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Goldman Agrees To Halt Mortgage Robo-Signing

Goldman Sachs and two other firms have agreed to stop some of their more controversial mortgage-signing practices, New York officials said Thursday.

Goldman's mortgage subsidiary had been under fire for what's been called robo-signing. That's when mortgage company officials sign and notarize foreclosure documents without properly reviewing them. Goldman is one of a handful of mortgage providers accused of the practice.

Under the agreement announced by New York's Department of Financial Services and Banking Department, Goldman has agreed to look through its files for evidence of mishandled documents. The Wall Street firm will also write down $53 million in unpaid mortgages held by struggling homeowners.

In exchange, Goldman will get permission to sell its Litton Loan Servicing arm to Ocwen Financial Corp. Litton and Ocwen have also agreed to abide by the agreement.

The deal also prevents Litton or Ocwen from adding late fees and other servicer fees that make it more difficult for delinquent borrowers to pay back what they owe.

Also on Thursday the country's chief federal banking regulator, the Federal Reserve Board, announced a formal enforcement action against Goldman to address a pattern of misconduct and negligence in how it handled mortgage loans and foreclosures via Litton.

The Fed ordered Goldman to retain an independent consultant to review foreclosure proceedings initiated by Litton that were pending in 2009 and 2010. The Fed said the review is intended to provide remediation to borrowers who suffered financial injury as a result of wrongful foreclosures or other deficiencies identified in a review of the foreclosure process. The Fed said it also plans to announce monetary penalties.

Robo-signing came to light last fall when it was revealed that the largest banks had outsourced mortgage paperwork to processing companies that, in turn, hired unqualified people to sign thousands of mortgage affidavits without reviewing loan documents. The practice is illegal. Many documents were also notarized them in a way that violates state law. The findings led to a temporary halt to most mortgage foreclosures in the fall of 2010.

Benjamin Lawsky, who took over as the superintendent of the Department of Financial Services in May, was in charge of approving Goldman's $264 million deal in June to sell Litton to Ocwen.

Lawsky used his approval power to address shoddy mortgage practices at Litton. The agreement does not impact other large banks and mortgage companies.

Goldman, Litton and Ocwen also agreed to withdraw pending foreclosures if affidavits were robo-signed or inaccurate. The settlement requires the company to either return property that was wrongfully sold back to the original borrowers or provide compensation.

The agreement doesn't preclude future investigations of past practices or release any future claims.

NPR's Jim Zarroli contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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