by David Dayen, The Intercept:
Donald Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, ran from 2009 to 2015, repeatedly broke California’s foreclosure laws during that period, according to a previously undisclosed 2013 memo from top prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office.
The memo obtained by The Intercept alleges that OneWest rushed delinquent homeowners out of their homes by violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdated key documents, and effectively gamed foreclosure auctions.
In the memo, the leaders of the state attorney general’s Consumer Law Section said they had “uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct” in a yearlong investigation. In a detailed 22-page request, they identified over a thousand legal violations in the small subsection of OneWest loans they were able to examine, and they recommended that Attorney General Kamala Harris file a civil enforcement action against the Pasadena-based bank. They even wrote up a sample legal complaint, seeking injunctive relief and millions of dollars in penalties.
But Harris’s office, without any explanation, declined to prosecute the case.
Mnuchin, the former CEO of OneWest, was already facing challenges in his upcoming Senate confirmation hearings on account of his bank’s ruthless foreclosure practices, ranging from locking out one homeowner during a Minneapolis blizzard to foreclosing on another over a 27-cent payment shortfall.
“After years peddling the kind of dangerous mortgage-backed securities that eventually blew up the economy, Mnuchin swooped in after the crash to take a second bite out of families by aggressively — and sometimes illegally — foreclosing on their homes,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement last month. Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, warned: “Given Mr. Mnuchin’s history of profiting off the victims of predatory lending, I look forward to asking him how his Treasury Department would work for Americans who are still waiting for the economic recovery to show up in their communities.”
The consistent violations of California foreclosure processes outlined in the memo would indicate that Mnuchin’s bank didn’t merely act callously, but did so with blatant disregard for the law.
According to the memo, OneWest also obstructed the investigation by ordering third parties to refuse to comply with state subpoenas.
Whether Mnuchin directed efforts to prevent scrutiny of his bank’s practices could be a focus of the confirmation hearings.
The memo also raises questions about then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was sworn in as a U.S. senator on Tuesday, and who will soon have to vote on Mnuchin’s appointment.
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