Report says Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin misled senators about foreclosures by OneWest Bank

An Ohio newspaper reported that Steve Mnuchin, President Trump’s nominee to be Treasury secretary, misled senators about foreclosures by OneWest Bank while he was chief executive, providing more fuel to opponents ahead of a contentious committee confirmation vote scheduled for Tuesday.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday that Mnuchin denied in written responses to questions from the Senate Finance Committee that OneWest engaged in so-called robo-signing of mortgage documents.

The paper said its analysis of nearly four dozen foreclosure cases in Ohio’s Franklin County in 2010 showed that the bank “frequently used robo-signers.” 

The practice, prevalent throughout the mortgage industry in the aftermath of the financial crisis, involved employees at financial firms signing foreclosure documents en masse without properly reviewing them.

Democrats sharply criticized Mnuchin during his Jan. 19 confirmation hearing concerning OneWest’s foreclosures while he ran the Pasadena bank from 2009 to 2015. They called the institution, which formerly had been troubled subprime lender IndyMac Bank, “a foreclosure machine.”

“Mnuchin ran a bank that was notorious for aggressively foreclosing on homeowners, and now he’s lying about his bank’s dismal track record in his official responses to the Finance Committee,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Monday. “Working families simply cannot trust him to be the country’s top economic official.”

At the hearing, Mnuchin blamed the large amount of foreclosures on bad IndyMac loans he inherited. Mnuchin and other investors put up nearly $1.6 billion to buy IndyMac and renamed it OneWest. They sold the bank to CIT Group in 2015 for $3.4 billion.

The new report is expected to be raised by Democrats when the committee meets Tuesday morning to vote on his nomination. Many, if not all, of the 12 Democrats on the committee are expected to oppose Mnuchin’s confirmation.

At least three Democrats already have said publicly they will not support him.

A vote had been scheduled for 3 p.m. PST Monday. But Democrats objected to a procedural move that forced “an unfortunate and needless delay,” said Julia Lawless, spokeswoman for Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).

Democrats wanted the delay so they could attend a candlelight vigil Monday protesting President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees and blocking all admissions from seven mostly Muslim countries, said Rachel McCleery, a spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee’s top Democrat.

Wyden said Monday that it was “extremely disturbing that Mr. Mnuchin flatly denied OneWest’s robo-signing practices” and announced that he would vote against confirmation.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who sits on the committee, also has said he would vote against Mnuchin. 

“Mnuchin profited off of kicking people out of their homes and then gave false testimony about his bank's abusive practices,” Brown said Sunday. “He cannot be trusted to make decisions about policies as personal to working Ohioans as their taxes and retirement."

Another Democrat on the committee, Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, said Monday that he also would vote against Mnuchin.

The Columbus Dispatch cited a foreclosure involving a mortgage signed by Erica Johnson-Seck, a OneWest vice president who said in a deposition in a 2009 Florida case that she signed an average of 750 documents a week.

Barney Keller, a spokesman for Mnuchin, said Monday that several courts had dismissed cases involving allegations of robo-signing by Johnson-Seck.

“The media is picking on a hardworking bank employee whose reputation has been maligned but whose work has been upheld by numerous courts all around the country in the face of scurrilous and false allegations," Keller said.

In written questions to Mnuchin, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) asked if OneWest engaged in robo-signing.

“OneWest Bank did not ‘robo-sign’ documents,” Mnuchin said. He added that the bank was the only one to “successfully complete” an independent foreclosure review process by federal banking regulators looking into robo-signing allegations.

In 2011-12, several mortgage servicers agreed to pay a total of $3.9 billion to borrowers for foreclosure errors as part of a settlement with regulators.

OneWest was not part of the settlement because an independent consultant hired by the bank completed its own review and “remediation checks have been issued to those borrowers where financial injury was identified,” according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Casey said Mnuchin “continues to deny his bank robo-signed documents, while evidence from court cases, bank regulators and news reports continues to show the opposite.” 

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

Follow @JimPuzzanghera on Twitter

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UPDATES:

4:25 p.m.: This article was updated with Sen. Ron Wyden’s announcement that he would vote against confirming Mnuchin.

2:35 p.m.: This article was updated with a spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden explaining why Democrats wanted the delay in the vote, as well as Wyden’s comments about the Columbus Dispatch report and Sen. Mark R. Warner announcing that he will vote against Mnuchin.

1:45 p.m.: This article was updated to note that the Senate Finance Committee vote has been delayed until Tuesday.

This article was originallypublished at 10:40 a.m.

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