Tonight! Foreclosure Mills Are Accountable Under FDCPA

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see Brock and Scott Law Firm Sued Under FDCPA

I think the recent spate of cases against law firms who collect debts is indicative of the tremendous liability assumed by a lawyer who, knowing that there are defects in the claim, pursues it anyway.

In foreclosure litigation countless law firms entered into agreements with various parties to achieve the result of a foreclosure sale. They knew or MUST have known that the documents that they referenced or attached to their pleadings in court were either fabricated by then, or at their instruction, or fabricated by others. They knew or MUST have known that the “client” was not the Plaintiff/Claimant but they fraudulently continued acting as if the named Plaintiff both existed and had a valid claim.

The reason they MUST have known is that every lawyer is required by his state and Federal bar ethical and disciplinary standards to engage in enough due diligence to know with certainty that the named claimant exists and that filing a lawsuit or other claim or sending out notices on behalf of such “clients” without having been retained by them, is legal and valid. Naming US Bank as trustee, when there is no trust is a breach of those standards no matter how you cut it. Naming or implying the existence of a trust when it is in fact nonexistent is also a breach.

Such actions among others are violations of the FDCPA. The banks suckered the lawyers into what appeared to be lucrative retainers to handle mass debt collection and foreclosure without disclosing the fact that with the retainer came liability for violation of multiple state and Federal laws.

These lawyers and law firms were intentionally set up by the banks to be thrown under the bus, followed by a disclaimer by the banks that they were unaware of their conduct when in fact the law firms were acting as instructed by the banks.

Don’t forget that if the law firm is proven t have been negligent as opposed to committing an intentional act, there might be insurance coverage. Besides the obvious reservoir of funds for payment of a settlement or judgment the presence of insurance assures that a lawyer who is far more objective than the law firm policyholder will be the one litigating and negotiating the claim.

Resources:

FDCPA Statute

Quotes from the Statute:

15 USC 1692

§ 802.  Congressional findings and declarations of purpose

(a) Abusive practices
There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.

(b) Inadequacy of laws
Existing laws and procedures for redressing these injuries are inadequate to protect consumers.

(c) Available non-abusive collection methods
Means other than misrepresentation or other abusive debt collection practices are available for the effective collection of debts.

(d) Interstate commerce
Abusive debt collection practices are carried on to a substantial extent in interstate commerce and through means and instrumentalities of such commerce. Even where abusive debt collection practices are purely intrastate in character, they nevertheless directly affect interstate commerce.

(e) Purposes
It is the purpose of this subchapter to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure that those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses.

15 USC 1692e

§ 807.  False or misleading representations

A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:

(1) The false representation or implication that the debt collector is vouched for, bonded by, or affiliated with the United States or any State, including the use of any badge, uniform, or facsimile thereof.

(2) The false representation of —

(A) the character, amount, or legal status of any debt; or

(B) any services rendered or compensation which may be lawfully received by any debt collector for the collection of a debt.

(3) The false representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.

(4) The representation or implication that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person or the seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of any property or wages of any person unless such action is lawful and the debt collector or creditor intends to take such action.

(5) The threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken.

(6) The false representation or implication that a sale, referral, or other transfer of any interest in a debt shall cause the consumer to —

(A) lose any claim or defense to payment of the debt; or

(B) become subject to any practice prohibited by this subchapter.

(7) The false representation or implication that the consumer committed any crime or other conduct in order to disgrace the consumer.

(8) Communicating or threatening to communicate to any person credit information which is known or which should be known to be false, including the failure to communicate that a disputed debt is disputed.

(9) The use or distribution of any written communication which simulates or is falsely represented to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by any court, official, or agency of the United States or any State, or which creates a false impression as to its source, authorization, or approval.

(10) The use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning a consumer.

(11) The failure to disclose in the initial written communication with the consumer and, in addition, if the initial communication with the consumer is oral, in that initial oral communication, that the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose, and the failure to disclose in subsequent communications that the communication is from a debt collector, except that this paragraph shall not apply to a formal pleading made in connection with a legal action.

(12) The false representation or implication that accounts have been turned over to innocent purchasers for value.

(13) The false representation or implication that documents are legal process.

(14) The use of any business, company, or organization name other than the true name of the debt collector’s business, company, or organization.

(15) The false representation or implication that documents are not legal process forms or do not require action by the consumer.

