Last week Florida resident Nancy Jacobini revealed that an agent hired by her bank broke into her home after she fell behind on her mortgage payments. Thinking she was being burglarized, Jacobini called 911. We speak to Jacobini’s lawyer Matthew Weidner and Bruce Marks, the founder and CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, a housing services organization that’s been calling for a national moratorium on foreclosures for years. [includes rush transcript]
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AMY GOODMAN: We’re continuing on the issue of foreclosures. Last week a Florida woman named Nancy Jacobini revealed an agent hired by her bank broke into her home after she fell behind on her mortgage payments. Nancy Jacobini of Orange County was inside her home when she heard the intruder. Thinking she was being burglarized, she called 911.
Dispatcher: Do you hear somebody trying to open the front door?
Nancy Jacobini: Yes, yes.
Nancy Jacobini: My alarm is going off.
Nancy Jacobini: He’s in. He’s in the house.
Dispatcher: He’s in the house?
Nancy Jacobini: Yes.
Dispatcher: So there’s a male outside and inside? Is that — they’ve gotten in.
Nancy Jacobini: I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m locked in my bathroom. I don’t know. I just know somebody is breaking — somebody broke into my house.
AMY GOODMAN: The intruder turned out to be an employee hired by Jacobini’s bank, JPMorgan Chase, to change her locks, they said. But Jacobini was only three months behind on her payments. She wasn’t in foreclosure.
NANCY JACOBINI: I was not in foreclosure. I was not given any warning. I am working in a loan modification, and I actually was perhaps maybe four months, five months behind, at the most.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Nancy Jacobini on MSNBC. Chase has apologized for the incident, but Jacobini has hired an attorney to pursue legal action against the bank. Well, we’re joined now from Tampa, Florida, by Nancy Jacobini’s lawyer Matthew Weidner. He’s a consumer rights and foreclosure defense attorney and a frequent blogger on foreclosure issues at his mattweidnerlaw.com.
Matthew Weidner, welcome to Democracy Now!
MATTHEW WEIDNER: Good morning, and thank you so much for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: This is just shocking. Explain exactly what happened with Nancy Jacobini.
MATTHEW WEIDNER: Look, it’s absolutely terrifying, and I wish this were an isolated incident. But the fact of the matter is, Nancy was sitting on her couch at about 5:30 in the evening, she hears the door being violently kicked and attacked, and she’s absolutely certain that someone is breaking into her home. You can listen to that 911 tape, and you can hear the terror in her voice. But it’s clear, it’s absolutely important to keep in mind, that she is not in foreclosure with this bank, and so she would have no reason to suspect that someone other than a burglar would be breaking into her home. And so, she goes running into the bathroom with her cell phone, she’s dialing 911, and she is just absolutely terrified. And it turns out, after the sheriffs are there, that this individual says that he’s hired by the banks.
Now, what’s so terrifying about this episode is this is not at all unique. I have examples from all around the country where these banks, these jackbooted thugs that are hired by the banks, are kicking down the doors of people’s homes all across the country. The thing to keep in mind, you know, the problems that are existing across this country are not isolated to people in foreclosure. And I think why this particular incident has caught the attention of people across the country is because they recognize that, wait a minute, if this happened to Nancy, then this could happen to me.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the story as it’s told is that she was behind in her payments, but she wasn’t even in foreclosure. So, when you’re in foreclosure, this is fine?
MATTHEW WEIDNER: It’s not at all fine ever. But this happens to people in foreclosure. Look, the problem is, they’re doing this when folks are not even in foreclosure. I’ve got examples all across the country where no foreclosure has even been filed. I think we’re going to find examples of people that are in formal modifications with the banks, where they have agreed, because the borrowers are making payments, that nothing at all will happen, but these jackbooted thugs continue with their work. You know, there are examples where people are living in their homes, where they leave for a week or so, where they go on vacation, and these jackbooted thugs are kicking down the doors. And unfortunately, the jackbooted thugs that are representing the banks are emboldened by this.
I confront law enforcement with these issues. Law enforcement, if you can get them to come out to the home, oftentimes won’t take a report of these activities. If they do happen to take a report of the bank’s breaking in and taking property, they will almost always determine that no crime has been committed, and there’s nothing at all that we can do. That really is what’s so disturbing and troubling is that, you know, our law enforcement, that work for us locally, are working now for the banks and saying that what these banks are doing is acceptable. And I’m here to tell you it absolutely is not. I mean, let’s keep in mind that one of the fundamental principles, a core value of this country, has been property ownership. We should have a right to be secure within our castles, within these homes that we own. And unfortunately, this foundation is being shaken by these banks, because they are now just emboldened, kicking down the doors and coming in whenever they please.
AMY GOODMAN: Chase simply said, "We’re sorry"?
