Apparently clicking "reply" when he meant to hit "forward," Countrywide Financial Corp. Chairman Angelo Mozilo ignited an online furor Tuesday by describing a mortgage customer's plea for help as a "disgusting" example of form letters inundating the Calabasas home lender.
Mozilo's e-mail rocketed back to the customer, Daniel Bailey Jr., who had asked Countrywide to modify the terms of his loan so he wouldn't lose his home of 16 years.
Bailey said he took out the adjustable-rate mortgage without realizing how it worked and had been told incorrectly that he could refinance after a year. Instead, he wrote, "the bottom fell out" of the home-loan industry, and he was stuck with unaffordable payments.
Much of the language in Bailey's message to Countrywide was borrowed from a form letter available at the website LoanSafe.org, a coaching service for troubled borrowers. Bailey, who says he operates a photo studio, posted his e-mailed exchange with the lender on a LoanSafe forum.
His original e-mail was sent to 20 Countrywide addresses, including Mozilo's. Such mass e-mails have overwhelmed e-mail boxes at Countrywide, disrupting its operations and prompting Mozilo's heated response, the company said.
"This is unbelievable," Mozilo said in his e-mail. "Most of these letters now have the same wording. Obviously they are being counseled by some other person or by the Internet. Disgusting."
The reply touched off debate on housing websites.
At loanworkout.org, a self-described notary public called Mozilo's e-mail "a perfect example of the 'help' they can expect to receive when contacting their lenders."
Another correspondent countered: "I am tired of hearing borrowers complain that they didn't understand what they were signing. . . . If borrowers want the freedom to take out credit for hundreds of thousands of dollars, they are equally responsible to not sign something they don't understand."
Bailey and Mozilo couldn't be reached for comment. Late in the day, the lender issued this statement: "Countrywide and Mr. Mozilo regret any misunderstanding caused by his inadvertent response to an e-mail by Mr. Bailey. Countrywide is actively working to help borrowers, like Mr. Bailey, keep their homes."