Wall Streetwalkers: The Sleazy Lehman Brothers Subsidiary

Lehman Brothers maintained its squeaky-clean image by relying on its seamier subsidiary. Just call her Aurora.

Lehman, he says, owned the note, but hired another company to service the loan. That company, in turn, passed the servicing job to Aurora.

Christofferson was so upset by the way he was treated that without hiring a lawyer, he filed a lawsuit against Aurora and Lehman Brothers in federal court in Utah.

Christofferson says he bought the house with a mortgage, and leased it to a tenant. The tenant developed cancer and could not keep up with the rent payments, which in turn forced Christofferson to fall behind on his mortgage payments.

"The cancer annihilated the guy, and I couldn't just kick him out into the street," he says. "So I decided to try to find another buyer."

Christofferson says he went out and actually found potential buyers. The buyers wanted to know what the bank, Lehman Brothers, would accept. When he got a bottom-line price from Aurora, he returned to the potential buyers and obtained bids at that level.

He went back to Aurora, but instead of green-lighting the sale, the company just sat on its hands and forced Christofferson to let the house go into foreclosure. He couldn't keep up with the payments, and the company wouldn't work with him to help him catch up, he says.

"My good-faith efforts were shoved aside," he says. "Technically, the house now belongs to Aurora. I took foreclosure rather than destroy myself, which is what they were asking me to do. The school of hard knocks is a good teacher."

Christofferson, however, has more questions about what transpired. "It didn't matter to them whether I caught up with the payments or not," he says. "There are a lot of things that don't sit right with me about the whole thing."

Mike Miller, a Virginia lawyer who represents homeowners in foreclosure cases, says that typically, Lehman turned to Aurora when the interest rate on a given loan jumped from the low "teaser" interest rate that results from an adjustable-rate mortgage instead of a safer fixed rate.

"They dump it off on Aurora as a way to clean their hands, and then Aurora becomes the debt collector," Miller says. "But behind the scenes, Lehman still retains an interest. People try to get a loan modified in some way, and the company won't talk to them. They roll right over them."

While the Office of Thrift Supervision collects complaints about companies like Lehman and Aurora, the office does not allow the public to review those complaints. The agency would not even tell the Voice how many complaints had been received about Lehman and Aurora.

But Thomas Martin, the head of a Washington, D.C.–based company that does investment analysis and has been monitoring Lehman and Aurora over the past three years, says he has received more than 400 consumer complaints from around the country about the two firms. He believes that the Justice Department should investigate Aurora for its loan practices—just like the FBI is investigating Lehman for misleading investors on its financial position in the months before the collapse.

"To us, it may have been a criminal enterprise from the get-go," says Martin, whose group is called America's Watchdog. "They are playing with both ends of the bat. They collect fees from the pension funds, which buy these mortgage-backed securities, and then gouge the consumer on the back end. I think Aurora should be put out of business, and they weren't the only loan servicer doing this stuff."

Martin says Aurora does a series of questionable things, which result in unfair payments and push consumers toward foreclosure. For one, consumers complain that the company posts on-time mortgage payments late, he says. That has the effect of leaving an impression in the records that the borrower was late when he was not.

"It's in their interest to extort more money out of the consumer," Martin says.

So why was it that Aurora wasn't interested in working with Grant and Christofferson? According to Byers, the Atlanta forensic accountant, the ideal loan is one that is still performing, but is often late—not a loan that goes into foreclosure. That's because late payments generate late fees and other costs, which go to the servicing company.

According to a former mortgage company official, who spoke with the Voice on condition of anonymity, Aurora was motivated to foreclose because its allegiance was more to the investor who bought the securities than to the homeowner.

And it was the investor who set the terms. "The rules varied, depending on what the investor wanted," he says. "You could have an investor who said, 'We don't want you to do any modifications,' and the servicer would be contractually obligated to foreclose under those terms."

More than likely, he says, if there was still value in the home, then a foreclosure made more economic sense. "If they saw that they were going to make some money, the easiest thing to do is take the property and try to resell it," he says.

The Voice found a range of other people who had their own unsettling stories to share about Aurora and Lehman. In Newark, New Jersey, Martha Rodriguez says that she bought a two-apartment building on a subprime mortgage. Incredibly, Rodriguez was able to get the mortgage even though she was out on disability.

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