Saturday, September 06, 2008

McCain's Landlord: The Role of Bankers and Their Lawyers in the Foreclosure Crisis in Michigan

McCain’s landlord

By Jefferson Morley 9/5/08 6:25 AM
Courtesy of Michigan Messenger

The headquarters of the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket in Michigan, located at 31330 Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills in suburban Detroit, is owned by a law firm called Trott & Trott that specializes in housing foreclosures.

As the Republican nominee makes his first post-convention appearance in Sterling Heights, Mich., today, the livelihood of his local host has not yet attracted much notice. But if the Trott name rings no bells among the national press corps, it is all too familiar to the record number of Michigan residents facing foreclosures on their homes in this election year.

McCain’s landlord boasts of providing “comprehensive foreclosure, bankruptcy litigation and related services for the real estate finance industry.”

That means that as the Michigan housing market goes south, the Trott & Trott firm is prospering. The firm’s founder, David A. Trott, is also donating generously to the McCain campaign.

Trott and his wife Kathleen have given $23,000 to the McCain campaign in 2007-08, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They gave another $52,400 to the Republican National Committee in May of this year.

Court records show that Trott & Trott works closely with Countrywide, the notorious southern California subprime lender. Countrywide’s lending polices have, by all accounts, played a significant role in the national housing market’s boom and bust cycle of the last two years.

When Countrywide’s borrowers find themselves unable to meet their payments, Trott’s firm helps the lender extract advantage from those who cannot pay the unreasonable terms that they, wittingly or unwittingly, signed up for. There’s nothing illegal about Trott & Trott’s business but the firm has faced scores of lawsuits over its handling of foreclosure cases, according to court records.

Consider the story of 72-year-old Ruby Curl-Pinkins, a disabled senior in Detroit who had paid off her home for 45 years when she succumbed to a too-good-to-be-true loan from Countrywide, according to WDIV, the NBC station in Detroit.

Unable to keep up with the 10 percent mortgage payments and her medical bills, Curl obtained a reverse mortgage to pay off the subprime loan in full. Countrywide, represented by Trott & Trott, refused to take the reverse mortgage money, according to the Michigan Citizen, an African-American weekly in Detroit.

“They acted like the situation was personal,” Curl-Pinkins daughter said. “At one point they told me, ‘You better quit filing stuff or you’ll be paying our attorney fees,’ and demanded $900 for that day from us. They tried to bully [Wayne County Circuit Court] Judge Susan Borman, objecting to giving us any more time before the eviction. They wanted my mother out in 24 hours. They told the judge they didn’t even have a buyer, they just wanted the house back.”

Rick Simon, a spokesman for the Countrywide and Trott & Trott, said Curl-Pinkins had been given two extensions.

“Our first priority is to preserve homeownership,” Simon said. “Unfortunately, in some cases, continued homeownership is not an option, due to the state of the economy or personal circumstances … ”

Then there’s the story of a Michigan property owner named Robb. He recounted his experience with T&T on, a Web site devoted to consumer complaints.

Without warning or cause, Countrywide Home Mortgage Finance through their attorney, Trott & Trott, ordered the Kent County Sheriff to sell my home (condo) at the Kent County, Michigan Sheriff’s Property Sale.

It was sold on March 22nd, 2006. At the same time, Countrywide reported to the three biggest Credit Reporting Agencies in the USA (Trans_Union, Experian and EquiFax) that my home mortgage had been foreclosed and the property was sold at the Sheriff’s Property Sale. Well, they didn’t lie. The property WAS foreclosed and sold. The problem was that Countrywide had ordered this foreclosure and sale BY MISTAKE . . . Countrywide’s MISTAKE!

Robb said he called Trott & Trott to tell them that there had been “a big screw up.”

“Sir,” said the ‘processor’ matter-of-factly, “Countrywide gives us the properties they want sold and we see to it that they get sold. We don’t control which properties are sold and which are not. You’ll have to call Countrywide and ask them. Good-bye.”

When Robb called Countrywide, he says he was told to call Trott & Trott.

“One Circuit Court Injunction and $4,500 in attorney fees later, an agreement was signed by Countrywide and myself, the sale was undone, I paid the back payments without interest, late charges and attorney fees,” Robb wrote.

What’s a debtor to do?

Michigan Messenger spoke with Abayomi Azikiwe, a spokesman for Moratorium Now!, a coalition of community groups seeking to stop foreclosures and evictions. The group’s primary goal is passage of Senate Bill 1306, introduced by state Sen. Hansen Clarke, which would require courts to prohibit the foreclosure of a residential mortgage or land contract for two years if the borrower requests it, notwithstanding the provisions of any contract between the lender and borrower.

Moratorium Now! has begun looking into the possibility of a class action lawsuit against, but not limited to, Countrywide and Trott & Trott.

“There are a lot of bad feelings toward Trott & Trott as they’ve developed a reputation of being ruthless, and unwilling to work with Michigan citizens, particularly seniors, disabled or the unemployed,” Azikiwe explained.

But there are no such bad feelings between Trott & Trott and the Republican presidential nominee. John McCain can afford to pay his bills on time.

Michigan Messenger’s Todd A. Heywood and Diane Sweet contributed to this report.

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