Two bankruptcy cases in Louisiana that have revealed systematic, persistent foreclosure abuses by Wells Fargo have gotten enough media attention that it is inconceivable that banking regulators don’t know about them. The lack of any intervention, or even so much as a throat-clearing by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is yet another proof of how the regulator apparently sees its role as fronting for banks rather than enforcing rules.
This story is back in the news thanks to an appeals court smackdown of Wells, which has engaged in a long-standing war of attrition with one of the plaintiffs, a Michael Jones. The reason for the appeal was that the bank was fighting the judge’s imposition of punitive damages of $3.1 million for Wells’ “reprehensible” conduct.
We wrote about the underlying case a year ago. Bankruptcy judge, Elizabeth Magner of the Eastern District of Louisiana, had found Wells Fargo guilty of egregious foreclosure abuses in a 2007 case, Jones v. Wells Fargo. In it, the bank admitted that the types of overcharges it made in bankruptcy cases were “part of its normal course of conduct, practiced in perhaps thousands of cases.” The judge awarded damages and recovery of attorney fees on top of repayment of the impermissible charges, and ordered the bank to fix its accounting.
Fast forward four months, and another case appears in Mangers’s court with the same sort of verboten charges, proving that Wells has not taken the required corrective measures. As the Center for Public Integrity described it:
In an April 2008 ruling, Elizabeth Magner, a U.S. bankruptcy judge in New Orleans, rejected the two charges [for broker price opinions charged when the parish in which the home was located was evacuated thanks to Hurricane Katrina] as invalid. She also disallowed 43 home inspections, 39 late charges, and thousands of dollars in legal fees charged to the Stewarts’ account.
Almost every disallowed fee was imposed while the Stewarts were making regular monthly payments on their home…
Magner determined that Wells Fargo had been “duplicitous and misleading” and ordered the bank to pay $27,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees. She also took the unusual step of requiring the servicer to audit about 400 home loan files in cases in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Wells fought successfully to keep the results of the audit under seal, and last summer a federal appeals court overturned the part of Magner’s ruling that required the audit. But two people familiar with the results told iWatch News that Wells Fargo’s audit had turned up accounting errors in nearly every loan file it reviewed.