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Mike and Mary Boehm did everything right. Well, except for Mike getting fired in June 2009. But I’m assuming that was a byproduct of the Great (Republican-caused) Recession. Anyway, the couple had trouble meeting their house payments and applied to the Bank of America for a loan modification. They were told it would take about 45 days. That was 409 days ago. It sure as hell didn’t take Bank of America that long to get a federal bailout for billions of bucks. And that bailout stipulated that banks which received the funds were to work to modify mortgage payments so that fewer people would face foreclosure.

The Boehm family

So the Boehms applied. And they did everything right–and many things two or three times over. Although the modification had not received final approval, the process was started, and the Boehm’s made every modified payment on time. They spent hours upon hours on the phone trying to straighten out glitch after snafu after hitch caused by the bank’s carelessness. “You faxed us this information already? Really? Then do it again. You’ve faxed it twice? Oh. Try faxing it to this other number.” After all that effort on Mike and Mary’s part, the Bank of America has decided to foreclose. Proceedings will start the day after Christmas.

Monday, a group of Mike and Mary’s friends and activists mobilized by M.O.R.E. (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment) staged a protest in front of the Clayton office of the bank in St. Louis County. Ninety people showed up and most of them stayed the better part of two hours in the cold. The hope was that a strong showing would move the bankers to relent and allow a loan modification. Not only did BoA not do so, it got the Clayton Police to arrest six activists who had the gall to go up four steps onto bank property. The six were led away in handcuffs, issued two summonses apiece (for trespassing and refusing to obey a lawful order) and then released in less than two hours. Kat Logan Smith, the Executive Director of Coalition for the Environment and Hannah Allison, who organized today’s protest for M.O.R.E., were among the six.

Hannah Allison (in foreground) and Kat Logan Smith (ahead of her) are led away in cuffs

Kat Logan Smith (wearing her Bank of America exec devil’s horns) displays her summonses

The video below opens with a few seconds of chants at the rally but consists mainly of an interview the Boehms gave me at the Clayton Police Station while they waited for the arrestees to be released.

The Boehm’s have complained to the Missouri Attorney General’s office. In doing so, they noticed that there were five pages of complaints that have been lodged for similar foreclosure problems on the website. And that’s just for Bank of America. But Koster’s office coolly informed them that they are taking the matter under advisement. (Should the Boehms translate that as: ‘Go away. You don’t interest me’?)

Thanks a heap, Mr. Attorney General. When I think how Robin Carnahan, as Secretary of State, went after the big money boys, I can only long to see Chris Koster earn some Democratic street cred the same way.

Meanwhile these level headed, hard working people are living in a nightmare, courtesy of their mortgage lender. But don’t blame Bad for America. A buck has no conscience and neither do most corporations. In throwing the Boehms under the bus, BoA is simply minding the bottom line. The bank makes money when it forecloses:

While homeowners, lenders and investors typically lose money on a foreclosure, mortgage servicers do not, says report author Diane E. Thompson, of counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. Servicers are the companies that manage the mortgages and collect payments.

“Servicers may even make money on a foreclosure,” she writes. “And, usually, a loan modification will cost the servicer something. A servicer deciding between a foreclosure and a loan modification faces the prospect of near certain loss if the loan is modified and no penalty, but potential profit, if the home is foreclosed.”

Thompson attributes this to a system of perverse incentives created by lawmakers and rulemakers in the market, like credit rating agencies and bond issuers.

Hmm. Do you suppose that Bad for America was hoping that the Boehms would be a little less responsible about dotting every i and crossing every t in the paperwork and less persistent about verifying that the bank had received it all? Few people are as organized and responsible as Mike and Mary. If the Boehms had been a little less reliable, the bank could have leaped on some miniscule mistake as an excuse to foreclose. Not that BoA cares that the family made payments for an extra year. Who knows but what Bad for America strung the Boehms along for more than a year just to get that additional money out of them before finally cashing in its foreclosure chip. All that is just guesswork, of course, and I could be wrong about it; but I’m not wrong about this: BoA’s attitude is to hell with people. In fact, to hell with the American economy and all the damage these foreclosures are doing to it. As for bad publicity, this corporate entity might as well shoot us the finger. In fact, that’s what it did when it ordered the arrests. Such arrogance is hardly surprising when you remember that Bank of America is the main investor in QC Holdings, the biggest payday lender in Missouri. Bank of America is used to screwing people over and getting away with it.

The question then is, are we–and the Boehms–helpless? The answer is that we’re not, but we’ll have to be like water on stone: a persistent force. Homeowners who have a problem like the one the Boehms face should contact Attorney General Chris Koster both by e-mail and by calling 1-573-751-3321. They should also call M.O.R.E.’s national hotline: 1-877-59HOME9.

As soon as I post this, I will call Koster’s office and urge that they take action. Please do the same. Unless we annoy the spit out of Koster, he won’t do diddly squat.

The most comprehensive solution would be for laws that encourage this predatory lending practice to be changed. But the House is about to be in Republican hands. So lotsa luck with that. For now, progressives need to get Bank of America as much rotten press as we can generate. Yesterday’s action mustn’t be the end of that effort, just the beginning. We will have to be our own 21st century Charles Dickens, exposing the Scrooges of the nation.

I wish I could tap Mike and Mary on the shoulder and tell them it’s time to wake up, that it was just a bad dream. I can’t do that, but if they want me to, I’ll keep their story front and center.