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Ocwen Financial probed over mortgage compliance reviews

Bloomberg News

A federal monitor is investigating whether Ocwen Financial Corp. is treating borrowers fairly after a whistleblower said the company may have improperly influenced which mortgages were picked for a compliance review.

Joseph Smith, who is overseeing a 2012 settlement with five lenders over flawed foreclosures, said in a report Tuesday that he hired an outside accountant to review Ocwen's loan servicing after becoming convinced the company's self-reporting was unreliable. State attorneys general monitoring the accord also said they are investigating whether Ocwen provided false or misleading information in its compliance reporting.

"I'm not saying everybody there did wrong," Smith said. "The best you could say about it was it was sloppy. It could be more."

The findings are the latest trouble for Ocwen, which has seen its stock plunge more than 60% this year amid heightened regulatory scrutiny and last month canceled an acquisition to expand its business. Benjamin Lawsky, head of New York's Department of Financial Services, said in October that Ocwen had backdated thousands of loan-modification denial notices, leaving homeowners little time to respond. The company has said the backdating was inadvertent.

"We will continue to support the monitor's efforts to ensure we are fully compliant with all of the aspects of the national mortgage settlement," Ocwen Chief Executive Ronald Faris said in a statement.

Smith said Ocwen had hired a new head for its internal review group and adopted a charter to formally separate its review employees from management.

Ocwen received good marks for its servicing performance during the last half of 2013 based on the company's internal reporting, which was reviewed by an outside auditor. Servicers are responsible for supervision and administration of mortgage loans, including collections, escrow and foreclosures.

Smith said he hired forensic accountants and trial lawyers to interview company staff and review documents after hearing from the whistleblower in May.

The monitor said he had been aware previously of problems with Ocwen's transfer of loans to a computer system run by an affiliated company. The probe revealed even more, he said.

"We were aware of that issue, but as we got into it, it became clear that this was only one of many issues they had," Smith said.

Workers picking loans for review weren't independent from management as required, Smith said in a document filed in federal court Tuesday. An investigation revealed that Ocwen's review department was understaffed and had a "dysfunctional and chaotic" work environment, and there were "serious problems and flaws" in the way the company was testing its compliance with servicing standards, according to the document.

The committee of regulators monitoring the settlement began an investigation of the situation this year, according to Iowa Asst. Atty. Gen. Patrick Madigan, who said he was the one first approached by the whistleblower.

"My office takes the allegations that Ocwen may not have operated in good faith in its efforts to comply with the settlement extremely seriously," Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, who also serves on the oversight committee, said in a statement. "We will fully investigate these allegations until we have an answer."

The panel would be responsible for taking action against Ocwen if wrongdoing is found.

Ocwen became subject to the 2012 accord last year when it bought the servicing business of Residential Capital LLC, a unit of one of the banks that agreed to pay $25 billion over improper foreclosures. Under the agreement, the company must credit payments properly and issue timely notifications on loan modifications, short sales and foreclosures, among other standards.

Ocwen also reached a roughly $2-billion settlement with state and federal authorities last December, promising to adhere to servicing standards. In January it agreed to buy servicing rights on $39 billion in loans from Wells Fargo & Co. A month later, Ocwen put the deal on indefinite hold amid reviews of its business, ultimately canceling it last month.

Other banks subject to the national servicing settlement — including Wells Fargo, Citigroup Inc., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — were complying with most of the servicing standards, Smith said in his new report.

Green Tree Servicing, another purchaser of the ResCap portfolio, was pursuing corrective action after failing most metrics this year.

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