LOS ANGELES (CN) - Bank of America charged hundreds of thousands of distressed homeowners millions of dollars for unnecessary house inspections that forced them to default on mortgages, according to a RICO class action.
John Cirino sued Bank of America, BAC Home Loans Servicing fka Countrywide Home Loans Servicing and Bank Home Loans Servicing in a federal RICO complaint.
Cirino, of Mississippi, claims Bank of America charged millions of dollars to borrowers who "can least afford" it.
Mortgage servicing companies, unlike lenders who have an interest in home loans, make their money from managing loan accounts, Cirino says, and earn fees when borrowers go into foreclosure.
For that reason, he says, servicing companies are less concerned about whether borrowers are keeping up with payments on their loans.
"Financial institutions like defendants see opportunity where investors see failure, because borrowers are captives to companies who service their loans," the lawsuit states. "Accordingly, when borrowers go into default and defendants unilaterally decide to instruct third parties to perform default-related services, borrowers have no option but to accept defendants' choice of providers."
That's where loan inspections come in, Cirino claims, and it exemplifies "how America's lending industry has run off the rails."
Bank of America uses two computerized loan-management systems to order home inspections automatically from outside vendors when a homeowner goes into default, even when an inspection is unnecessary. Bank of America uses automated systems designed by (nonparties) IBM and LPS, according to the lawsuit.
Cirino claims fees assessed to borrowers' accounts are concealed on mortgage statements with "cryptic descriptions, such as 'fees due.'"
"Defendants' automated loan management system is set up to order property inspections and assess fees against borrowers when they are a certain number of days late on their mortgage, regardless of whether the assessment of such fees is reasonable or necessary," the complaint states. "Although such inspections purportedly are conducted to guard against property loss, defendants' practices are designed to ensure that these fees are charged to as many accounts as possible, even if the inspections are unnecessary."
Cirino claims that Bank of America's computer systems order repeat inspections "without human intervention" if accounts are overdue, even if a previous inspection report showed that a property is occupied and maintained.
He estimates that "hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting borrowers are cheated out of millions of dollars," driving already-distressed borrowers into default.
He seeks class certification, disgorgement, compensatory and treble damages, and an injunction requiring Bank of America to identify "victims of its conduct" and pay them restitution.
He is represented by Mark Pifko, with Baron & Budd, of Encino.
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