La. AG Investigating Slow Release of Insurance Money

January 2, 2006

The Louisiana attorney general’s office is investigating a California-based mortgage company following complaints that the firm has taken too long to release insurance money meant for Louisiana residents whose homes were damaged by hurricanes.

The company, Countrywide Home Loans Inc., issued a statement acknowledging the delays but blaming them on the high volume of insurance claim checks required after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The number of checks overwhelmed the company’s system, the statement said.

“This created unfortunate and unusual delays to some of our customers for a period of several weeks,” the company said.

Over a dozen formal complaints have been filed with Attorney General Charles Foti’s office, alleging that Countrywide has received insurance money meant for homeowners needing to repair their homes, but held on to the cash for an unreasonable amount of time, Foti spokeswoman Kris Wartelle said.

Many such insurance checks require a signature both from the homeowner and the mortgage company before the homeowner can receive the cash. One Louisiana homeowner told investigators that Worldwide held his $111,000 in insurance payments for more than a month, forcing him to produce $50,000 to pay contractors repairing his storm-damaged home, Wartelle said.

The Countrywide statement said the company has caught up with the flow of checks, which “are now being processed in a timely manner.”

The probe might be widened to other mortgage companies, Wartelle said.

Countrywide is a subsidiary of Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide Financial Corp.

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