(16) The false representation or implication that a debt collector operates or is employed by a consumer reporting agency as defined by section 1681a(f) of this title.

15 USC 1692f

§ 808.  Unfair practices

A debt collector may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:

(1) The collection of any amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.

(2) The acceptance by a debt collector from any person of a check or other payment instrument postdated by more than five days unless such person is notified in writing of the debt collector’s intent to deposit such check or instrument not more than ten nor less than three business days prior to such deposit.

(3) The solicitation by a debt collector of any postdated check or other postdated payment instrument for the purpose of threatening or instituting criminal prosecution.

(4) Depositing or threatening to deposit any postdated check or other postdated payment instrument prior to the date on such check or instrument.

(5) Causing charges to be made to any person for communications by concealment of the true purpose of the communication. Such charges include, but are not limited to, collect telephone calls and telegram fees.

(6) Taking or threatening to take any nonjudicial action to effect dispossession or disablement of property if —

(A) there is no present right to possession of the property claimed as collateral through an enforceable security interest;

(B) there is no present intention to take possession of the property; or

(C) the property is exempt by law from such dispossession or disablement.

(7) Communicating with a consumer regarding a debt by post card.

(8) Using any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address, on any envelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the mails or by telegram, except that a debt collector may use his business name if such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business.

15 USC 1692g

§ 809.  Validation of debts

(a) Notice of debt; contents
Within five days after the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt, a debt collector shall, unless the following information is contained in the initial communication or the consumer has paid the debt, send the consumer a written notice containing —

(1) the amount of the debt;

(2) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed;

(3) a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector;

(4) a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector; and

(5) a statement that, upon the consumer’s written request within the thirty-day period, the debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

(b) Disputed debts
If the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period described in subsection (a) of this section that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, or that the consumer requests the name and address of the original creditor, the debt collector shall cease collection of the debt, or any disputed portion thereof, until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment, or the name and address of the original creditor, and a copy of such verification or judgment, or name and address of the original creditor, is mailed to the consumer by the debt collector. Collection activities and communications that do not otherwise violate this subchapter may continue during the 30-day period referred to in subsection (a) unless the consumer has notified the debt collector in writing that the debt, or any portion of the debt, is disputed or that the consumer requests the name and address of the original creditor. Any collection activities and communication during the 30-day period may not overshadow or be inconsistent with the disclosure of the consumer’s right to dispute the debt or request the name and address of the original creditor.

(c) Admission of liability
The failure of a consumer to dispute the validity of a debt under this section may not be construed by any court as an admission of liability by the consumer.

(d) Legal pleadings
A communication in the form of a formal pleading in a civil action shall not be treated as an initial communication for purposes of subsection (a).

(e) Notice provisions
The sending or delivery of any form or notice which does not relate to the collection of a debt and is expressly required by title 26, title V of Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act [15 U.S.C. 6801 et seq.], or any provision of Federal or State law relating to notice of data security breach or privacy, or any regulation prescribed under any such provision of law, shall not be treated as an initial communication in connection with debt collection for purposes of this section.

15 USC 1692h

§ 813.  Civil liability

(a) Amount of damages
Except as otherwise provided by this section, any debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of this subchapter with respect to any person is liable to such person in an amount equal to the sum of —

(1) any actual damage sustained by such person as a result of such failure;

(2) (A) in the case of any action by an individual, such additional damages as the court may allow, but not exceeding $1,000; or

(B) in the case of a class action, (i) such amount for each named plaintiff as could be recovered under subparagraph (A), and (ii) such amount as the court may allow for all other class members, without regard to a minimum individual recovery, not to exceed the lesser of $500,000 or 1 per centum of the net worth of the debt collector; and

(3) in the case of any successful action to enforce the foregoing liability, the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney’s fee as determined by the court. On a finding by the court that an action under this section was brought in bad faith and for the purpose of harassment, the court may award to the defendant attorney’s fees reasonable in relation to the work expended and costs.

(b) Factors considered by court
In determining the amount of liability in any action under subsection (a) of this section, the court shall consider, among other relevant factors —

(1) in any individual action under subsection (a)(2)(A) of this section, the frequency and persistence of noncompliance by the debt collector, the nature of such noncompliance, and the extent to which such noncompliance was intentional; or

(2) in any class action under subsection (a)(2)(B) of this section, the frequency and persistence of noncompliance by the debt collector, the nature of such noncompliance, the resources of the debt collector, the number of persons adversely affected, and the extent to which the debt collector’s noncompliance was intentional.

