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Opinion: The State Attorney General Goes MIA

Robo-signing and fraudulent foreclosures will cost some 65,000 New Jerseyans their homes this year.

Robo-signing and fraudulent foreclosures will cost some 65,000 New Jerseyans their homes this year.

While the attorney general is understandably transfixed by the scandal at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, the state's top lawyer seems to have forgotten about a disgrace that smells every bit as bad: the massive fraud committed by Big Banks against tens of thousands of New Jerseyans who are losing their homes in faulty foreclosures.

Some 65,000 New Jerseyans will lose their homes this year, an increase of more than 300 percent since 2006 -- and the number is still climbing. The cause, in most cases: patently fraudulent "robo-signing" of certifications of ownership by low-level bank employees, followed by perfunctory (uncontested) court hearings.

Where is the Division of Consumer Affairs in all this?

The division was created as a unit of the attorney general's office for the express purpose of combating "consumer fraud." What could be more fraudulent than Bank of America’s robo-signer who has admitted to signing "about 400" certifications a day, each one attesting to the bank's right to foreclose -- such an innocuous word for dumping a family on the street -- even though she later confessed she had never read any of the documents she was signing.

And where is the attorney general's Division of Criminal Justice, the state’s leading crime-fighting unit, in all this? Why aren't the Big Banks being prosecuted for massive fraud and perjury?

So far, nothing but silence from our crime fighters in Trenton.

And what of Attorney General Paula Dow herself, who last October very publicly joined an alliance of 49 state attorneys general in what was supposed to be a coordinated crackdown on robo-signing at Big Banks and mortgage servicing companies nationwide.

Not a word.

Meanwhile, the morning papers fill up with the same sorry tale as dozens of official notices announce pending sheriff’s sales in small towns and cities across the state. Individually, each lost home is a tragedy. Nationally, this trend is a collective assault against the American Dream at the accelerating rate of one home lost every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.

While our executive branch remains silent, the state Supreme Court has started a process for ordering the “Big Six” banks to prove they are no longer lying in these statements or they may face some as yet undefined sanctions. (In my December 22 column, “Let Us Now Praise Judicial Activism,” I reported on the Supreme Court’s bold initiative, aimed at ending robo-signing by the six major foreclosure mills and 24 other lenders, which account for 75 percent of all residential foreclosures in the state and 95 percent of the uncontested foreclosures in court.)

As part of that initiative, the Court has named a prominent attorney in private practice, Edward Dauber, to take on the Big Banks, all of whom -- in recently filed briefs -- are declaring that they have done nothing wrong, or if they did they aren’t doing it now and won’t do it again if they ever did, and blah, blah, blah.

Now comes an order from Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson granting Dauber’s request for more time to "continue efforts to negotiate a consent order" with the mortgage lenders – GMAC, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, CitiBank and OneWest.

On the surface, this looks like no big deal. Most civil cases settle out of court, and asking for a few more weeks to negotiate is common. But it’s also a sign of potential trouble ahead. And it raises a score of worrisome questions, such as:

  • What concessions will Dauber demand from the robo-signers to let them off the hook for future prosecution?

  • Will these multibillion dollar banks, which were bailed out by taxpayers, have to set up a trust fund to compensate their victims?

  • Will the banks show how they plan on getting serious about mortgage modifications to keep hard-working families in their homes (which will also prevent a glut of unsold homes from being dumped on an already depressed residential real estate market)?

  • Will anyone lose his/her high-paying job over these acts of deceit?

  • Will civil monitors be appointed to oversee the banks as they put a consent order into practice, a tactic used in lieu of indictments by then U.S. Attorney Chris Christie?

  • Will the courts impose a limited “foreclosure moratorium” until justice is done?

  • And will the court hold public hearings on any settlement negotiated by Dauber?

Apparently, no one in authority can or will answer these and other questions. It appears we’ll have to wait and see what happens on March 1, starting at 1:30 p.m. in Judge Jacobson’s Trenton courtroom, when Dauber and a platoon of lawyers for the banks are due in court.

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