It seemed like the Treasury Secretary doth protest a bit too much as a Shakespearean drama unfolded at a July 27th meeting of the House Financial Services Subcommittee. Steven Mnuchin, like some wayward damsel in distress, took deep umbrage at Representative Keith Ellison’s (D-MN) suggestion that he was anything but an honest, ethical banker; albeit one who headed up the hyper-controversial OneWest Bank.
The ghosts of banking’s past seemed to surface with a vengeance when the term “robo-signing” — a foreclosure short-cut liberally used by OneWest — was hurled his way by the Congressman. This, in turn, proved too much for the normally passive Treasury boss who decided, like Network’s, Howard Beale, he was angry, really angry and wasn’t going to take it anymore.
In prickly fashion he loaded up his blunderbuss and unloaded some lead balls Ellison’s way:
Do you even know what Robo-signing is?
The die was cast and the stage set for a few minute’s worth of parrying, ducking and sparring. Ellison, citing the documented work of OneWest robosigner Erica Johnson-Seck in helping to expedite the foreclosure process, was met by Mnuchin’s spiteful refusal to accept this truth.
Earlier on, and without any prompting from the committee, the Treasury Secretary had also surfaced a bit of Hamlet-style guilt; offering this pronouncement:
I take great offense to anybody who calls me the foreclosure king,
His anger towards Ellison was so palpable that Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) asked the Treasury Secretary to apologize.
Mnuchin refused to back down; instead, donning a Crown of Thorns, he portrayed himself as an innocent being led to the slaughter.
I’m not apologizing to anybody because robo-signing is not a legal term and I was being harassed
This got me thinking: why not test the veracity of the Treasury Secretary’s statement by running it by an old acquaintance, Linda Tirelli, a bankruptcy attorney in White Plains, N.Y., who knows a great deal about the subject. In a 2012 post for American Banker I referenced her keen sense for sniffing out fraudulent foreclosure documents.
In my opinion — and in this realm — she ranks as a lawyer of Wonder Woman stature.
Seeing this as a teachable moment Tirelli graciously offered to respond directly to the Treasury Secretary:
Secretary Munchin: I do know what robo-signing is and while you don’t think it’s a “legal” term all you need to do is enter the term “robo-signer” into a search engine and, lo and behold, discover it’s a widely used and accepted term found in legal documents, deposition transcripts, and judicial opinions throughout the country. I’ve spent the last ten years of my legal career calling out the systemic fraud that is robo-signing; a practice that’s been adopted as a “business as usual model” by the largest financial institutions in our country. Just for fun, Secretary Munchin, please Google “Linda Tirelli robo signer” and you’ll find no less than eight hundred and forty hits highlighting my work as a consumer advocate exposing the fraud that is robo-signing and document fabrication. Next: Google “Steven Mnuchin robo signer” and you’ll come up with nearly the same number of results; essentially, pointing out your rationalizing the practice. Some background: falsified documents are routinely robo-signed by low-income wage earners trying to make ends meet. In depositions (I dare you to ask me for transcripts) they freely admit that they aren’t the person whose name is on the document, be it the VP of CitiBank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo,Chase or any other financial institution, Many admit to signing or notarizing hundreds of documents per day. In one case involving Bank of America I discovered three robo-signed documents purporting to assign a homeowners note and mortgage and it was signed by the same person, David Perez, on the same day, in front of the same notary; with the signatory claiming to be a Vice-President with authority to sign as an agent for three different banks. In fact — not mentioned in any of these assignments — he was working for just one bank: the aforementioned Bank of America.
I was also instrumental in uncovering the Wells Fargo Attorney Foreclosure manual. Have you read it Secretary Mnuchin? I’ve got twelve different editions if you’re interested and only one has been made public. It isn’t very long but it reads like a blueprint for fraud. There’s no provision in this manual that allows Wells Fargo lawyers to admit any wrong-doing no matter how legally defective they find the documentation to be. The manual simply white washes any notion that Wells Fargo may not have the right to enforce a mortgage lien or foreclose on a property. I no longer count how many cases I see involving fraud against unsuspecting homeowners. Just to remind myself that it’s a fraudulent document I'm reading, I went on-line and for $9.99 and bought my own rubber stamp (with a red-ink pad). What does it say? “WTF!” in big letters. Now, before you dismiss me as a fanatic Hillary supporter, let me disabuse you of that notion. I don’t wear pussy-hat caps nor Birkenstocks and I don’t scarf down granola. I’m not a bleeding heart liberal. I’m a well educated lawyer and successful business owner who is also a registered Republican and Trump supporter. I call it like I see it and as I see it the Mega-Banks and servicers sold out and gave up any semblance of integrity. They went down the very wrong path of lies and deception and, in the process, wreaked havoc with Main Street. As a hard working conservative, I come from a place where I acknowledge a problem when I see it, and do whatever I can to fix it. Secretary Mnuchin: pull your head out of the sand and admit the problem of robo-signing exists and persists. Stand up to those who want to give the financial services industry a free pass — like former AG, Eric Holder — allowing them to buy their way out of jail with some “settlement money.” As recent history demonstrates, that does nothing to fix the problem. I encourage you to take a stand and hold the corporate blood sucking thieves accountable. I’m not a proponent of over-regulation because I believe it does hurt smaller local banks and credit unions. However, I do want the sleazy predatory Mega-Banks ― the ones that continue to engage in practices like robo-signing ― to be held accountable and, for Pete’s sake, let’s stop trying to emasculate the one Federal agency that is the consumer’s watch-dog: the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As far as taking offense at being called a “Foreclosure King?” Grow up. Your July 27th appearance before the House Financial Services Committee made you look like a pompous jerk. Wipe the smirk off your face, roll up your sleeves and go do something to restore Main Street’s confidence in our financial institutions. If you need further input and suggestions I might be able to find some time in my schedule.
Here’s hoping that the Treasury Secretary might share some of Tirelli’s insights with his old chum, Joseph Otting, the yet-to-be-confirmed nominee to head up the Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Otting — a former CEO at OneWest — may need reminding that aiding and abetting the Foreclosure King in his plan to turn Federal regulators into Wall Street lackeys may have consequences down the line. There are still many stories yet to be told and many foreclosed homeowners have, daresay, long memories.
Joel Sucher, along with Steven Fischler, is a founder of Pacific Street Films and has written for a number of platforms including American Banker, In These Times, HuffPost and Observer. com. Sucher’s recent focus on Steven Mnuchin’s rise to power and glory is in preparation for a memoir, An Outsider’s Guide to Inside Goldman Sachs.