Christopher Cooper of the Wall Street Journal (and inaugural Rising Tide conference keynote speaker) reports on Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards’ ties to a company that forecloses on homes belonging to Katrina/Flood victims.
The Wall Street Journal has identified 34 New Orleans homes whose owners have faced foreclosure suits from subprime-lending units of Fortress Investment Group LLC. Mr. Edwards has about $16 million invested in Fortress funds, according to a campaign aide who confirmed a more general Federal Election Commission report. Mr. Edwards worked for Fortress, a publicly held private-equity fund, from late 2005 through 2006.
… Mr. Edwards didn’t give details on how or when he was going to proceed, either to alter his holdings or to aid borrowers. He said he plans to begin making amends to New Orleans homeowners first by contacting them and “seeing where they are in the process.” He said his help may come from his own cash or in collaboration with a charity that specializes in repairing homes. The foreclosures, Mr. Edwards said, “run counter to what I’m about.”
… At the time in late 2005 when Mr. Edwards went to work for Fortress, it already had a stake in one subprime lender that subsequently foreclosed on some Katrina victims, Green Tree Servicing LLC. While he was there, Fortress acquired a second, Nationstar Mortgage LLC. Fortress paid Mr. Edwards $479,512 in 2006 for part-time work, a Federal Election Commission report in May showed.
After leaving the firm, he kept about half of his net worth in Fortress funds. And Fortress employees have collectively made up the largest class of political contributors to Mr. Edwards. Workers there put up more than $150,000 toward his presidential run in the first six months of the year.
… Edwards aides, while apologetic for the foreclosures, defended subprime lending in general. They pointed out the distinctions between subprime loans, which are extended to people with less-than-stellar credit, and “predatory” loans, which often target the same consumers but employ pressure sales tactics and punitive covenants that can strip equity from home buyers and tie them to onerous payments. Subprime loans, defenders note, can benefit many lower-income people previously locked out of home ownership.
Mortgage experts say there’s no clear line dividing standard subprime loans from “predatory” ones …