclosures, or down about 24 percent from 2012’s total.

Foreclosures peaked in 2010 at 1.05 million and have been declining ever since.

The number of homes taken back by banks in the third quarter climbed from the previous quarter in 26 states, including New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Virginia, RealtyTrac said.

Much of the quarterly increase in foreclosures came about in states where courts oversee the foreclosure process. Those courts were backed up with cases two years ago, but have been making progress working through their backlog.

Even so, it’s taking longer for homes in many states to complete the foreclosure process.

In the third quarter, it took an average of 551 days, or 1.5 years, for a U.S. home to move from initial default status to ultimately being repossessed by the lender, the firm said.

That’s up from an average of 526 days in the second quarter and an increase from 382 days in the third quarter of last year.

“It’s a sign that we’re still dealing with the wreckage of the last housing bust,” Blomquist said.

In New York, it took an average of 1,037 days, or nearly three years, for the foreclosure process to run its course in the third quarter, the longest of any state. Maine clocked the shortest average time to foreclose at 160 days.

The impact of foreclosures remains sharply elevated in some states. Florida topped the nation with a foreclosure rate of more than twice the national average in the third quarter.

Rounding out the top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates in the July-September period were: Nevada, Maryland, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Indiana and South Carolina.


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Chicago wants renters to be able to keeping living in buildings that have fallen into default or be paid thousands for their pains. A new law designed to protect renters from suddenly losing their homes because of foreclosure just took effect this week in Chicago, with the hope that it will also stem a tide of vacant and derelict dwellings that have afflicted that city and many others in the wake of the housing crisis. The ordinance, called “Keep Chicago Renting,” requires that a renter of a foreclosed property be paid $10,600 to relocate or be granted a rent-controlled lease until that property is sold.

In 2010, AOL Real Estate reported that the occupants of more than 8,500 rental units in Chicago were pushed out by foreclosures in 2009. Along with losing their homes, it was estimated then that it cost Chicago’s renters $7.3 million in lost security deposits. The situation then got even worse, with “banks systematically empty foreclosed buildings, leaving them vacant for months or years,” according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (which Bloomberg Law described as a primary force behind the Chicago ordinance). Chicago radio station WBEZ cited committee figures for 2012 that said there were 4,346 foreclosures on Chicago apartment buildings that affected 11,932 rental units.

In a story that year about the impact of vacant properties on neighboring homes and whole neighborhoods, the executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago described to AOL Real Estate how they were pushing other homes toward foreclosure and worse. “They become magnets of crime,” Ed Jacob said of the vacant properties. “They’ll get stripped of all their copper. People use them to stash their drugs. It’s a huge psychological effect on homeowners who are hanging on.” The Lawyers Committee said criminal activity in such buildings rose 48 percent in seven years.

Banks, landlords and real estate agents opposing the “Keep Chicago Renting” ordinance warned that it would only aggravate the problems it’s designed to relieve. “It’s going to be a disincentive for investment in multi-units from a wide range of financing sources,” Brian Bernardoni, senior director of government affairs and public policy of the Illinois Association of Realtors was quoted by WBEZ as saying. “Any time you have a lack of investment, there’s going to be a lack of rehab, a lack of sustainable affordable housing and preservation of affordable housing units.”

See more details and reaction to the “Keep Chicago Renting” ordinance in the video above.

More about vacant homes:
Abandoned New Orleans House Falls on Neighbor’s Home
U.S. Cities With the Most Vacant Homes
Abandoned Home a ‘Den of Violence,’ Neighbors Say

More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to
calculate mortgage payments.
Find foreclosures in your area.
See more celebrity real estate.
Find homes for rent in your area.

Follow us on Twitter at @AOLRealEstate or connect with AOL Real Estate on Facebook.


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Stop Foreclosure

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www.KucanAndClark.com. We help Homeowners, investors and relators stop and avoid foreclosure in San Diego. Whether you are considering Loan Modification, Bankruptcy, or a Short Sale, we can help. No matter your situation or location or type of property you have, even if it needs repairs or it’s upsidedown, you can count on us to give you your best options for stopping foreclosure in San Diego. We never charge a fee and working with us is always free. We are cash buyers, will negotiate with your bank, meet the BPO, and take care of escrow and title as well. We also pay a $1000 referral fee if you know of anyone in foreclosure that we help. Visit us at www.StopForeclosureInSanDiegoNow.com

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Stop Foreclosure http://www.consumerdefenseprograms.com/a Foreclosure expert, Corey Vandenberg explains what is foreclosure.

“One of the most common questions that I get about foreclosure or stopping foreclosure is people want to know really, in its essence, what is it? What is foreclosure? I’m going to try and make this simple for you so that you really get the understanding of what is happening. When you signed a loan agreement with a bank, and there’s two types of foreclosures that can happen in the United States, there’s what we call a trust deed state and there’s what we call a mortgage state, and depending on which state you live in is what’s going to determine how those foreclosures happen, like what the procedures are, and the rules and what not.

Here’s the best way I’ve ever come up with to explain a foreclosure. The common misconception is that a foreclosure is the bank taking your house. The reality is, if you’re familiar with a word, by proxy, or what it means to do something by proxy, that is actually what is happening in a foreclosure. What’s happening is, you signed an agreement when you took out a loan that said that in the event that I don’t live up to the terms of this agreement, then I grant specific legal power to the lender or their trustee to go ahead and sell my house, as me, by proxy. When they’re standing up on the courthouse steps auctioning a home, they are actually doing that under the home owners’ authority on behalf of the home owner. It’s you selling your house to satisfy the debt of obligation that exists because of the mortgage. It’s not the bank selling your house, it’s you selling your house, really. This process, like I said, can happen two different ways, depending on which type of state you’re in, whether it’s a mortgage state or a trustee state. This is a very important distinction. In a mortgage state, what’s essentially happening is there is a lawsuit being filed where there’s a contract that exists which is your loan agreement and the bank is saying in the court systems, “Look, we’ve got this contact here, and under the terms, they’ve defaulted, or we’re alleging they defaulted, and we want permission from the courts to satisfy the contract according to the terms and be able to recover any damages,” which is pretty typical of any type of lawsuit.

A trustee state is very different. A trustee state, kind of acts on the theory that everything’s already been worked out in the contract, there’s no need to go to court and enforce the contract, it’s here, it’s plain, it’s written on the face of the document, we can follow it. As long as the bank follows the rules in that state, then they’re legally allowed to just go ahead and proceed with the foreclosure according to those rules because it’s spelled out in your contract. Obviously I’m making this very simple, but that is the core essence of the difference of a trustee foreclose and a mortgage state foreclosure. As far as any other aspects of what foreclosure is by definition, those are the two most important things. What I would close with is that, a lot of times people feel like they either don’t have options or they don’t know what their options are in a foreclosure. Specifically, you almost always have the ability, up to a point, to bring the home current. Some of the other options that we’re going to talk about in other videos kick in when you don’t have the ability to bring it current. It’s a very big misconception people run into that they feel like now that I’ve fallen behind, I can’t even bring it current, and that’s absolutely no the case. That is very possible, I would say 99 percent of the time. Defining foreclosure, it’s really just a legal action where the lender is trying to recover the collateral, and they can do it one of the two ways we just talked about.”

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