Gulf remains between AGs, banks in robo-signing talks
Two attorneys general met with the largest mortgage servicers Friday in another effort to settle an investigation into the robo-signing case, but a deal remains elusive nearly one year later. "There is still a gulf between the two sides," said a spokesman for the Iowa AG, who leads the talks. "Release of liabilities remains front and center right now and will still be an issue until we get it worked out." The spokesman denied previous reports that this was a "do or die" meeting. In fact, the talks seemed less formal than previous Washington sessions between the two sides. Not every member of the AG negotiation committee was even present. All 50 state AGs announced a united effort to investigate the mortgage servicing industry Oct. 13, 2010. That same month, the largest firms such as Bank of America (BAC), Ally Financial (GJM), and JPMorgan Chase (JPM), their attorneys and third-party processing firms were improperly signing foreclosure affidavits submitted to state courthouses all over the country. Nearly one year later, the AGs and the banks are at an impasse over how much civil liability the settlement will cover. Within the AG ranks, a growing number are pushing for a narrower settlement freeing their offices up to pursue separate claims of securitization, origination and marketing fraud. Meanwhile Republican AGs claim the pursuit already goes too far. New York AG Eric Schneiderman was recently cast off the central negotiation committee in his attempts to crack down on several securitization issues. Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley said she would not support any settlement that forgave bank liability for the ongoing saga of Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. Michigan AG Bill Schuette's investigation into alleged documentation problems at Lender Processing Services (LPS) and other firms remains open, and Nevada AG Catherine Cortez Masto said criminal charges would be coming to the servicing industry soon. The look-back reviews of 4.5 million foreclosure files at these servicing shops will take more than a year, according to the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, which oversaw the regulators' separate settlement. Such uncertainty over when the mortgage servicing debacle will ever be resolved haunts a still struggling housing market already dealing with tumbling prices and downtrodden consumer confidence. Steve Gillan, executive director of the American Alliance of Home Modification Professionals, recently sent recommendations to federal regulators on how to speed up the review process. He said the settlement delays, just like previous changes to the industry, are resulting in a postponed housing recovery. "This delay, like the improper implementation of HAMP by the servicers in 2009 and 2010 and the delay in the timeline set in the OCC consent order just further negatively impacts any turnaround in real estate values," Gillan said. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.