(c) Intent
A debt collector may not be held liable in any action brought under this subchapter if the debt collector shows by a preponderance of evidence that the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error.

(d) Jurisdiction
An action to enforce any liability created by this subchapter may be brought in any appropriate United States district court without regard to the amount in controversy, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction, within one year from the date on which the violation occurs.

(e) Advisory opinions of Bureau
No provision of this section imposing any liability shall apply to any act done or omitted in good faith in conformity with any advisory opinion of the Bureau, notwithstanding that after such act or omission has occurred, such opinion is amended, rescinded, or determined by judicial or other authority to be invalid for any reason.

NJ Foreclosure Mill Goes Bankrupt

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This is not legal advice on your case. Consult a lawyer who is licensed in the jurisdiction in which the transaction and /or property is located.

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see 30,000 Cases to be Transferred from Bankruupt NJ Lawfirm

It’s a growing trend. More law firms are backing out the foreclosure mill business. The reasons are pure economics. The number of contested foreclosures is rising exponentially. The foreclosure firms get a small flat fee for each foreclosure case. The numbers don’t add up.

In addition, these firms are finding themselves in the cross hairs of bar associations who are starting to look at the use of fabricated documents and fabricated testimony from robo-witnesses and robo-signers.

These firms made tens of millions of dollars in profits simply because nearly all homeowners were allowing the foreclosure by default. As the news reveals that homeowners are being foreclosed by entities that have no right to collect, enforce or foreclose on the original mortgage loan, attorneys are all coming to the same conclusions: (1) these cases are winnable and (2) the actual claim is being filed on behalf of the servicer to recover servicer advances which are themselves being “securitized.”

First they said there were no trusts, the  they said there were trusts but the servicer had the right to represent the trusts, then came the time that trustees issued statements prohibiting (pursuant to PSA) the “servicer” from using the name of the Trustee,  then US Bank and others began replacing the Trustees of the empty, penniless trusts and allowing the foreclosures to be filed in its name.

AND now they are returning to the first strategy where they deny the existence of a trust when it is obvious that the only reason why Citi and others would call themselves “servicers” is to avoid liability for the origination of the loan and to make it more difficult for the borrower to show that there is a REMIC Trust out there that claims ownership or that did claim ownership of the loans.

That makes it difficult to show that there is no known creditor on the original MORTGAGE LOAN. There are claims, but not by any creditor or successor on the MORTGAGE LOAN. But without foreclosures, if the loans are modified, the real claims of servicers and investment banks serving as Master Servicers completely vanish. THAT IS WHY THEY FORECLOSE INSTEAD OF MODIFY OR SETTLE.

But the overall strategy is the same: make it as confusing as possible and play into the prejudice of the judges to pull the wool over their eyes. These claims are mostly unsecured because the real claim is to recover the money paid by the Master servicer and then ignored by the sub-servicer when they send out notice of default (no default if the creditor was paid), and ignored when the final accounting of what is due from borrower to the owner of the MORTGAGE LOAN is used as the basis for foreclosure.

The law firms are now on notice that they are representing parties with conflicts of interest. Foreclosure means the servicer gets money paid by the Master servicer from the reserve fund created when the original MBS were sold. Modification would mean revealing that the actual creditors on the MORTGAGE LOAN are (a) not showing a default on their books and (b) not being allowed to mitigate d damages because they don’t learn of the misguided “processing” (i.e., loss of documents and putting up numerous hurdles and obstacles and false reports that the investor rejected the modification or settlement).

So where the economics are turning sour, the liability for civil, criminal and regulatory liability is driving the big foreclosures mills out of the marketplace. They are doing it through bankruptcy so that claims from borrowers for wrongful foreclosure won’t be effective to recover from partners in the law firms.

Bank Lawyers Beware!

I know from past experience that the prosecuting attorneys at bar associations tend to move in packs. There is actually a pretty good reason for this. Certain practices by attorneys are emulated by other attorneys and spreads from state to state. Based upon a recent decision in New York State, I believe we’re going to see some serious prosecutions against attorneys for the pretender lenders.

