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The subprime lending sector, which is already roiling world financial markets, is also exerting a toll on the presidential campaign trail. After another news article appeared today documenting his ties to subprime lenders who are foreclosing on homes, John Edwards has announced that he will divest his investments in the lenders and personally seek to redress several dozen New Orleans homeowners who have been foreclosed on by companies to which he is linked.

In May, The Washington Post reported that Fortress Investment Group, the hedge fund and private equity firm that employed the former North Carolina senator in 2005 and 2006, owns or holds major stakes in several large subprime lenders, including one, Green Tree Servicing, that sought foreclosures on New Orleans homeowners shortly after Hurricane Katrina. Edwards earned about $500,000 for his roughly 14 months of part-time work as an adviser at Fortress and has about $16 million invested in its funds. He has received more than $150,000 in campaign contributions from Fortress employees, more than he has from any other single entity.

At the time the article appeared, Edwards was excoriating the predatory practices of some subprime lenders as part of his populist campaign pitch, saying such companies were "devastating communities," and that "shameful lending practices . . . are compromising our strength as a nation." He told The Post at the time that he had specifically asked Fortress at the time of his hiring in late 2005 whether the company was involved in predatory lending, and that he could not recall whether company officials had told him about the large stake in Green Tree. He also said he was not involved in Fortress' subsequent decision while he was at the firm to buy large stakes in several other subprime lenders. He noted that not all subprime lenders engage in predatory practices, and that at its best, the industry serves to help families with poor credit purchase homes they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford. And told about the reports of Green Tree's foreclosing on Katrina victims, Edwards, who launched his campaign with a speech in New Orleans, said he would ask Fortress to look into the matter and help any affected homeowners.

"I said, 'This is not okay that this is happening,' " Edwards said at the time. "I don't know how many cases there are . . . but the right thing is to go back and fix this."

Meanwhile, Edwards continued in ensuing months to rail against predatory lenders, charging, in a visit to Cleveland last month as part of his poverty tour, that unethical lenders were "raping" communities like the one he was visiting.

Today, in a front-page article, The Wall Street Journal gave a tally of the 34 New Orleans homes that have faced foreclosure suits from Green Tree and another subprime lending unit owned by Fortress, Nationstar Mortgage. The Journal noted that the subprime loans offered by those companies in New Orleans contained features often associated with predatory lending, such as accelerators that allow the already-above-market interest rate to nearly double, and penalties for early payoff. It quoted homeowners who have lost their homes as a result of the foreclosures, including a 67-year-old former barkeep who now lives in a trailer outside the city after her Ninth Ward home was sold at auction for $10,000 to settle a $53,000 mortgage with a 13 percent interest rate.

Fortress, it appears, had not "fixed" the companies' foreclosure efforts in New Orleans as Edwards said he had requested it to. Edwards told the Journal that he would now cleanse his $16 million Fortress portfolio of any investments linked to the lenders involved in the foreclosures. He also said that he would try to compensate the affected homeowners, possibly either by giving them money or by collaborating with a charity that is repairing homes in New Orleans. "I intend to help these people," he said.

Edwards campaign spokesman Eric Schultz sought today to frame Edwards' latest response to his Fortress link as proof that he cared for the people of New Orleans. He "believes that nobody in New Orleans should lose their home because of Hurricane Katrina," Schultz said. "Edwards has taken personal responsibility by cleansing his portfolio of any investments that may have ties to these practices, and he [is] also personally committing to helping people who may have lost their homes. For John Edwards, the tragedy in New Orleans is not just about politics. They have been abandoned by the federal government and deserve a strong advocate. As president, he will be that fighter, but he's not waiting until then. He's taking responsibility, because for him that is the meaning of leadership."

--Alec MacGillis

By Washington Post editors  |  August 17, 2007; 2:10 PM ET
 
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Comments

Here are the Top 10 Mistakes Mortgage Borrowers Make:

1. Not knowing which mortgage fees the borrower can -- and cannot -- negotiate.

2. Choosing and trusting the first loan officer the borrower interviews.

3. Using an interest-only or "payment option" adjustable-rate loan primarily to qualify for a more expensive house than you could normally afford.

4. Thinking the interest rate is always the main thing.

5. Not comparing the final fees listed on the closing documents to the up-front estimates to avoid the lender "packing" the loan with added-on fees without the borrower's knowledge.

6. Not knowing if the mortgage has a pre-payment penalty - until it's too late.

7. Thinking that renting is always just throwing money away.

8. The borrower does not know if he or she is paying a back-end yield spread or Service Release Premium.

9. Paying for mortgage life insurance, credit insurance or other expensive lender add-ons to increase the amount of kickbacks the lender can receive from various vendors.

10. Paying hundreds of dollars to have a company set up a biweekly mortgage payment plan, something the borrower can generally do for herself or himself -- for free.

From the book, "Kickback: Confessions of a Mortgage Salesman," one of the best-selling books on mortgages on Amazon.com.

Posted by: tjanusz | August 25, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

After the last 6 and a half years, it's refreshing to see someone take responsibility and do the right thing. Thank you, Mr. Edwards.

Posted by: campari99 | August 22, 2007 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Thumbs up! Hats off! Kudos!

from New Orleans, LA

Posted by: dreeder | August 22, 2007 12:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm glad he's putting his money where his mouth is...and, I wish he had taken this action sooner. Regardless, I'm happy a politician is willing to part with his cash when it comes in the way if his principles, and I'm sure the affected folks in NoLA will be pleased with any assistance they can get...and yes, the assistance SHOULD have come from our Fed Govt.

Hopefully the 08 election can at least change that.

Posted by: grannyhelen | August 18, 2007 6:38 PM | Report abuse

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