New York's attorney general on Friday accused some of the nation's largest banks of deceit and fraud, saying they used an electronic mortgage registry that led to improper foreclosures.
Democrat Eric Schneiderman sued Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo over their use of the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc., or MERS, claiming the banks submitted court documents containing false and misleading information that appeared to provide the authority for foreclosures when there was none.
Schneiderman claims the MERS system has eliminated homeowners' ability to track property transfers through traditional public records. He said the electronic system now stores that data and is plagued by inaccuracies and what the lawsuit calls "faulty and sloppy document preparation and execution practices."
"The banks created the MERS system as an end-run around the property recording system, to facilitate the rapid securitization and sale of mortgages," Schneiderman said Friday. "Once the mortgages went sour, these same banks brought foreclosure proceedings en masse based on deceptive and fraudulent court submissions, seeking to take homes away from people with little regard for basic legal requirements or the rule of law."
The lawsuit also names the registry operator, MERSCORP Inc. of Virginia.
MERS spokeswoman Janis L. Smith promised to fight the lawsuit. She said the company complies with all laws and county and state recording regulations. "Federal and state courts around the country have repeatedly upheld the MERS business model, and the validity of MERS as legal mortgagee and nominee for lenders," she said.
MERS was set up by banks to rapidly package and sell mortgages as securities without recording each transaction in county records offices.
Complaints allege, among other things, that homeowners have trouble responding to foreclosure actions and mortgage inaccuracies because MERS makes it difficult to find out who owns the mortgages.