MATTHEW WEIDNER: Well, Chase at first wanted to confirm that the power was on in my client’s name. But she’s had power in her name uninterrupted for something like twenty years or so. An irrelevant fact whether power was in her name or not, but the fact of the matter is that sort of a typical response that these banks offer when this happens, if law enforcement calls or if press or someone calls, is, "Well, they’ve abandoned the home," or, "Well, they’re in foreclosure," "Well, power isn’t on," or something such as this. It’s just an excuse. But I think when they offer that excuse to somebody that might question, that leads them off in a different direction. And so, it’s just completely unacceptable.
And what Americans need to start waking up to is the fact that this is occurring with alarming frequency. You know, I’m pleased to appear on Democracy Now!, but I’m going to suggest to you that maybe it’s time we start changing to tell the truth about what’s happening in this country, and the logo might should read "Kleptocracy Now," because that’s very much what it feels like in this country, a kleptocracy, where those at the top of the pyramid are working feverishly and with amazing efficiency to take from everybody down near the bottom of the pyramid. That’s frightening to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Weidner, you’re saying she wasn’t in foreclosure, so she wasn’t in any way alerted about this, but they’re saying, because they thought she hadn’t paid her electricity bill, that her electricity was cut off, they thought, which wasn’t true, that that’s why they had sent in an agent to break into her house?
MATTHEW WEIDNER: I believe that’s just an excuse after the fact, but it’s sort of a typical response. Whether she’s got power in her name or not is totally irrelevant. Whether they had filed a foreclosure or not, again, totally irrelevant. The only justification or the only legal right that someone might have to break into your property is when they have an order from a court saying that despite the fact that you own your home, this lender has a right to kick down your door while you’re in there. So, you know, it’s a red herring. They’re throwing out excuses, but they’re doing this in repeated instances.
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Weidner, tell me about Darlene Decinti, another of your clients.
MATTHEW WEIDNER: Another client, just south of us here in Tampa, a family had left to go take care of an ailing grandparent. The bank had actually been stalking them for months, driving by, taking pictures, making reports of the property. And shortly after they had left for a little bit to go take care of their ailing grandmother, they came home to find their house ransacked, property removed and violated. They felt completely violated by what this bank had done. Again, another case of where they absolutely did not have the right to go in there and destroy and ransack that house. They did so. She’s got very disturbing photographs. And they’re still in that home.
AMY GOODMAN: Debra Fischer, another client?
MATTHEW WEIDNER: Again, I could keep going on and on with stories that are more disturbing than the next. This is a client, again south of us here in Tampa. She had let the house be used by some Canadian tourists. They came down to visit. As they went off to the beach, they came home and found that the house had been broken into, laptops stolen, their personal property stolen. When they called the sheriff’s office, the sheriff’s office came out. They at first refused to investigate. They found a cold beer had been cracked and left on the counter. And the Canadian tourists hadn’t drank that beer. They took fingerprints on it. It turns out that the fingerprints belong to some of the jackbooted thugs that came in and did this. My client had to scream bloody murder in order to get this sheriff’s office to investigate. And when the thugs that came in and did this were interviewed by the sheriff’s department, they admitted that it was part of their practice to go and enter into properties, prying open doors. The Palm Beach Post reported on this story, and the quote that burns me more than anything else was the president of the company that is attributed with these activities is quoted as saying, "We’re not even phased by lawsuits anymore."
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Bruce Marks, who’s usually in Boston, has been fighting for a moratorium on foreclosures for years now. He’s with the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, he’s founder and CEO. He’s in Sacramento right now. As you listen to these stories from Matt Weidner, Bruce, what do you hear? What do you — how typical is this?
BRUCE MARKS: Well, you know, Amy, this is very typical. But let’s take a step back for a second. When President Obama was running for president, he said one of the first things he’ll do is put a moratorium on foreclosures. He never did. He never backed bankruptcy reform so people could have the right to go in front of a bankruptcy judge. So, you know, and now, this is not a paper issue. You know, we hear now, "Well, let’s make the process right." You know, this is symbolic of this industry. When they started, when Wall Street and these banks started making loans, they never took into consideration what people can afford, because there is so much money, billions and billions of dollars, can be made on mass production of these mortgages. And they looked at homeowners as a commodity.
Well, they’ve continued that same practice. Now what they’re doing is, in the foreclosure process, they’re not looking at whether someone can afford to stay in their home. What they’re saying is they’re a commodity. There’s a mass production out there, and they can’t stop that conveyor belt. Well, the fact of the matter, this is not something where they didn’t cross the T’s and dot the I’s. This is something that says this is an industry that is just based on greed.
And where is President Obama? When he says, "Well, you know, we don’t want to upset the market," what is good about a market when someone is foreclosed on and, you know, next door to people who are making their mortgage payments, you’ve got a vacant building, or you’ve got investor-owned property where there is no consideration of taking the homeowner in to account? So we’ve got to — we have to have a national moratorium to give ourselves a window of opportunity to restructure mortgages, to make them affordable, and have this industry start to look at homeowners as people, as families, as part of the community, not as a commodity to make money. And that’s the problem. And yes, the American people are angry at the government, because — I used to be the regulator. I used to work at the Federal Reserve Bank as a regulator. And we have the authority as regulators to stop these predatory practices.
So, the attorney is absolutely correct. This is not, you know, a one-off.
