By Keith Johnson
Despite being one of the largest recipients of taxpayer bailouts, lending giant Bank of America (BofA) has not only failed to help beleaguered homeowners, but has thwarted attempts by these disfranchised Americans to make reasonable mortgage adjustments or to find solutions that might prevent their homes from being foreclosed upon.
One pair of homeowners in Woodstock, Ga. has had enough, though. Real estate agent Jay Fenello and wife Beverly recently filed a lawsuit against BofA to expose the megabank’s pattern of racketeering, deceptive practices and abuse of government programs that are supposed to help distressed Americans weather the economic crisis.
In late 2007, Fenello said he experienced a dramatic drop in his income due to the precipitous depreciation of home prices. As a result, it became increasingly difficult for them to pay their mortgage and eventually they found it necessary to contact BofA—the loan servicer at the time—to inquire about what other options were available to them.Not only were the Fenellos willing to relinquish their home outright, but they were also open to a mortgage modification, short sale or a deed in lieu of foreclosure. AFP contacted Fenello and asked him to relate the kind of chicanery BofA used on him. He said: “We asked the bank what we should do right around the time HAMP [Home Affordable Modification Program] was being heavily promoted by the Obama administration to help eligible homeowners with loan modifications. They told us we couldn’t qualify for the program until we missed at least two monthly [mortgage] payments. So we followed their advice.”
But Fenello soon found that advice to be just another part of BofA’s game, a tactic commonly deployed in other parts of the country.
“In looking at the attorney general of Nevada’s lawsuit against BofA, there is no requirement under the federal program that people have to miss payments,” said Fenello. “What the state of Nevada is alleging is that it is a deceptive practice and that they [BofA] were encouraging people to default on their notes.”
Fenello admittedly takes his own words in retrospect. He too fell victim to BofA’s lies, by skipping his next two payments and subsequently filling out a HAMP application in hopes of qualifying for some kind of relief. Fenello said: “Then they told us if we didn’t qualify, we could talk about other options. We filled out the paperwork, waited a couple of months, and then were told they’d lost our paperwork and [that we] needed to submit it again.We did this for months and months. We filled out four complete applications. After all was said and done, they turned us down.”
With permission from BofA, the Fenellos reapplied.
“They finally said they would modify our mortgage,” says Fenello. “They told us one number over the phone, but when they sent us the paperwork, [we found that] they had more than doubled our monthly payment. They said we could wait 30 days and apply again. So that’s what we did.”
While all this was going on, BofA’s legal department threatened the Fenellos with foreclosure, in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which states: “If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the 30-day period . . . that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed . . . the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt.”
It wasn’t until a day before the foreclosure notice that BofA finally approved a postponement.
“We’re not the only ones this has happened to,” said Fenello. “People who have written us say that their wives have had heart attacks and that their husbands have had strokes. A lot of people have had to deal with this, and a lot have suffered severe consequences for the way [BofA has] treated [its] clients.”
The Fenellos have since filed a civil lawsuit against BofA, alleging 13 causes of action, including fraud, bad faith and violating numerous state and local laws, including the FDCPA, the Truth in Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlements Procedure Act. He also charged the bank with violating the cease and desist order that BofA signed with the comptroller of the currency on April 13, 2011.
According to the Fenellos, “While the outcome of the case is still pending . . . the results of this case will help the next person who files.”
Keith Johnson is an independent journalist and the editor of “Revolt of the Plebs,” an alternative news website that can be found at RevoltofthePlebs.com.