WASHINGTON -- Mortgage giant Fannie Mae knew about allegations of improper foreclosure practices by law firms in 2003 but did not act to stop them, a government watchdog says.
Similar allegations are the subject of a probe by state attorneys general into how lenders and law firms ignored proper procedures to handle a crush of foreclosure paperwork.
An unnamed shareholder warned Fannie Mae of alleged foreclosure abuses in 2003, Steve Linick, the inspector general for the agency that regulates Fannie, said in a report released Tuesday.
Fannie Mae responded by hiring a law firm to investigate the claims in 2005. The law firm reported in 2006 that it had found foreclosure attorneys in Florida "routinely filing false pleadings and affidavits."
Fannie officials said they told a government official about the law firm's findings in 2006. That unnamed official, who now works for Fannie's regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said he couldn't recall the conversation, the report said.
On Tuesday, Fannie Mae declined to respond to specific allegations in the inspector general's report. But spokesman Andrew Wilson said Fannie had "immediately addressed" issues raised about law firms back in 2006.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who had requested the inspector general's report in February, said the most troubling findings were that Fannie continued to use law firms even after hearing allegations that linked the firms to foreclosure abuses.
The report shows that "an untold number of borrowers with loans owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae may have suffered abuses that violated their legal rights," Cummings wrote in a letter to Edward J. DeMarco, FHFA's acting director.
Fannie began using a network of attorneys in 1997 to help handle foreclosures, evictions and bankruptcies. In 2008, the network grew to 140 law firms. And the number of foreclosures in Fannie's portfolio reached historic highs. Foreclosures more than doubled from 2007 to 2008. They grew 50 percent in 2009.
In June 2010, FHFA officials traveled to Florida to study the foreclosure crisis. They found that the mortgage industry was overwhelmed by foreclosures; that the average foreclosure processing time had grown from 150 days to more than 400 days; that lenders were beset by flawed documentation; and that law firms weren't devoting enough time to cases.
Several states, including California, Delaware and New York, oppose a proposed settlement with the lenders. They complain that the lenders would receive unfair immunity from civil litigation under the deal.
Fannie and its sister company, Freddie Mac, own or guarantee about half of U.S. mortgages. That equals nearly 31 million loans worth more than $5 trillion. And they account for nearly all new mortgages.
The Bush administration seized control of the mortgage giants in September 2008, hoping to stabilize the housing industry.
The inspector general's report says that the FHFA plans to change its oversight policies by the end of 2012. The report is among several government inquiries into the aftermath of the housing crisis.
A broader report into missteps by Fannie and Freddie is expected this fall.
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Watchdog: Fannie, Freddie Knew of Robo-Signing in 2003
Location: Cherry Hills Village, Colo.
Price: $8.95 million
Sq. Ft.: 21,320
Situated in affluent Cherry Hills Village, this home is absolutely enormous, spanning more than 20,000 square feet on its 2.5-acre plot. The home boasts mountain views, five fireplaces, a giant family room and a garage that holds a whopping nine cars. The neighborhood homeowner's association offers a clubhouse, pool, tennis courts and trash removal.
This shingle-style mansion commands 359 feet of beachy lakefront and three total acres of prime Orono real estate. The residence, which features tile floors and vaulted ceilings, also offers a carriage house for any guests you'd like to keep at arm's length on their lake house sojourn.
Behind its stately stone and stucco exterior, this home offers equally elegant interior character with decorative features, like exposed-beam ceilings, reclaimed wood floors and Victorian-style chandeliers. The home sits on a ridge in the Upper Canyon of Silverleaf that has uninterrupted panoramas of the city.
Location: Castle Rock, Colo.
Price: $2.55 million
Sq. Ft.: 8,607
This home fits its town's name: With its turret and a stone exterior the mansion resembles a castle. Officially labeled a "mountain contemporary," the home is located on a cul-de-sac and comes with a four-car garage.
But that's not all it comes with. Get the full details by viewing the listing.
The "Wyndham Estate" sits on Newport's posh Ocean Drive. Having undergone extensive renovations, the massive stone baronial mansion offers a ballroom, music room, elaborate landscaping and a rooftop deck with panoramic views of the ocean.
It's hard to argue with the listing description when it describes this behemoth as "extraordinarily opulent." Adjacent to the world-class Arizona Biltmore Golf Course, the estate has a sweeping paved motor court that leads up to a massive amalgamation of stone, wood and iron -- 17,799 square feet of it.
It's the sort of home you can actually get lost in. For avid cooks -- servants or otherwise -- there's a lot to work with: The mansion has four kitchens. In addition to myriad other amenities, the monster residence offers a home theater, pool, spa, sauna, steam room and elevator.
Location: Del Mar, Calif.
Price: $4.495 million
Sq. Ft.: 3,142
Said to offer the most square footage of all homes in the ritzy Beach Colony of Del Mar, this stunner is steps from the beach. Special features include a great room, multiple patios and a secluded outdoor area with a spa, sand room and game room.
This storied estate built in 1930 may need "major renovating," according to the listing, but its lush landscaping is sure to impress: Three whole acres of garden stretch across the premises, offering paths, grottoes, waterfalls, caves, and ponds draped with tropical trees and other foliage.
Location: Las Vegas, Nev.
Price: $2.45 million
Sq. Ft.: 13,198
One of many, many other foreclosed homes in Las Vegas, Ground Zero of the housing crisis, this home shows just how far the dollar really goes when it comes to Sin City dirt. For $2.45 million, you get seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, 13,198 square feet, a lighted tennis court, a come-hither pool and much more.
Live it up in this Spanish-style mansion built in 2002 -- you know, back when Kelly Clarkson and home prices were on the rise. The years have not been kind, however, and another millionaire’s misfortune could be your ticket to the good life.
Whoo, doggie! Everything’s bigger in Texas, including this over-the-top, Mediterranean-style villa. Unfortunately for the previous owner, this dream castle was built in 2009, right in the middle of the housing market’s freefall. The massive manor includes three bars, a game room, a lounge, a “poolside kitchen and fountain,” multiple fireplaces and two elevators. So much for fiscal austerity.
The fact that a home of this caliber can end up in the bank’s pocket shows just how pervasive the housing crisis has been. Built in 2004, this glass and concrete beauty is one sprawling, intricate showroom. With panoramic views of the hilly Denver landscape, this modern four-bedroom is perfect for star gazing – just so long as you’re comfortable with the neighbors staring back.