May 21 (Reuters) - Countrywide Financial Corp CFC.N Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo set off an online furore when he misdirected an e-mail characterizing as “disgusting” the way a borrower pleaded for help from the largest U.S. mortgage lender.
The company confirmed Mozilo’s inadvertent response to the Los Angeles Times, which on Wednesday reported the e-mail and the subsequent online debate.
Countrywide and Mozilo have long been criticized by consumer advocates, politicians and regulators for the Calabasas, California-based company’s lending practices, and the way it treats borrowers struggling to keep up with payments.
Mozilo had intended to forward the e-mail from Daniel Bailey Jr, who asked Countrywide to modify terms of his adjustable-rate loan so he would not lose his home of 16 years, but instead hit “reply.”
Some of the language in Bailey's request to Mozilo came from a form letter at the website (www.loansafe.org), a service for troubled borrowers.
The original e-mail went to 20 Countrywide addresses, including Mozilo’s. According to the newspaper, Countrywide said it has been inundated with such mass e-mails, disrupting operations and provoking Mozilo’s response.
“This is unbelievable,” Mozilo wrote. “Most of these letters now have the same wording. Obviously they are being counseled by some other person or by the Internet. Disgusting.”
Mozilo's response touched off a debate on such websites as (loanworkout.org), where about three dozen comments were logged in less than two days.
One, for example, defended Bailey and borrowers, saying Mozilo’s response was “a perfect example of the ‘help’ they can expect to receive when contacting their lenders”.
But another wrote that borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages should be prepared for when rates on their loans rise. “People who don’t bother to read or understand what they are signing do not deserve sympathy or assistance,” the writer said.
Bailey could not immediately be reached for comment. Countrywide did not immediately return a call for comment, but issued a statement to the newspaper: “Countrywide and Mr Mozilo regret any misunderstanding caused by his inadvertent response to an e-mail by Mr Bailey. Countrywide is actively working to help borrowers, like Mr Bailey, keep their homes.”
Countrywide agreed in January to be acquired by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) for about $4 billion. The second-largest U.S. bank has said it expects to complete the purchase in the third quarter. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in Bangalore; Editing by Louise Ireland)