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Chicago Official to Countrywide: 'Get Out of Cook County'

Cook County, Illinois treasurer Maria Pappas said today that Countrywide Financial Corp.'s tax services subsidiary is attempting to skirt a $5 duplicate bill fee by forcing borrowers with escrowed property tax accounts to mail their original property tax bills to the lender directly. According to a press statement put out by Pappas' office, Countrywide Tax Services Corp. sent some 80,000 letters to owners with mortgages claiming that they must send their property tax bills to Countrywide in California, or have a $5 fee charged to their escrow accounts from which it pays their property taxes. "Countrywide, if this is the way you do business, why would Bank of America want you?" Pappas said. "Get out of Cook County and go back to California." Other firms sent similar letters to their clients just before Cook County mailed bills for the first installment of tax year 2007 to property owners, according to the treasurer's office. Those bills are due March 4, 2008, and Pappas said that lenders want to obtain the original bills in order to avoid paying a $5 duplicate bill fee. "The firms do not need the original bill to pay out of escrow, and know that federal law requires them to pay on time," Pappas said. "These are terror tactics to stampede customers," she said, going so far as to call for Bank of America to rescind its purchase offer for Countrywide. BofA said on January 11 that it would purchase Countrywide in a deal worth approximately $4 billion. Pappas said that during the last tax installment in 2007, mortgage firms also tried to avoid the $5 fee, but most eventually rescinded their letters. Besides Countrywide, the county treasurer's office said that firms sending letters to consumers included: Aurora Loan Services, LLC; Bank Financial; EverHome; First Horizon; Flagstar; Liberty Lending; Nationstar; OCWEN Loan Servicing; Residential Credit Solutions; Regions Mortgage, Saxon Mortgage; TCF Bank, and West Star.

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