Foreclosure firm mocks victims with Halloween get-up

United States, Washington: A homeless man rests on a bench along a sidewalk in Washington, DC, on October 3, 2011. (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)
A homeless-themed party might sound like a good idea for a Halloween celebration. But what if it’s celebrated at a foreclosure law firm that handles mortgage issues for all the major banks and whose business actually leaves people homeless?

­Unlike many costume Halloween parties, the black-humor masquerade has sparked overwhelming anger. Employees of Steven J. Baum, which represents lenders including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, are being blamed for mocking the homeowners their law firm targets with foreclosure.

Photos from their annual Halloween Party were released by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. He got photos from a former employee of the foreclosure law firm, who asked to remain anonymous because she “feared retaliation.”

“In an email, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against,” Nocera wrote in his October 28 column.

Nocera described some of the photos in his column.

In one picture, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people, with fake dirt on their faces. One of them holds a bottle in a paper bag, and the other holds a sign around her neck that reads: “3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served.

Nocera explains that his source said that “I was never served” is meant to mock “the typical excuse” of the homeowner trying to evade foreclosure proceedings, he writes.

The other woman in the photo holds a bottle of liquor in a paper bag and pushes a shopping cart with a sign reading "will work for food."

There was also another photo showing a coffin with a picture of a woman whose eyes have been cut out. A sign on the coffin reads: “Rest in Peace. Crazy Susie.” Nocera explains that this is a reference to Susan Chana Lask, a lawyer who “had filed a class-action suit against Steven J. Baum and had posted a YouTube video denouncing the firm’s foreclosure practices.”

According to Nocera, the firm is already under investigation by New York’s attorney general, and it recently agreed to pay $2 million to resolve an investigation by the Department of Justice into whether it had "filed misleading pleadings, affidavits and mortgage assignments in the state and federal courts of New York."

In a statement released by Steven J. Baum, the company stated that Nocera’s column was “another attempt by The New York Times to attack our firm and our work.”