Pressure intensifies on mortgage lenders

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than two-thirds of U.S. state attorneys general plan this week to launch a joint probe into charges some banks used fraudulent paperwork to kick struggling borrowers out of their homes, a source familiar with the effort told Reuters on Sunday.

A foreclosed home is seen in Bullhead City, Arizona, November 4, 2009. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Bank of America, the nation’s largest mortgage servicer, an industry term for a firm that collects mortgage payments, said on Friday it would temporarily halt foreclosures nationwide as it looks into reports of shoddy paperwork.

Bank of America is the first bank to halt foreclosures in all 50 states. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Ally Financial Inc’s GMAC Mortgage had earlier announced plans to suspend foreclosures in 23 states pending a review of foreclosure procedures.

The mortgage unit of Ally Financial, which is 56.3 percent owned by the U.S. government after a $17 billion bailout, has said employees preparing foreclosures had submitted affidavits to judges containing information they did not personally verify.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is facing a tough re-election November 2 in Nevada, where foreclosure rates are the highest in the nation, called for a national moratorium on foreclosures after Bank of America’s announcement.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the deadline for attorneys general to sign on to the investigation effort led by Iowa’s Tom Miller was at the end of the day Monday, so a formal announcement could be made on Tuesday.

At least half a dozen attorneys general have already announced individual investigations into the foreclosure mess.

The total number of attorneys general calling for an investigation is not precisely known but it is expected to be at least three dozen and possibly more.

At this stage, the joint effort is not expected to include a call for a moratorium, the source said, though some attorneys general have already done so in their individual states.

Many, including Miller, are running for re-election or election to other offices.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week the Justice Department is looking into the widespread reports of bogus paperwork. It is not clear if the matter is under the jurisdiction of the states or the federal government but federal officials are looking into it, the source said.

President Barack Obama, however, opposes a national foreclosure moratorium, though he wants a quick resolution to any foreclosures that might have questionable paperwork, top White House adviser David Axelrod signaled on Sunday.

“I’m not sure about a national moratorium,” Axelrod told CBS television. “Our hope is that this moves rapidly and that this gets unwound very, very quickly.”

Federal Housing Administration Commissioner David Stevens told Reuters the administration does not believe a nationwide moratorium is the right action at this time.

“Any kind of broad moratorium will simply stall home sales,” he said.

Banks are expected to take over a record 1.2 million homes this year, up from about 1 million last year and just 100,000 as recently as 2005, real estate data company RealtyTrac Inc. said last month.

Reporting by Corbett B. Daly; Editing by Bernard Orr