In this case the censured attorney, David A. Cohen,  and his Long Island firm was trying to collect debts from people who weren’t already pay their bills or were not the ones who owed money to the firm’s client – creditors. I will concede that this is not the case against a foreclosure mill. And I think there is still political resistance to going after the lawyers  who represent the pretender lenders. But if you look at the reasoning in this case, it is not hard to see where the New York State Bar Association is going with this.

There were voluminous complaints about the firm spanning a 16 year period. That suggests that in cases where the homeowner believes that the attorney representing the pretender lender is violated ethical rules, or where the attorney for the homeowner believes that to be the case, a grievance should be filed.  But I caution people about doing this because they  frequently don’t know enough about the facts to be sure if a violation occurred.  It is unfair to attribute unethical conduct to an attorney who was merely advocating on behalf of a client and taking positions with which you do not agree. False filings will also create a paper jam in which the real filings for real violations get lost. SO don’t take this article as a green light to pepper the Bar Associations with vague grievances.

Cohen and his firm received numerous admonitions about his firm’s practices.

The court concluded in Matter of Cohen & Slamowitz, 2008-10218, that Cohen and Cohen & Slamowitz “engaged in a pattern and practice of conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice” under the Code of Professional Responsibility DR 1-102(A)(5)(223 NYCRR 1200.3[a][5]. The judges said an attorney does not necessarily have to have personal knowledge of the specifics of his firm’s misconduct to be held responsible.“Even if the individual respondent lacked personal knowledge of the particular client matters … the pattern and practice of misconduct established at the hearing, which were pervasive within C&S [Cohen & Slamowitz] since 1996, were sufficient to impute such knowledge to him as senior partner of C&S,” [e.s.] the panel held in its per curiam ruling. The judges added that not only was Cohen personally advised in 2002 to “exercise caution,” “supervise [his] staff adequately,” and put in place “appropriate and reasonable procedures” that could be monitored, but he and his firm also received numerous letters of caution and admonition. The court said Cohen & Slamowitz has about 300 employees, including attorneys, paralegals and other staff.

Among the problems noted by the court was an attempt in 2005 to collect from a debtor identified as “Ghulam Mujtaba” of Flushing. The court said that Cohen & Slamowitz mistakenly pursued collection from Dr. Gholam Mujtaba of Corona.
 Given the various settlement and OCC consent decrees that have been entered against virtually all of the major banks and servicers, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which the lawyers have not been put on notice of the existence of major defects in the claims of their clients. Unlike civil litigation, lawyers are held to a higher standard of behavior in connection with their practice of law. The ethical and disciplinary rules make it clear that the lawyer should avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Here in this case, the court opened up the possibility for imputing knowledge to the attorney even though there are attempts to create compliance departments and other organizational tools that are meant to isolate the actual licensed attorneys from the illegal conduct perpetrated by their firm.
 If a bank came to me for representation in the foreclosure properties based upon loans that are subject to claims of securitization, I would make absolutely certain that there were procedures in effect within the bank to make sure that we were naming the right plaintiff, naming the right defendant, that a default was definitely present, and that we could account for the balance due. I would ask the bank “are you actually owed the money on this loan?”
 The use of professional witnesses that are hired specifically for that purpose is somewhat understandable given the volume of foreclosure litigation. What is not understandable or forgivable is hiring people specifically for the purpose of giving false testimony based upon records that were specially prepared for trial and not prepared in the ordinary course of business. It is improper and perhaps perjury to state that the entire business record is present when it clearly does not show the original loan transaction, all the transactions that occurred between the time of the loan closing and the filing of foreclosure, and all the transactions that occurred as disbursements to trust beneficiaries or other third parties. It is improper and perhaps perjury to state that the entire business record is present when the witness cannot state from personal knowledge or with the use of business records that qualify as an exception to the hearsay rule, that the record of disbursements is also present —  including all payments received by the alleged creditor.
 Some attorneys haven’t thrown under the bus, but there are dozens of other law firms that may be involved in the production or proffering of false, fraudulent, fabricated or forged documents.
 On the other hand it should be stated that withholding evidence is not necessarily a violation of the code of conduct for attorneys —  unless the withholding of that evidence results in making prior testimony or evidence subject to a charge of perjury. I don’t think that attorneys can or should be held to a standard in which their conduct is subject to variable interpretations. Any grievance filed on these grounds must be very specific as to what is being alleged is a violation. I publish this article merely as a prediction and warning that certain behavior which is now condoned in the foreclosure mills can be and probably will be imputed to the partners, regardless of how well they think they have insulated themselves.
 One of the things I wonder about is the practice of asserting in court that the attorney for the foreclosure represents “everybody.” The risk here is twofold: first that might include the trust beneficiaries that his client is screwing; second that might include the borrower because some of the parties included in “everybody” have a fiduciary duty to the borrower. I wonder if there are potential trap doors for the attorneys who are representing pretender lenders that include not only disciplinary complaints but perhaps joinder as defendants in a lawsuit filed for negligent undertaking.
 As always, nothing in this article should be interpreted as a definitive statement on the law. Pro se litigants should consult with an attorney licensed in the area in which the property is located before making a decision or taking any action. Attorneys should do their own research and make their own decisions as to what constitutes a breach of ethics or a breach of the disciplinary rules.

