Foreclosure firm now also must close

Home losers mocked at 2010 company Halloween party

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BUFFALO, N.Y. | A New York law firm that specializes in foreclosures and was criticized for a Halloween party that mocked the homeless will close, a spokesman said Monday.

Steven J. Baum P.C., one of the largest-volume mortgage foreclosure firms in New York, filed notice of mass layoffs with the state Department of Labor and local officials, indicating at least a third of its employees would lose their jobs. On Monday, spokesman Earl Wells III confirmed the law firm would close altogether.

While it had been on the radar of federal and state investigators for some time, the Baum firm became the target of widespread public ire last month after the New York Times published pictures from its 2010 Halloween party, which showed people dressed to look homeless and part of the office decorated to resemble a row of foreclosed homes.

The company employs 67 full- and part-time employees in suburban Buffalo and 22 on Long Island. The closing may also affect hundreds of others employed at a document-processing firm that shares office space with Baum.

Last year, the Amherst firm handled nearly 40 percent of the 46,572 foreclosure actions brought in New York courts, the New York Law Journal reported in February.

“Disrupting the livelihoods of so many dedicated and hardworking people is extremely painful, but the loss of so much business left us no choice but to file these notices,” according to a statement by owner Steven J. Baum.

Mr. Wells said Mr. Baum would have no further comment. The firm will fulfill outstanding work on behalf of its clients, Mr. Baum’s statement said.

The firm’s foreclosure practices have been under intense federal and state scrutiny in recent months, culminating in Fannie Mae joining Freddie Mac last week in barring the firm from receiving new referrals from the federally chartered mortgage giants.

Amid an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, Baum agreed last month to pay $2 million and change its practices after admitting errors in legal filings that it blamed on the high volume of mortgage defaults and foreclosures it handles.

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