State and federal officials on Friday were again to meet with representatives of the nation’s largest banks, trying to finalize a much-anticipated settlement over shoddy foreclosure practices that remains elusive a year after the abuses first garnered national attention.
People familiar with the negotiations said the session in Washington would center around how broad a release from future liability banks should receive in exchange for agreeing to overhaul their mortgage servicing practices and paying billions of dollars in penalties.
The issue has caused sharp divisions in recent months within a 50-state coalition of state attorneys general and has threatened to undermine the outcome of the talks.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has investigated the manner in which banks bundled and sold pools of mortgages — a practice known as securitization — has expressed concern that the pending settlement could release banks from liability for misdeeds that go beyond flawed and fraudulent foreclosure documents and other questionable servicing practices that caused a national uproar last fall.
Schneiderman has insisted that he would not sign onto a deal he views as too lenient on the banks. Attorneys general from a handful of other states, including Delaware and Nevada, have expressed similar concerns. In recent days, attorneys general in Minnesota and Kentucky echoed that sentiment, saying any legal release should not extend to practices that have not undergone thorough investigation.
Those heading the negotiations on behalf of the states, including Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, have remained adamant that they have no intention of granting banks immunity from claims related to the securitization process, nor have they sought to prevent Schneiderman or others from pursuing broader investigations into securitization, fair housing claims, criminal fraud or other issues.
Rather, they have said they are pushing for a narrow legal release as part of a settlement that would force wholesale changes to the ways that mortgage servicers interact with struggling borrowers and produce a significant amount of money that immediately could go toward preventing future foreclosures.
State and federal officials are hoping to extract about $20 billion in collective penalties from the banks involved, with Bank of America footing the largest share, followed by J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The final amount, however, likely will depend on the scope of the legal release.
It was a year ago this week that revelations about widespread problems with faked documents, forged signatures and other disturbing practices grabbed national headlines, sparking numerous investigations and leading some lenders to halt foreclosures and resubmit reams of flawed paperwork.