07-17-2019  11:30 am   •   PDX Weather    •   SEA weather  
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NORTHWEST NEWS

Portland Grocery Launches an Innovative Solution for Dog-Owning Customers

Customers can use the app-connected houses as a safer and smarter solution when shopping with their dogs, rather than leaving them in the car or tied up on the street.

Oregon State Workers Could Get up to 15% Raises

Public employee unions representing Oregon state workers have negotiated new contracts that would provide pay increases of up to 15% over the next two-year budget period.

Oregon Fossil of Bone-Crushing Mammal a First in the US Northwest

A fossil jaw bone misidentified for 50 years turns out to belong to a bone-crushing mammal and is the first to be found in the Northwest, scientists said.

Tobacco in Oregon: Cheap, Sweet, Plentiful and Sold at Kids’ Eye Level

New report shines light on tobacco industry marketing across Oregon

NEWS BRIEFS

Living Room Realty Announces Scholarship Opportunity

The scholarship will help facilitate a path toward a real estate career for underrepresented communities ...

U.S. Bank Invests $1 Million with the National Museum of African American History and Culture

“Through this support of the National Museum, we hope these historical stories and rich cultural experiences will continue to...

Police Evacuate City Hall, Close Terry Schrunk Plaza

City Hall closed due to suspicious package ...

Oregon Settles with Health Insurer Premera Over Data Breach

Oregon to receive jumi.3 million from settlement ...

Michael Lewellen Appointed New Vice President for Marketing and Communications at University of Portland

Former Portland Trail Blazers executive steps into new role July 15 ...

Earthquake recorded off Oregon coast

BANDON, Ore. (AP) — A magnitude 5.3-magnitude earthquake was recorded about 150 miles off the Oregon coast.The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake at 8 a.m. Wednesday was about 152 miles west-northwest of Bandon. It had a depth of more than 8.5 miles.Authorities say the temblor was likely...

Editorials from around Oregon

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:___Mail Tribune, July 14, on the state Legislature's failure to deliver fire aid:The 2019 legislative session will be remembered more for what it didn't accomplish than for what it did, thanks in large measure to the two walkouts staged by Senate...

Missouri DE Williams pleads to misdemeanor, put on probation

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri defensive end Tre Williams pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation after prosecutors dropped a felony domestic assault charge.The Columbia Daily Tribune reports Williams pleaded guilty to peace disturbance and was...

Florida's Mullen hoping for sizable leap in 2nd season

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Dan Mullen made a big leap in his second season at Mississippi State, but his Florida team doesn't have quite so much room to grow.Unless, of course, the Gators can jump to national contender status. That's what another four-win improvement would mean.The Bulldogs won...

OPINION

Hearing on H.R. 40 Puts Reparations Debate in National Spotlight

“These are the vestiges of enslavement that people don't want to deal with,” said Dr. Julianne Malveaux, the former President of Bennett College. ...

Perfecting the Cat Nap: Lessons on Sleep From a Cat

Watching Soleil's languorous lifestyle has inspired me to establish better sleeping habits which have led to increased happiness and productivity. ...

Happy Independence Day!

The Skanner would like to wish all of our readers a relaxing and safe 4th of July. Wondering about the history and science of fireworks? ...

Plastics Are Strangling the Planet

You have probably heard about islands of plastic (and other garbage) inhabiting our oceans. The impact of this is the dying off of entire segments of oceans. In addition, many countries in the global North, including but not limited to the USA, look at the...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

Prosecutors seek prison terms for Virginia rally attackers

Hatred for Jews, blacks and feminists motivated three members of a white supremacist group to attack counterprotesters at a rally for far-right extremists in Virginia, federal prosecutors argue in seeking stricter sentences for the men this week.Justice Department prosecutors recommend prison...

Trump vs. Dems: 'Racist,' socialist' lines drawn for 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — With tweets and a vote, President Donald Trump and House Democrats established the sharp and emotionally raw contours of the 2020 election campaigns.In the process, they have created a fraught political frame: "racists" vs. "socialists."Trump's aggressive condemnation of...

Eric Garner's mother speaks out on anniversary of his death

NEW YORK (AP) — Eric Garner's mother urged the New York City police commissioner to fire the officer accused of using a chokehold in the death of her son, as she marked the five-year anniversary of her loss Wednesday.Gwen Carr spoke the day after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that...

ENTERTAINMENT

Judge orders R. Kelly held in jail without bond in sex case

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday ordered R. Kelly held in jail without bond after a prosecutor warned that the singer accused of having sex with minors and trying to cover up the crimes would pose an extreme danger to young girls if set free."If he was attracted to middle school...

25 years later, 'The Lion King' roars again (with Beyoncé)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It was just a few months ago that director Jon Favreau was sitting in a scoring session with composer Hans Zimmer for "The Lion King," his ambitious and technology-driven reimagining of the 1994 animated classic, and he and everyone else in the room were getting a little...

'The Chain' is a mid-life hit for novelist Adrian McKinty

NEW YORK (AP) — With his novel "The Chain" headed for publishing best-seller lists and summer packing lists, Adrian McKinty can now laugh as he remembers an old and "failed" novel."I was in Mexico City, trying to write about Trotsky, the assassination of Trotsky, and it wasn't going well,"...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

John Paul Stevens emerged as Supreme Court's leading liberal

WASHINGTON (AP) — John Paul Stevens moved left as the Supreme Court shifted to the right during his nearly...

Federal data shows opioid shipments ballooned as crisis grew

CLEVELAND (AP) — Newly released federal data shows how drugmakers and distributors increased shipments of...

Top diplomat: Iran must build missiles for defense

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has no choice but to...

