A sheriff considered a leading contender to be Chicago's next mayor after a series of headline-grabbing initiatives announced Tuesday that he has ordered deputies to stop carrying out mortgage foreclosure evictions for the second time in two years.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart lashed out at three of the nation's leading lenders, saying he halted evictions after they acknowledged some employees signed off on foreclosure documents without even reading them.
"This is so outrageous and these poor families are being put through this day in and day out by people that don't do their jobs," said Dart, displaying the same disdain he showed when he announced a similar decision two years ago. "It's so hard for me to stomach these people because this isn't just their bike we're taking away or their car. It's their house."
Dart singled out Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and GMAC/Ally Financial, saying if he doesn't receive affidavits from the institutions verifying the 1,000 to 1,500 eviction orders they've already filed with his office, he won't enforce them.
"I don't think it would take (the banks) a lot of time," he said.
Meanwhile, Dart said his latest moratorium could be expanded to other institutions. He explained he already has asked county and state prosecutors if they have any information about questionable practices by other lenders.
Dart's announcement comes a day after Bank of America announced plans to resume seizing more than 100,000 homes in 23 states, saying it had the legal right to do so despite accusations that documents used in the process were flawed. Ally Financial Inc.'s GMAC Mortgage unit also is resuming foreclosures once documents are fixed.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for JP Morgan Chase declined to comment. A Bank of America spokesman said in an e-mail that the bank already has reviewed the documents in Illinois and several other states. "Our assessment shows underlying information provided as the basis for our past foreclosure decisions is accurate," Rick Simon said.
A spokesman for GMAC/Ally Financial, James Olecki, had a similar statement, saying "the affected files have been reviewed and remediated appropriately."
"We are happy to respond to any questions from the sheriff related to this matter, " Olecki said.
Dart said if the lenders have taken the proper steps then it should be no problem to say so in writing.
"All I'm looking for them is an affidavit saying, 'Sheriff, the cases you have in your system were all reviewed, all the documents were done correctly ... they're all legally done and you are not enforcing illegal orders,'" Dart said.
Two years ago, Dart made national headlines when stopped evictions until banks put procedures in place that ensured his deputies were not putting on the street people who paid their rent and were unaware of their landlords' financial problems. He's also sued Craigslist over ads he said promoted prostitution and headed the investigation into the alleged resale of burial plots at a historic cemetery outside Chicago.
Dart has not announced he will run for Chicago mayor but is going to do so, people close to him have told The Associated Press. On Tuesday, he dismissed the suggestion that his latest move was an attempt to impress voters.
"If this was an issue where this was the first time you folks had heard from me about this, I would suggest you had a reason for skepticism," Dart said. "That was two years ago ... and we have completely revamped the way evictions are done and we have been a leader on it."
Dart also said his refusal to publicly announce an intention to join a crowded field of candidates and potential candidates hoping to succeed the retiring Mayor Richard Daley is not misleading voters who will be asked to re-elect Dart as sheriff on Nov. 2.
"I haven't hidden from them that I'm examining the mayor's race," he said.
Dart also said he wasn't concerned about the highest profile candidate, Rahm Emanuel, getting a head start. Emanuel has been campaigning steadily since quitting his job as White House chief of staff, getting a head start on him.
He instead seemed to enjoy questions about Emanuel, particularly one from a television reporter who wondered about Emanuel's proposal to raise money for schools after serving in an administration that rewarded $3.4 billion in stimulus money for education to nine states and the District of Columbia _ but not Illinois.
"You really should ask him that very good question," Dart said.