Robo-Litigation: Attorney Misconduct at Foreclosure Mills

Millions of dollars per month are being paid to foreclosure mills employing young attorneys who are probably not aware of the fact that they are participating in fraud, forgery, perjury, and fabrication. Even those who suspect that there are problems with the cases that they are filing wish to keep their jobs just as their employer will do virtually anything to maintain the relationship with pretender lenders who do not have any stake or risk of loss in loans that were funded by third parties.

Dustin A Zacks  has written an extensive article in the Cleveland state law review that details the various dubious acts by the law firms and the attorneys that they hire. The article challenges courts and the Bar Association to get more involved in discipline of attorneys who are consistently breaching their code of ethics and the disciplinary rules of their Bar Association.

Specifically, the article examines how the foreclosure mills differ in makeup from  traditional large law firms.  The article presents an examination of three policy options to prevent another surge in attorney misconduct: changing ethical rules, improving ethical education, and increasing state bar association funding and authority.

Strategically it is important for those attorneys who challenge the enforceability of the debt, note, mortgage, default, sale or even the right to collect on these  fatally defective documents that are regularly used in litigation against consumers and homeowners. I encourage all practitioners to read the article in its entirety, since it contains numerous clues as to what to expect from the other side as they pursue claims without merit.

“Robo-litigation”
http://www.legalethicsforum.com/blog/2013/05/robo-litigation.html

Dirty Tricks Playbook from the Foreclosure Mills

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Here is an example of one of the procedural dirty tricks that these firms play and they say they “made a mistake” and apologize when they are caught, but it a threat to a hearing that you have already won, lurking so that you are not prepared to argue against what they try to present in what amounts to a fake venue for a motion for rehearing. Pro Se litigants are especially likely to fall victim to these dirty tricks because they don’t know what to do.

I received in the mail yesterday a package that had been prepared earlier but which seems to have been sent out NOW and if the Judge is not looking carefully he might well sign it. It is a Final Summary Judgment. I know this trick.

Despite the ruling denying the Motion for Summary Judgment they “mistakenly” send the package to the Judge as though they had won. The Judge signs everything put in front of him and then it is up to us to undo the mess. By doing that we must make a motion to void the judgment and perhaps move for sanctions, but the trick is that they then come in and re argue the motion for summary judgment.

The cure is simple: call the Clerk’s office, Call the Judge’s office (making sure you hit every Judge who might sign this trash, and tell them the package was sent in error and that the Judge Denied the motion for Summary Judgment.

Send a letter to the Judge (or Judges if they are on rotation) with a copy of the order denying motion for summary judgment. At the Clerk’s office you get a supervisor and tell them that the error is happening as we speak and that the Final Judgment should not be put in the record and if it was, it should be expunged and cite them to the Order denying Summary Judgment.

Then Clerk might contact the Judge’s office and ask what they want to do with the clerk explaining that the Motion for Summary Judgment was denied. Why was the Final  Judgment entered without hearing or motion?

AFTER you have done all that, THEN you put in a call to the opposing counsel and threaten them.

If the Judge DOES sign the Final Judgment, then you must immediately do all of the above and file a motion to vacate on the basis that the Motion to Dismiss was denied, not granted and therefore the case should be set for trial which many orders denying motions for summary judgment explicitly state.

But be prepared to argue the whole motion over again and lead with an objection to anything the other side wants to argue, asking for sanctions because they tried to game the system. If the Judge is so inclined he might say that he is treating this as a motion for rehearing or motion for reconsideration. At that point, you should object to the hearing going forward and ask for a continuance.

