By Hugh Son and David McLaughlin
NEW YORK – Bank of America Corp., the second- biggest U.S. lender, rewarded staff with cash bonuses and gift cards for meeting quotas tied to sending distressed homeowners into foreclosure, former employees said in court documents.
Mortgage workers falsified records and were told to delay U.S. loan-assistance applications by requesting paperwork that the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank had already received, according to statements from ex-employees filed last week in federal court in Boston. The lender improperly disqualified applicants to the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, according to a May 23 statement from Simone Gordon, a loss- mitigation specialist who left the company in 2012.
“We were regularly drilled that it was our job to maximize fees for the bank by fostering and extending delay of the HAMP modification process by any means we could,” Gordon said. Managers instructed staff to “delay modifications by telling homeowners who called in that their documents were ‘under review,’ when in fact, there had been no review,” she said.
Bank of America, which has spent more than $45 billion to settle claims tied to its 2008 takeover of Countrywide Financial Corp., is being sued by homeowners who didn’t receive permanent loan modifications after making payments under trial programs, according to court papers. Statements from seven former loan employees were included in a filing last week as part of plaintiffs’ attempt to gain class-action status. The lender has denied the allegations.
Bank of America has helped the most homeowners under HAMP and is committed to assisting customers at risk of foreclosure, Rick Simon, a company spokesman, said yesterday in an e-mail.
“At best, these attorneys are painting a false picture of the bank’s practices and the dedication of our employees,” Simon said. “While we will address the declarations in more depth when we file our opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion next month, suffice it to say that each of the declarations is rife with factual inaccuracies.”
The lender unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the complaint in 2011. U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel ruled that the case could proceed while dismissing some claims. Zobel is scheduled to consider the class-certification request at an Aug. 1 hearing.
Loan collectors who put at least 10 customers into foreclosure, including those who were in trial modifications, were given a $500 bonus, said Gordon, who worked at Bank of America for more than four years. Other rewards included gift cards for retailers including Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond, she said.
Another former employee, Theresa Terrelonge, said loan officers were given restaurant gift cards and $25 cash awards for denying loan applications. The incentives moved workers to improperly reject applicants, Terrelonge said in a May 15 statement.
“I witnessed employees and managers change and falsify information in the systems of record, and remove documents from homeowners’ files to make the account appear ineligible for a loan modification,” said Terrelonge, a loan servicing representative. This allowed managers to meet quotas for closed cases, she said.
Bank of America instructed employees to delay applications and mislead customers “as part of a deliberate practice of stringing homeowners along,” lawyers said in a June 7 filing.