Lawmakers to investigate foreclosures on military members
Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) convened a forum with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Tuesday to examine how many improper foreclosures were carried out on military service members. "Right now, we have no idea how far these problems extend," Cummings said. "We are just beginning to understand the full scope and devastating consequences of actions that have been occurring for years." In January, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) agreed to pay $54 million to settle claims that it overcharged military personnel on their mortgages and foreclosed on these families in violation of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act. In May, Bank of America (BAC) also entered into a $20 million settlement with the Justice Department for foreclosing on roughly 160 service members without court orders. And in July, the DOJ announced Morgan Stanley (MS) would enter into a $2.35 million settlement over alleged SCRA violations. Its servicing arm Saxon Mortgage Services, foreclosed on National Guard Sergeant James Hurley while he was stationed in Iraq during 2004. Chase and BofA have since installed new initiatives to assist service members. Chase established a military mortgage board to oversee SCRA compliance. The bank also implemented new programs to provide these borrowers with mortgage assistance. At the company's annual shareholder meeting in May, CEO Jaime Dimon made a formal apology. "We deeply apologize to the military, the veterans, anyone who’s ever served this country," Dimon said. "We’re sorry.” Most of the improper foreclosures committed by BofA were started by Countrywide Financial Corp. prior to the acquisition, according to the bank. Still, BofA installed new programs as well, including a specially trained unit to provide service members a single point of contact and to ensure SCRA compliance. "It is our responsibility to make things right," a BofA spokesperson said. "These errors are not acceptable, and we certainly regret them." Chase, BofA and 12 other major mortgage servicers came under investigation last fall for improperly foreclosing on both civilian and military service members. A review of 2,800 loan files at these banks found widespread problems the servicers are in the process of correcting. Cummings said upcoming reviews mandated by federal regulators could show more improper foreclosures than thought. Last week, the CFPB moved to establish a formal working group among members of the Judge Advocate Generals' Corps. to coordinate responses for unlawful foreclosures against military families. The CFPB will not actively enforce the SCRA when it opens July 21, but it is coordinating with the Defense Department and the DOJ to determine how the bureau can assist the service member complaints. Holly Petraeus, who leads the Office of Servicemember Affairs within the CFPB, sent a letter to 25 mortgage servicers in March, directing them to take steps ensuring SCRA compliance. "Obviously I was dismayed to learn earlier this year about alleged mortgage-related violations of the SCRA," Petraeus said Tuesday. "I hope that the recent attention to this issue will cause all lenders to take steps to ensure compliance, and in March I wrote our largest banks to that effect." Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.