UK leader May slams populist politics, Brexit 'absolutism'

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday criticized the increasing intolerance and...

Architect: Notre Dame far from safe for restoration work

PARIS (AP) — A French architect says that Notre Dame Cathedral still isn't safe enough for restoration work...

Italy, FBI crack down on Mafia clan with Gambino ties

ROME (AP) — Italian police and FBI agents have cracked down on a Palermo-area Mafia clan with ties to the...

McMenamins
James O\'Toole CNN Money

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Getting served with foreclosure papers made Lynn Szymoniak rich.

While she couldn't have known it at the time, that day in 2008 led to her uncovering widespread fraud on the part of some of the country's biggest banks, and ultimately taking home $18 million as a result of her lawsuits against them.

Szymoniak is one of six Americans who won big in the national foreclosure settlement, finalized earlier this year, as a result of whistleblower suits. In total, they collected $46.5 million, according to the Justice Department.

In the settlement, the nation's five largest mortgage lenders --Bank of America, Wells Fargo,JPMorgan, Citigroup and Ally Financial -- agreed to pay $5 billion in fines and committed to roughly $20 billion more in refinancing and mortgage modifications for borrowers.

A judge signed off on the agreement in April, and in May -- Szymoniak received her cut.

"I recognize that mine's a very, very happy ending," she said. "I know there are plenty of people who have tried as hard as I have and won't see these kinds of results."

Whistleblower suits stem from the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the U.S. when they have knowledge that the government is being defrauded. These citizens are then entitled to collect a portion of any penalties assessed in their case.

The act was originally passed in 1863, during a time when government officials were concerned that suppliers to the Union Army during the Civil War could be defrauding them.

In 1986, Congress modified the law to make it easier for whistleblowers to bring cases and giving them a larger share of any penalties collected. Whistleblowers can now take home between 15% and 30% of the sums collected in their cases.

In the cases addressed in the foreclosure settlement, the whistleblowers revealed that banks were gaming federal housing programs by failing to comply with their terms or submitting fraudulent documents.

In Szymoniak's case alone, the government collected $95 million based on her allegations that the banks had been using false documents to prove ownership of defaulted mortgages for which they were submitting insurance claims to the Federal Housing Administration.

The FHA is a self-funded government agency that offers insurance on qualifying mortgages to encourage home ownership. In the event of a default on an FHA-insured mortgage, the FHA pays out a claim to the lender.

Szymoniak's case was only partially resolved by the foreclosure settlement, and she could be in line for an even larger payout when all is said and done.

As an attorney specializing in white-collar crime, the 63-year-old Floridian was well-placed to spot an apparent forgery on one of the documents in her foreclosure case, one she saw repeated in dozens of others she examined later.

"At this point, the banks are incredibly powerful in this country, but you just have to get up every morning and do what you can," she said.

The other five whistleblowers in the settlement came from the industry side, putting their careers at risk by flagging the banks' questionable practices.

Kyle Lagow, who won $14.6 million in the settlement, worked as a home appraiser in Texas for LandSafe, a subsidiary of Countrywide Financial. He accused the company in a lawsuit of deliberately inflating home appraisals in order to collect higher claims from the FHA, and said he was fired after making complaints internally.

Gregory Mackler, who won $1 million, worked for a company subcontracted by Bank of America to assist homeowners pursuing modifications through the government's Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP. Under HAMP, the government offers banks incentive payments to support modifications.

Mackler said Bank of America violated its agreement with the government by deliberately preventing qualified borrowers from securing HAMP modifications, steering them toward foreclosure or more costly modifications from which it could make more money. He, too, claims to have been fired after complaining internally.

There's also Victor Bibby and Brian Donnelly, executives from a Georgia mortgage services firm who accused the banks of overcharging veterans whose mortgages were guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, thereby increasing their default risk. Bibby and Donnelly won $11.7 million in the settlement; their attorneys did not respond to requests for comment.

Shayne Stevenson, an attorney who represented both Lagow and Mackler, said the two weren't aware of possible rewards when they first brought their evidence to his firm.

"The reality of it is that most of the time, whistleblowers don't even know about the False Claims Act -- they don't know they can make money," Stevenson said. Both his clients, Stevenson added, "just wanted the government to know about this fraud, so they deserve every penny that they got."

A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on individual cases, but said the national settlement was "part of our ongoing strategy to put these issues, particularly these legacy issues with Countrywide, behind us." BofA acquired mortgage lender Countrywide in 2008, thereby incurring the firm's legal liabilities.

The other banks involved either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

While the whistleblowers in the settlement scored big paydays in the end, the road wasn't easy. Stevenson said his clients "were pushed to the brink" after raising their concerns, struggling to find work and beset by financial problems.

"They were facing evictions, foreclosure, running away from bills, trying to deal with creditors that were coming after them," Stevenson said. "This went on and on and on, and this is part and parcel of what happens to whistleblowers."

For Robert Harris, a former assistant vice president in JPMorgan's Chase Prime division, the experience was similar.

Harris accused the bank of failing to assist borrowers seeking HAMP modifications and knowingly submitting false claims for government insurance based on wrongful foreclosures. He was stymied when he tried to complain internally, and says he was fired for speaking out.

While Harris ended up with a $1.2 million payout in the settlement, the father of five says he's been blacklisted within the industry and exhausted by the ordeal.

"It completely turned my life upside down," he said. "I'm trying to raise my kids, recover from a divorce, recover from the loss of my career -- it just comes to down to surviving and putting this to an end."

"I guarantee the other whistleblowers, too, have sacrificed a lot," he added. "But to be able to sit back and sleep at night is worth it."

 

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