When OneWest Bank co-founder Steve Mnuchin sits before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday for a hearing on his nomination to lead the U.S. Treasury, there will be a glaring absence of testimony. None of the people on whom his bank foreclosed—tens of thousands of victims—are scheduled to speak about their experiences with apparently cruel and predatory lending practices by Mnuchin’s bank, OneWest.
Last week, 25 Democratic Senators asked the committee’s chairman to include as witnesses people who have lost their homes and suffered other financial hardship at the hands of OneWest, a bank that Mnuchin co-founded. The chairman refused.
But at least four victims, all women, were able to share their stories publicly anyway, and they all became emotional talking about the ordeals they faced. On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) invited them to the U.S. Capitol to speak about losing their homes to OneWest.
“Foreclosures happen in an economic crisis, but OneWest was different,” Warren said during the Senate forum. “It quickly gained a reputation as a ‘foreclosure machine.’ Even when compared to the other financial institutions that aggressively and illegally tossed families out of their homes after the financial crisis, OneWest was notorious for its belligerence and for its cruelty.”
Six years after buying Indymac Bank and turning it into OneWest, Mnuchin was able to sell the company for close to $200 million. But while Mnuchin profited, tens of thousands of families have suffered.
Eight years after the housing crash, OneWest is still foreclosing on its customers, Warren said. According to the California Reinvestment Coalition, whose executive director testified at the forum, OneWest foreclosed on over 36,000 families in California and 24,000 nationally. Some have ended up homeless, while others have dealt with extreme financial hardship that took a toll on themselves and their families.
Over the years, OneWest has been forced to pay millions of dollars to customers in court settlements for its predatory foreclosure practices. Yet many homeowners are still struggling, and warned that having Mnuchin lead the nation’s largest financial institution will spell disaster for countless more people.
Eighty-four year old Colleen Ison-Hodroff and her husband purchased their family home in Minnesota in 1963. The couple raised their six children there and ran four grocery stores in the community.
Two weeks after her husband, Monroe, died in 2014 — 56 years after they got married and 54 years after they purchased their home — she received a letter in the mail from OneWest’s reverse mortgage server, Financial Freedom, alerting her that she had to pay off her loan immediately or they would foreclose on the home.
The bank claimed that because her name wasn’t printed on the reverse mortgage documents — which she disputes — the loan wasn’t valid after her husband’s death. “That’s a bunch of bull,” she said Wednesday.
“We were told that I could live in the house if Monroe passed away,” she said. “It was never Monroe’s or my intention that the survivor of the two of us would have to sell the house or leave if one of us died. We would not have signed for the loan if we thought that was the case.”
She called it an “injustice” that Financial Freedom would deceive an elderly woman, and said that when she returns to Minnesota, she doesn’t know if she will still have her home.
“I hear that Steve Mnuchin was a leader of the bank that is doing this to me and other seniors,” she said. “I do not think a man like that should be the Treasury Secretary and in charge of our economy. We can’t let that happen.”
Profits before people
Two women also spoke about being victims of Mnuchin’s bank in the past, before he sold the company. Sparks, Nevada resident Heather McCreary and her husband both lost their jobs during the 2008 financial crisis. They attempted to get a loan modification from OneWest, but the bank repeatedly denied their applications for what she calls invalid reasons.
In September 2010, she lost her home. “My family’s American Dream turned into a nightmare,” she said.
“It’s hard to explain the shame, embarrassment, and grief Jack and I felt,” she continued. “’While I will probably never know exactly what OneWest did, the outcome of my story proves that Steve Mnuchin’s company had no interest in helping us. They wanted to foreclose because they were focused on their profits.”
Christine Clifford bought her first home when she was 20 years old, but the financial crisis hurt her business and she sought a loan modification from OneWest. Despite mailing them the appropriate paperwork multiple times, OneWest claimed it never received her application.
“On the evening of December 3, 2009, I received a knock on my door from a man that introduced himself as the new owner of my property,” she said. “And in March of 2010, I received a final notice telling me that I had five days to leave my apartment — five days to pack up the ten years of my life I’d spent in my home.”
Clifford became emotional, tearing up sharing her story of being forced out of the home she had worked hard to purchase.
“You might say that Steve Mnuchin did not personally authorize OneWest to cheat me out of my home, but his fortune rose as a direct result of managing a company that that routinely engaged in irresponsible behavior,” she said.
Beyond the Capitol hearing, more victims go unheard
Not all victims could make it to Washington to share their stories, but have been just as burdened by Mnuchin’s lending practices. Eric Hood, a 66-year-old Dallas resident, told ThinkProgress by phone about his ongoing struggle with Financial Freedom.
When Hood’s mother died in 2010, he inherited her condominium located near the gulf in southern, coastal Texas. But with that inheritance came “unnecessary litigation, financial ruin and extreme emotional distress.”
As Hood has detailed in countless letters to HUD and in litigation in court, the company gives no thought to its victims when it commits mortgage fraud.
“I can guarantee you that time after time after countless time, they just run roughshod over the rules, they have no humanity, they care nothing about the bottom line to themselves, and everybody else be damned because there’s no oversight,” he said.
Hood detailed how Financial Freedom has tried to foreclose on his home, which was razed as a result of Hurricane Ike, four times. And while he’s tried to fight OneWest in court, he said that he’s afraid that Mnuchin will soon control the nation’s economy.
“Trump has made some scary decisions, and one of the worst is to put this guy in charge of our money,” he said. “I just know it’s going to go sideways, and then it’s going to go backwards. And then we’re all in trouble.”