Connecticut AG Latest to Sue Countrywide
We've got to admit that it's starting to feel like "me-too" piling on at this point -- after California, Illinois, Florida and the city of San Diego have already sued the former Countrywide Financial, Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal jumped on the same train Wednesday and sued as well. Countrywide was acquired in July by Bank of America Corp. (BAC). The complaint by Blumenthal's office generally follows the model of the states that filed suit earlier, accusing the company of aggressively marketing its loans to unsuspecting borrowers, who are now defaulting in droves as the housing market continues its southward sojourn. And while the complaint said little new, the rhetoric displayed by the AG is something law students the nation over will likely envy: "Countrywide conned customers into loans that were clearly unaffordable and unsustainable, turning the American Dream of homeownership into a nightmare. When consumers defaulted, the company bullied them into workouts doomed to fail," said Blumenthal. "Countrywide was at their side -- as an insolvency enabler." The AG also said the lender "stacked the deck and the deal against its customers." While most of the allegations were retreads, the Connecticut AG did make some new claims in his complaint, filed Tuesday in Superior Court in Hartford; among them were allegations of predatory servicing, which contrasted sharply with the lending-centric claims made by previous would-be litigants. Blumenthal's complaint charges Countrywide with demanding that troubled homeowners pay "excessive and inaccurate legal fees" in order to obtain reinstatement, as well as alleging that the company demanded "loan modifications and repayment plans that were unsustainable, unaffordable or unsuitable." One source noted that Blumenthal's claims could have the unintended effect of making lenders even less likely to modify a loan in the state. "If a mod doesn't stick -- you know, it isn't 'sustainable' -- Blumenthal's complaint would make such a failure a source of legal risk," said the source, an attorney. "If you thought servicers weren't modifying enough loans now, the Connecticut AG's got a whole world of pain waiting for troubled borrowers." It's worth noting that 42 percent of subprime adjustable-rate mortgages modified during the first half of 2007 had become 90 or more days delinquent by the end of March 2008, according to a recent study by Moody's Investors Service. For it's part, Bank of America representatives are not commenting on the case or others like it, but have responded to requests for comment by reiterating the bank's commitment to responsible lending. One of HW's sources predicted more such suits in the near future, as other state AGs line up to ensure that they're in line for any settlement. "At this point, I don't know if this is much more than vultures circling," said the source. "Do you really want to be the AG of a state that didn't get in line for a taxpayer meal ticket, if there's even a miniscule chance one will be handed out?" Disclosure: The author held no positions in BAC when this story was published; indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.