By David McLaughlin and Dakin Campbell
Bank of America Corp. (BAC) has held settlement negotiations with some states over home foreclosures separately from talks with a larger group of state and federal officials, two people familiar with the matter said.
The proposed deal would give the bank liability releases from state and federal claims over its mortgage practices in exchange for reducing loan principals to help struggling homeowners, said the people, who didn’t want to be identified because the discussions aren’t public.
State and federal officials are negotiating a settlement with the five largest mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, over their servicing and foreclosure practices. Attorneys general from all 50 states began investigating the practices last year to determine whether banks and loan servicers used faulty documents to justify foreclosures.
Bank of America, in its separate negotiations, has offered to fund more principal writedowns than what is being discussed in the larger settlement talks, one of the people said. The bank is seeking a blanket liability release that would be broader than what would be available for the other banks involved in the negotiations, the person said.
Other attorneys general were unaware of the separate talks with Bank of America, the person said.
Rick Simon, a Bank of America spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment after regular business hours yesterday. A call to the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank’s media office also wasn’t returned.
Bank of America’s separate negotiations with some of the states were reported yesterday by the Huffington Post.
Any principal reductions probably would involve borrowers who have to qualify for specific conditions, such as being at least 60 days late, the other person said. The deal could still fall apart and isn’t necessarily closer to being completed than a broader agreement involving all the states and all five banks, the person said.
Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, declined to comment. Miller is leading negotiations for the 50 state attorneys general.
The other banks involved in the broader talks with state and federal officials are JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Citigroup Inc. (C), Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) and Ally Financial Inc.
The probes by the attorneys general and federal regulators began amid allegations of practices such as robo-signing, or using workers with little or no training to sign thousands of documents filed in support of foreclosures without reading them. The investigations were broadened to include all aspects of the servicing business.
Officials are seeking a settlement that sets standards for how the banks service loans, interact with borrowers and conduct foreclosures, according to terms proposed in March. They also want the banks to fund loan modifications for homeowners.
A push by the banks to win broad liability releases was one of the main obstacles in talks to resolve the nationwide probe, two people briefed on the matter said in July.
The mortgage servicers sought protection from additional state and federal claims over their mortgage practices as part of reaching a settlement that may exceed $20 billion, according to those people, who declined to be named because the talks are private. The banks were seeking releases that go beyond servicing of mortgages to include lending and securitization of loans, one of those people said.
That effort encountered resistance from at least three states: Delaware, New York and Massachusetts.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said in July he had “strong reservations” about a deal that provides releases related to practices such as securitization and lending, because servicing is the focus of the nationwide settlement talks. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said she wouldn’t support an agreement that included releases for securitization of mortgages and conduct related to a database of mortgages known as MERS.