U.S. Treasury nominee Mnuchin defends mortgage record at OneWest Bank

WASHINGTON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, will push back on Thursday at Democratic Party critics who have charged him with forcing tens of thousands of Californians from their homes as chairman of OneWest Bank.

In prepared remarks to senators at his confirmation hearing, Mnuchin said that his group’s purchase of IndyMac Bank in 2009 ultimately rehabilitated a failed regional lender into OneWest and saved thousands of jobs and thousands of loans from foreclosure.

“Since I was first nominated to serve as Treasury Secretary, I have been maligned as taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to earn a buck. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mnuchin wrote in his opening statement, a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

“In the press, it has been said that I ran a ‘foreclosure machine.’ This is not true. On the contrary, I was committed to loan modifications intended to stop foreclosures. I ran a loan modification machine.”

Democrats on Thursday organized a Capitol Hill forum at which a group of former OneWest borrowers said the bank refused to help them when they struggled to pay their mortgages in the depths of the 2008-2009 housing and financial crisis. The borrowers, among some 39,000 whose IndyMac loans went into foreclosure, urged senators to vote against confirming Mnuchin.

According to data from the Treasury’s Home Affordable Modification program, OneWest extended over 101,000 offers to modify loans to help reduce monthly payments. About 28,700 of these offers were converted to “permanent” modifications under the Obama administration program from 2009 to 2013.

“Unfortunately, not all of the homes could be saved through these programs, and despite my best efforts, some were, sadly, subject to foreclosure,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin also said he asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to change its policies to avoid foreclosures on senior citizens who were behind on their property tax and insurance payments by only small amounts. But, he said, HUD refused.

The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc executive and Hollywood film financier, who disclosed assets worth up to $400 million, pledged to support “careful oversight of the financial system which prioritizes the needs of everyday Americans over the wishes of financial institutions or the federal government.”

Mnuchin said that as Treasury secretary he would enforce trade policies “that keep and protect American jobs. We will also make America the best place for companies to do business.”

His statement did not provide specific policy steps, but he said the administration would work diligently to limit regulations and lower taxes on “hardworking Americans and small businesses.” (Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)