Paul Kiel, ProPublica

The Independent Foreclosure Review is the government’s main effort to compensate homeowners for harm they suffered at the hands of banks — and, as its name indicates, it’s supposed to be independent.

But until recently, that was hardly the case with Bank of America. Supposedly independent, third-party reviewers would sit at a computer, analyzing each homeowner’s case by going through hundreds of questions, such as whether the bank had properly reviewed a homeowner for a modification or had charged bogus fees. But the reviewers weren’t starting from a blank slate. Bank of America employees had already supplied the answers, which the reviewers would have to override if they did not agree.

No evidence has emerged that Bank of America pressured reviewers to accept its answers, and the bank did not supply answers for the final questions: whether the bank should pay compensation and, if so, how much. But those ultimate determinations depended on responses to the preceding questions, and for reviewers the path of least effort was to accept the bank’s answers.

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