Top Foreclosure Firm’s Homeless-Themed Halloween Party Pictures Spark Controversy on Internet

New York Times
Photo Courtesy of the New York Times

The Steven J. Baum law firm, which represents lenders including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, is under fire for the photographs released by New York Times.

The story goes like this: New York’s largest foreclosure law firm, Steven J. Baum, held it’s big annual Halloween party last year, as they do every year the Friday before October 31. Nearly a year later, a former employee sent photos from the party to NY Times columnist Joe Nocera. But unlike most Halloween costume parties, this one sparked anger: the pictures depict what appears to be a “homeless” theme, with employees at the Buffalo-based firm apparently mocking the very homeowners their law firm targets with foreclosure.

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For example, in the pictures, one woman is seen wearing a cardboard sign that reads, "3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served." According to the unnamed source, the sign is meant to reflect "the typical excuse" of homeowners attempting to avoid a foreclosure proceeding.

Bill Haydon, who says his income puts him in the top 1%, commented on the pictures, “I get it that sometimes attorneys need to do unpleasant things. To, however, take such mindless pleasure in it, to revel in other people's essentially wallow in it like beyond the pale of basic human decency.”

“I fault the banks for lending money to people that were clearly unqualified, and for the deceptive practices that were often used,” A.S. in North Carolina wrote in response to the New York Times column. “I also fault the borrowers that were blind to the risks and overextended themselves. But I also understand that many people now facing foreclosure are the collateral damage of a corrupt, dysfunctional and unregulated system, people that lost their jobs or retirement savings due to the recession.”

At the end of the day, to show such callousness and lack of empathy to people who are losing their homes is disgusting, especially when you are most likely in contact and dealing with them every day,” A.S. continues. “No matter what the reason for foreclosure, it can only be a very painful and scary process for those going through it. For the Baum firm to treat it as a joke leaves me speechless.

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Tom, in Boston, seemed to be one of the few who cut some slack for the employees pictured. “The photos are in bad taste but, as it was intended only as an inside joke, I think we need to keep things in context,” he wrote on the NYT comment board. “This picture was never meant for the greater public's view.”

A commenter on a Gawker article by the username gt99tg also saw things from the perspective of the Steven J. Baum firm. “This is how they cope with being the ‘bad guys.’ Their costumes are totally insensitive and offensive. But keep in mind that a lot of people being foreclosed on were purchasing 5bd 4bath houses and making $20k a year. Yet we make people like Baum employees and banks to be the bad guys even in those situations when those types of homeowners SHOULD be foreclosed on. There are lots of just and unjust foreclosures out there.”

Ryan Atkins says his family was at one point homeless, and finds fault in the employees’ costumes that depict the foreclosed as uneducated. “In fact, my dad was working towards his doctorate degree at the time we were homeless for that short period of time. Hardly uneducated,” he writes.

“I didn't know that the foreclosed homeless were so dirty? Really? They carry booze around in a paper bag? Right! That must be the reason for falling behind on their mortgage?” Sonia Weech added on Facebook. “A lot of comments about WF people losing their jobs over this, but it was a company supported party, and someone signed off on it. They won't get fired.”

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Others found similarities from this party to other insensitive depictions. “This, if true, has to be the most disgusting display of insensitive cruelty since American fraternity boys threw blackface-themed and KKK college parties,” Robin S. Fletcher commented on Facebook.

“For those employees to make fun of people who have lost their homes is disgusting. They think it's funny? At hospital Halloween parties, do employees dress like people who have died in their building? How about insurance companies who deny sick people health insurance, do their employees yuck it up by dressing like sick people?” writes Mary in Texas, in response to the NYT column.

“This is the very reason I hate shows like storage wars, operation repo, and the pawn shop show… I don’t see what’s funny about others misfortune,” James Thomas Sr. commented on Facebook.

“It's nastier still that several of these photos show youngish, presumably lower-rung employees unctuously clowning for their corporate masters,” Daniel Guidera commented on the NYT column. “Whomever is making the millions running this foreclosure mill will one day throw these performing seals to the wolves just as soon as look at them.”

A Gawker commenter, vinyluwant, also felt the individual people in the photographs are not entirely to blame. “To me, this is a group of people who are pathetically overinvested with their bosses. I don't know how much money the people in those pictures earn, but I'm making a guess that it is nowhere near what their bosses make, and therefore closer to the salaries of the very people they are mocking.”

As for Baum, the head of the firm told The Buffalo News in a statement Saturday that the photos “obviously were in poor taste.”

“On behalf of the firm, I sincerely apologize for what happened last year at our Halloween party,” he said. While the theme of this year’s Halloween bash is as of yet unknown, Baum said the party raised money for the American Red Cross.