Chase morally bankrupt banner Daymon Hartley

In your face, Chase


Banner held by protesters outside Chase Bank, downtown Detroit. Photo by Daymon J. Harley

At the origin of Detroit’s main boulevard, about 200 people gathered below the Spirit of Detroit statue and set off on a two-block procession  to deliver a document to JPMorgan Chase Bank — and it wasn’t a birthday card  for chairman and chief executive officer Jamie Dimon.

It was something Chase Bank is too familiar with: A foreclosure notice, tied up neatly with police tape. Happy Birthday, Jamie Dimon.

Notice of default:

The people of Michigan, whose taxes contributed to the bailout of the banking system in 2009, and who now compensate banks for billions in losses on federal insured mortgages, hereby give notice that Chase Bank has breached its obligation to cease unjust foreclosures and keep people in their homes.

JPMorgan Chase Bank is one of 14 mortgage servicers that signed a consent agreement with federal regulators in April 2011.  Since then, Chase has ignored the agreement, which is supposed to be enforceable and requires the banks to negotiate more mortgage modifications, including principal reductions, with homeowners.

The people of Michigan therefore resolve to foreclose on Chase Bank’s unjust policies of foreclosure and eviction. As remedy for the reckless destruction of our neighborhoods and the consequent decline in housing values across the state, we call on Chase and other banks to reduce mortgage principal to reflect the depressed value of our homes, and to declare a moratorium on all foreclosures for two years while modifications are implemented.

Among banks hurrying to foreclose on and evict families, Chase stands out as particularly heartless. Its haplessly chosen targets include the most vulnerable. Meanwhile Dimon, a billionaire, is the highest-paid CEO among the nation’s six largest banks.

Tuesday’s action was part of an ongoing coalition campaign to save the homes of eight metro Detroit families including:

  • Alma Counts, an 82-year-old, partially paralyzed woman who’s lived in her home for 39 years, raising 10 children.
  • A Sterling Heights couple who negotiated a special medical-hardship loan modification, kept up their payments, but saw their home sold at a sheriff’s sale anyway.
  • A Northville widow whose husband, suffering from health problems, died while she fought a Chase Bank foreclosure in court.
  • A Southfield homeowner who was working until he underwent heart surgery, including implantation of a pacemaker. The family made payments based on medical hardship and decreased income, but Chase ignored the arrangements and foreclosed.
  • A Bloomfield family with a permanent loan modification made 10 payments when Chased suddenly started foreclosure.

The coalition includes People Before Banks, Occupy Detroit, Occupy Our Homes, the United Auto Workers union national headquarters, UAW Local 600, Moratorium NOW! Michigan, Jobs With Justice, and Metro AFL-CIO.

In Chase's face: Vanessa Fluker. Photo by Daymon J. Hartley

While the demonstration called attention to all eight families, the message a delegation took inside focused on the case of Alma Counts. Tuesday’s event and the ongoing campaign were announced at a press conference and rally at her house almost a week ago.

“Ms. Counts represents tens of thousands of other” homeowners who are in the same predicament, Vanessa Fluker, an attorney who specializes in foreclosure defense,  told demonstrators outside Chase Bank. “You can do everything right. You can fight to keep your home, but it doesn’t matter.”

“For Ms. Counts, we fought very hard to get her into a reasonable modification,” said Fluker, who represents all eight  families, “and we got that. And we were happy. I’m holding the modification right here,” she said, waving a manila folder in the air.

Then came March 2009. “She’s making every payment. Then suddenly, arbitrarily, her payments were almost doubled. No one would recognize this contract that she entered into for a modification,” Fluker said.  Nothing worked: sending Chase a copy of the modification; sending numerous modification packages. Instead, she said, Counts gets letters almost every day rejecting the latest submission and repeating that she is in foreclosure.

“This is ridiculous. This has got to stop,” Fluker said, drawing cheers of agreement. “This is happening to tens of thousands of people around this city and around this state.”

Outside Chase Bank. Photo by Nancy Brigham

Speakers and delegation members included Fluker, Rev. David Bullock, Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church; UAW vice president Cindy Estrada; Rev. Ed Rowe, Central United Methodist Church; Chris Michalakis, Metro Detroit AFL-CIO; UAW Local 600 president Bernie Ricke; Bertha Garrett, whose home was recently saved through the efforts of activist and community groups; and a Patricia Montgomery, one of Counts’ 10 children.

Alma Counts’ house was paid off before she refinanced it with Washington Mutual Bank, a predatory lender. In 2008, she successfully negotiated a mortgage modification with Washington Mutual. Washington Mutual collapsed later that year in the largest bank failure in U.S. history. The government quietly sold the bank to JPMorgan Chase for a steal in September 2008.

It took Chase six months to get around to Counts. When it reneged on the modification,  Counts’ payments nearly doubled, to $1,400 from $728, according to Fluker. Chase knew Counts, living on a fixed income, couldn’t afford the new payments. When Counts tried to make a partial payment, Chase rejected it and immediately started foreclosure.

How to motivate Chase Bank. Photo by Terry Hall

On second thought, Dimon may have had something to celebrate after all: The start of the  trial of five Occupy members who were arrested during Dimon’s November 2 visit to Seattle.

The five occupied Chase Bank by chaining themselves inside a Chase branch, with herds of protesters outside. The protest forced the branch to close for the day. That evening, hundreds of protesters blockaded a hotel where Dimon was given a business leadership award.


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