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce?
BRUCE MARKS: This is, you know —
AMY GOODMAN: Why are you focusing —
BRUCE MARKS: — what the industry is doing across the — yes?
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce, why are you focusing on California right now?
BRUCE MARKS: Well, because, you know, this is our twenty-third Save the Dream event. And, you know, so we were in Los Angeles, now we’re in Sacramento, because it’s devastating out here. But Amy, it’s devastating across the country. And that’s the problem. And this industry has run amok. And, you know, yes, you have these stories, which is — you know, happens all the time, but, you know, the fact of the matter is, it’s devastating here, it’s devastating throughout the country, in Florida and elsewhere. And we’ve been there.
But people can afford a mortgage payment. So isn’t it better to keep an existing homeowner in their properties doing that than really selling it at even less of a price to get rid of it in the foreclosure?
But, Amy, a very important point is not being talked about. The government is the largest foreclosure entity out there. FHA mortgages, government-owned, are doing massive numbers of foreclosures. Fannie Mae, massive numbers of foreclosures. So President Obama maybe doesn’t want to do a full moratorium, but why not make the government-owned entities, the ones that the taxpayers own and control — let’s start with them. Let’s say, "FHA, a moratorium on foreclosures; Fannie Mae, moratorium on foreclosures," and give us the opportunity to restructure the mortgages. So, in essence, the American taxpayer are foreclosing on ourselves. And people are fed up of bailing out the banks and not helping the homeowners. And we should be able to do this without one dollar of taxpayer money.
AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, we interviewed New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Schack, who’s made national headlines for rejecting dozens of foreclosure filings due to faulty paperwork from banks and lenders.
JUSTICE ARTHUR SCHACK: Right now, active foreclosures in Brooklyn, which is Kings County, my county, are probably one-quarter of all the civil cases that we have. There are right now 12,000 foreclosures that are somewhere in a — pending, whether it be in early stages or further down the road as the case develops, whereas if we went back four, five years ago, maybe there were probably three or four thousand. So we’re getting buried. [...]
If banks do not like what they — what I have done, or anyone else, they have a right to appeal. This is how our system of justice works. I know that in my own county more judges now scrutinize these mortgages than they did before, looking for — looking for any — looking to make sure that everything’s done legally correct. I don’t want to say that we look for defects. We look to make sure that justice is done. So, if the little guy wins, he wins; the bank wins, they win. It isn’t a matter of we’re out to — we’re out with an agenda. Our agenda is justice.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Brooklyn Judge Arthur Schack. Matthew Weidner, how typical is this judge?
MATTHEW WEIDNER: I wish that he were not atypical. I think that judges run a spectrum. Judge Schack has clearly been way ahead of all of this for many years. We’ve got good judges all across this country who have recognized the problem, but the fact of the matter is that they, too, have been overwhelmed by this crisis.
You know, we talk a lot about this moratorium, and frankly, I find the controversy over the issue of a moratorium a bit perplexing. Let’s talk about the practical consequences. Nothing would happen if we had a moratorium on foreclosures, practically, right now, because the banks can’t sell the properties that they already have title to. So, frankly, one of the problems that I have is that regulators and legislators are a bit late to the game. One of the things I find most disturbing is that it was not legislators or regulators that shut this down; it’s been the industry itself. When they realized what problems they have caused themselves by the faulty paperwork, by all the problems, they’re the ones that have said, "Wait a minute. We’ve got greater liabilities ahead, because of all that we’ve done wrong." And so, that’s why this is slowing down.
But again, let’s talk about the very real consequences here. And Bruce Marks, I totally agree a hundred percent. One of the questions that we all miss when we’re talking about this is, what’s the point of foreclosure? If we granted every single foreclosure that’s pending right now across this country, what would happen to those homes? We can’t get people qualified to get in homes as it is. So, really, we need to focus on the practical consequences of a moratorium, which would only be to stabilize the market. What we need to be doing is working, like Bruce is doing, to keep people in homes, because the fact of the matter is, that’s far better for these lenders in the long run than tossing people out into the streets.
AMY GOODMAN: NACA, Bruce Marks, your organization, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America — we’ve just got fifteen seconds — how many — what percentage of faulty foreclosure notes do you find?
BRUCE MARKS: Oh, there is a large —- there’s a large number. But let’s remember, let’s get to the fundamental issues. The government program has failed to get affordable mortgages. Make the government program work. And Chase is the worst one out there. We’ve got to make an example of Chase to say, "Chase, you’re the predatory servicer out there. Stop your practices." And President Obama has to stop meeting with Jamie Diamond and Chase executives, so he can make the government program work. He’s got to stand up -—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.
BRUCE MARKS: — for working people, not for Wall Street. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Marks, thanks so much for being with us from Sacramento, founder and CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.
BRUCE MARKS: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: And thank you to Matt Weidner, speaking to us from Tampa PBS station WEDU, foreclosure defense attorney, frequent blogger on foreclosure issues at mattweidnerlaw.com. We’ll link to both of your blog and to NACA, as well.