Merrill Lynch, which a year ago paid $1.3 billion for subprime giant First Franklin Financial Corp. and two affiliates, has officially pulled the plug on the unit and plans to sell FFFC's servicing division, Home Loan Services. Over the past two months, account executives at the San Jose, Calif.-based First Franklin have been telling MortgageWire that the unit was funding hardly any new loans and that a plan to retrain AEs to originate Fannie Mae loans was never implemented. At one time First Franklin -- which Merrill had purchased from National City Corp. -- ranked among the nation's top five residential subprime lenders. Among subprime servicers, the Pittsburgh-based HLS ranks sixth nationwide, according to the Quarterly Data Report. The closure will affect at least 650 workers at First Franklin and its affiliate, NationsPoint. "Since July, we have reduced staffing at First Franklin by nearly 70%, but after evaluating a number of strategies, we believe it is appropriate to discontinue mortgage origination," said David Sobotka, head of Merrill's fixed-income division. (For further details, see the March 10 issue of National Mortgage News.)

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