Countrywide, Mozilo in Hot Water Over Troubled Borrower Flap

We've all done it: hit "reply" to an email instead of hitting "forward." It's just that not all of us are Countrywide Financial Corp. (CFC) CEO Angelo Mozilo, and not all of us made that sort of mistake when dealing with a troubled homeowner. (And, of course, not all of us are quite that, um, tan.) Mozilo, and by extension the company he runs, found themselves in renewed hot water Wednesday after the Countrywide CEO mistakenly replied directly to a troubled homeowner's form hardship letter, characterizing it as "disgusting." Specifically, in response to a form hardship letter from one Daniel Bailey, Mozilo wrote:
This is unbelievable. Most of these letters now have the same wording. Obviously they are being counseled by some other person or by the internet. Disgusting.
Bailey picked up the form letter off of the Web site LoanSafe.org, a borrower advocacy site started up to ostensibly help troubled borrowers navigate the maze of loss mitigation procedures. The site does not advocate sending hardship letters via blind email, however, and instead lists direct phone numbers for Countrywide's loss mitigation department. It's currently unknown why Bailey attempted to spam more than 20 Countrywide email addresses with his hardship request; he did not respond to requests for comment from HW. LoanSafe.org's founder, Moe Bedard, writes posts that are often critical of the lending industry at a related blog, LoanWorkout.org. Recent fare at his blog includes posts featuring the titles "Fight Your Mortgage Servicer With This Knock Out Punch" and "The issuing power of money should be taken from the bankers and restored to Congress and the people to whom it belongs." Bedard was quick to post Mozilo's reply on his blog, and to reach out to media with news of the flap, which has created a firestorm of criticism from consumers pointing to Mozilo's reply as proof of what they see as a lack of concern for troubled borrowers. The LA Times first reported on the story Tuesday afternoon. Not all of the furor was from borrowers upset by Mozilo's comments. Others weighed in suggesting the Countrywide CEO's frustration was over a lack of sincerity from many borrowers pursuing hardships. "There are a lot of people copying the examples on LoanSafe’s forums almost verbatim," one commenter wrote. "While I wouldn’t have added the word 'disgusting', I can understand his frustrutation at everyone being 'coached.' Using your own words to tell your situation and story will make your situation seem more believable, IMO." For its part, Countrywide issued a statement Wednesday: "Countrywide and Mr. Mozilo regret any misunderstanding caused by his inadvertent response to an e-mail by Mr. Bailey. Countrywide is actively working to help borrowers, like Mr. Bailey, keep their homes." Mozilo's mistake isn't one that consumer groups are likely to let the Calabasas-based lender live down anytime soon; the groups have been long been critical of what they see as predatory lending and servicing practices at the nation's largest independent mortgage banking operation. Countrywide is set to be acquired by Bank of America Corp. (BAC) later this year, and has become a lightning rod for industry criticism due to its commanding market presence. Disclosure: The author was long CFC and held no other positions of interest when this story was originally published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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