Thursday, February 26, 2009

'Dear President Obama,' Or: Remind Me Never to Do Business with First Franklin Loan Services

Posted By on Thu, Feb 26, 2009 at 5:29 AM

Two weeks ago, Jack Silverman posted about the plight--sadly far from uncommon--of Molly Secours, the Nashville activist/filmmaker and cancer patient who's facing the imminent loss of her home. Why? According to Secours, the lenders at First Franklin Loan Services who never gave a damn about her until she missed a payment have proved unwilling to discuss a settlement that might let her keep her house.

Just to recap: First Franklin Loan Services, now owned by $45 billion bailout baby Bank of America, wants to take away the home of a cancer patient who has fallen behind in payments--not because of neglect, but because of catastrophic medical expenses. Now she's told her mortgage is held in a trust with the prefix of corporate-welfare moneypit Merrill Lynch. For the $131,000 that former Merrill CEO John Thain reportedly spent on two rugs, Secours could own her whole house.

Unfortunately for them, Secours is a fighter. With media coverage of her case just a shove away from going viral, she's taking her battle to the very top: an open letter to President Barack Obama. Full text after the jump. Dear President Obama:

I wish this letter were simply a congratulatory note thanking you for the sacrifices and struggles your family has made in order for you to become our 44th President. Your victory has been a personal highlight for me. And like millions of others I, perhaps for the first time, feel hope and optimism.

Although I write you today about my personal struggle, I am only one of countless others facing the same fate: foreclosure. As you read the following paragraphs, imagine the millions in a similar predicament.

I'm a freelance writer/filmmaker living in Nashville TN. A year and a half ago I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and spent much of last year in chemotherapy and radiation. In spite of never missing a single mortgage payment during the entire time of treatment--thanks to all my friends in Nashville and across the world--I have for the past 8 months been unable to convince First Franklin Loan Services (owned by Bank Of America) to refinance my 9.8% loan. With the accumulated medical bills and debt incurred during chemo, it was my only hope of keeping my home. I was later told that until I was 2 months behind in payments, negotiations were unlikely.

Well now I am nearly three months behind, and only because of your moratorium on foreclosures will my March 2nd deadline be pushed back to March 12th. But according to First Franklin, I do not qualify for refinancing under your program.

After weeks of persistent inquiry, it turns out that of course First Franklin can't refinance my loan. First Franklin doesn't even possess my loan. When I asked for the name and number of the person who possessed my loan and who might help me refinance, I was told that my mortgage was actually packaged in a trust under the name 'Merrill Lynch First Franklin Loan Trust 2007-2'. Not surprising, he couldn't give me a good contact number for these Merrill Lynch First Franklin folks. Out on a Caribbean cruise, I imagine.

I was further told that First Franklin Loan Services priority and commitment is to be fair to the owner of the loan underwritten under their guidelines and that the terms to my loan could not be altered.

Are you still with me, Mr. President?

As part of my cancer recovery I have been advised to keep a low stress level in order to assure continued remission. Mr. President I must be honest. While going through chemotherapy and radiation was excruciating at times, dealing with the devious and rather underhanded practices of First Franklin Loan Services (Bank Of America) over this past 8 months has been almost as brutal--and in some ways even worse.

Last summer, in spite of the massive debt and medical bills, I still had good enough credit to refinance my 9.8% loan with another bank. But because First Franklin refused to forgive the exorbitant pre-payment penalty, my house was upside down in value and refinancing with a reputable bank became impossible. Eight months later because of the economy, my house is valued at $18,500 less than I owe, and now selling and/or renting are no longer options.

The details of obstruction and uncooperative dealings with First Franklin are endless and I know you have heard the same stories from people across the country so I'll spare you the specifics.

What can you do? When Bank Of America appears before Congress next month, please demand that they answer the following questions. While it may be too late for me by then, maybe it will help millions of others:

1) What exactly are the 'guidelines' that loan service providers like First Franklin Loan Services are held to in their agreements with folks like Merrill Lynch First Franklin Loan Trust 2007-02?

2) Can these guidelines be made public for ALL Americans? Since First Franklin claims that for people like me that 'there is no way to alter the guidelines governing' my loan. Perhaps transparency might help.

3) We already know that First Franklin Loan Services is owned by Bank Of America. Mr. President, I am wondering why First Franklin Loan Services was unable to benefit from the bail out package received by Merrill Lynch and Bank Of America this past year? That way they could work with folks like me to stay in their homes.

4) Given that the trustees of my loan are "Merrill Lynch" I am thinking maybe there is a way to locate some of the funds allocated to help people in my situation? How many billions of dollars was it that Merrill Lynch and Bank Of America received? Perhaps Congress would help First Franklin Loan Services garner some of that or the new stimulus money from their parent company Bank Of America?

5) I am interested in knowing if I go into foreclosure would the tax benefit go to "Merrill Lynch First Franklin Loan Trust" or would it go to First Franklin Loan Services or would Bank Of America receive the tax write off? This might help me understand more why it has been so difficult to make an agreement before now. There must be some great foreclosure benefits for so many people to be on the verge of losing their homes.

You see Mr. President, I'm not looking for a bailout or a hand out. I'm just looking for a good faith deal and fair shake without the smoke and mirrors.

Like millions of Americans, my house is not just the place where I sleep and eat. It is a source of comfort and healing. And although it is true, home is where your heart is, these days my heart is my home.

On behalf of millions who are facing fiscal, emotional and physical devastation, thank you for your leadership, compassion and humanitarian spirit.

Ever faithful,

Molly Secours

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