To Clean Up Foreclosure Mess, Banks Rely On Little-Known Industry Plagued By Fraud, Abuse

Last March, a 23-year-old bank contractor cut through the secured gate at the entrance to a farm in Little Rock, Ark., and proceeded to a small house on the property. There, according to a police report, he broke the lock off one of the doors and forced his way inside.

The man, who police would later identify as David Cole, was allegedly there on official business: He worked in a little-known but booming industry that maintains and inspects millions of foreclosed and abandoned homes owned by mortgage lenders in the wake of an epochal real estate bust. The bank responsible for this particular home had presumably decided that the home was another discarded mess, and Cole’s company had been dispatched to shore the building against the ravages of weather and decay.

The owner of the property, a recently widowed woman named Marie Osborne, acknowledges that she was indeed in foreclosure. She was away when Cole arrived, she said. Still, the house was very much hers and far from abandoned, as even a cursory review would have made clear, according to a lawsuit she subsequently filed.

When she returned home, Osborne was “astonished” to discover that her doors had been padlocked and her belongings ransacked, she claims. A grandfather clock was missing, along with an antique gold mirror, several televisions and family photos, Osborne alleges.

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