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19 Jun, 2013 16:52

'We were told to lie' - Bank of America employees open up about foreclosure practices

'We were told to lie' - Bank of America employees open up about foreclosure practices

Employees of Bank of America say they were encouraged to lie to customers and were even rewarded for foreclosing on homes, staffers of the financial giant claim in new court documents.

Sworn statements from several Bank of America employees contain a number of damning allegations, the latest claims entered as evidence in a multi-state class action lawsuit that challenges the bank’s history with foreclosures.

According to testimonies obtained by journalists at ProPublica, supervisors at various Bank of America branches across the United States encouraged employees to regularly deny loan modification applications with no reason. At times, they were told to make up excuses to customers who risked losing their homes.

In one of the sworn statements, an ex-bank staffer said he would be directed to deny upwards of 1,500 loan modification applications at a single time with no apparent reason.

“To justify the denials, employees produced fictitious reasons, for instance saying the homeowner had not sent in the required documents, when in actuality, they had,” William Wilson, Jr., a former underwriter for the bank, wrote in his statement.

Elsewhere in his testimony, Wilson wrote that he was instructed to deny any applications for the Obama administration-created Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) that were older than 60 days, even in instances in “which the homeowner had provided all required financial documents and fully complied with the terms of a Trial Period Plan.”

Simone Gordon, a senior collector at B of A from 2007 through 2012, said, “We were told to lie to customers and claim that Bank of America had not received documents it had requested.”

“We were told that admitting that the Bank received documents ‘would open a can of worms,’” Gordon said, since the bank was regularly understaffed with regards to the process of reviewing the applications.

An average underwriter at B of A could have 400 outstanding applications awaiting review at any time, Gordon said in her statement. She also said collectors “who placed ten or more accounts into foreclosure in a given month received a $500 bonus.”

“Bank of America also gave employees gift cards to retail stores like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond as rewards for placing accounts into foreclosure,” she said.

Gordon also said that site leaders regularly instructed employees to prolong the loan modification process for customers because the longer proceedings were delayed, “the more fees Bank of America would collect."

The statements were filed in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts last week, and the bank has already responded by condemning the claims.

"We continue to demonstrate our commitment to assisting customers who are at risk of foreclosure and, at best, these attorneys are painting a false picture of the bank's practices and the dedication of our employees," the bank said in an official statement. "While we will address the declarations in more depth when we file our opposition to plaintiffs' motion next month, suffice it is to say that each of the declarations is rife with factual inaccuracies."

Even outside of the bank, though, others in the industry say they suspect these practices indeed occurred.

"I've seen all of those things that this lawsuit has mentioned. Yes I have," Jason McGrath a foreclosure attorney in Charlotte, North Caroline, told WSOCTV News. "It's one of those things that it's great for folks like me because we experience this on a day-to-day basis and we are finally glad to see it see the light of day," he continued. "Some of my clients say I'm so glad to hear you tell me other people are going through this and it's not just me.It's weird since they feel better that other people are going through this as well.”

Christy Romero, the special inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, told Bloomberg that “It goes without saying that this is an outright abuse of consumers and government mortgage-assistance programs.”

The statements are just some of the latest testimonies against the bank, certainly not the first. Last year, Bank of America was among five mortgage servicers that divvied out a $25 billion settlement to state and federal regulators after coming under fire for their foreclosing practices.