Some thought should be given to an immediate interlocutory appeal on procedure because nothing could be clearer than a denial of the motion and then entry of a Final Judgment contrary to the ruling on the motion.

The moral of the story is read everything, check the docket regularly, and make sure your mail is being delivered properly.

FLORIDA AG BUCKLES UNDER BANK PRESURE: Foreclosure fraud investigators forced out at attorney general’s office

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Foreclosure fraud investigators forced out at attorney general’s office

By Kimberly Miller

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

A lead foreclosure fraud investigator for the state said she and a colleague were forced to resign from the Florida attorney general’s office, unexpectedly ending their nearly yearlong pursuit to hold law firms and banks accountable.

Former Assistant Attorney General Theresa Edwards and colleague June Clarkson had been investigating the state’s so-called “foreclosure mills,” uncovering evidence of legal malpractice that also implicated banks and loan serv­icers.

Despite positive performance evaluations, Edwards said the two were told during a meeting with their supervisor in late May to give up their jobs voluntarily or be let go. Edwards said no reason was given for the move.

“It all happened very abruptly,” said Edwards, who had worked in the attorney general’s office for about three years.

The foreclosure investigations were launched under former Attorney General Bill McCollum, but Edwards said she sensed changes were coming under Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“I think they wanted to put people in there that were more in line with their thinking,” Edwards said.

Bondi’s press secretary said Tuesday that foreclosure investigations are still open and are being personally led or supervised by Division Director Richard Lawson.

“The division has made these investigations a top priority and will continue to actively pursue all of our investigations into foreclosure law firms,” said Jennifer Krell Davis.

But Edwards said she was given no time to brief anyone on the investigations and that there were notes that had yet to be transcribed and filed.

Davis said she could not comment on personnel issues when asked about the nature of the resignations.

On May 20, Edwards said she and Clarkson were summoned together to a meeting at 3:30 p.m. and told by Robert Julian, then the South Florida bureau chief for the Economic Crimes Section of the attorney general’s office, that they had the opportunity to resign or would be let go immediately. They turned in nearly identical resignation letters that day.

“We had absolutely no idea it was coming,” said Edwards, who in an April 22 performance review she provided to The Palm Beach Post was praised by Julian.

“During this interim period, Ms. Edwards has, along with another attorney, achieved what is believed to be the first settlement in the United States relating to law firm foreclosure mills,” the review says. “Her work has been instrumental in triggering a nationwide review of such practices.”

The Fort Lauderdale-based Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson agreed to pay $2 million in March to settle the attorney general’s investigation.

Clarkson, who is on vacation and could not be reached Tuesday, also received high marks from Julian on a performance evaluation in September, which was obtained through a public records request. She was given “above expectation” or “exceptional” rankings in 14 of 15 categories.

Edwards said Julian has since been placed in another position. A message left at his office Tuesday was not returned.

In sworn statements taken by Edwards and Clarkson as part of their investigation of the Law Offices of David J. Stern, former employees described conditions where signatures were regularly forged on foreclosure documents, paperwork was notarized by non-notaries, and flawed files were hidden from auditors of federal mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fannie and Freddie subsequently fired Stern’s Plantation-based firm, and would eventually stop sending business to two other South Florida firms facing state inquiry.

“I know those two ladies did a yeoman’s job, and it perplexed me when they left the office,” Josh Bleil, a partner in the Ticktin Law Group foreclosure defense firm, said about Edwards and Clarkson. “They were instrumental in creating the Power Point presentation that blew up everything.”

Bleil is referring to a 98-page report titled “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” which outlines instances of questionable signatures and notarizations, as well as foreclosures filed by entities that might not have had the legal ability to foreclose.

Julian notes in Edwards’ April performance review that the foreclosure investigation has faced criticism.

His opponents said McCollum was politically motivated when he issued subpoenas to three law firms in August before the Republican primary. McCollum, who now works for the SNR Denton law firm in Washington, could not be reached Tuesday.

And the investigation has had setbacks. The Boca Raton-based firm Shapiro & Fishman won a ruling in the 4th District Court of Appeal in April to quash its subpoena. The state is not challenging the decision but Davis said the investigation remains ongoing.

In January, Bondi’s office told lawmakers in a Senate Banking and Insurance Committee meeting that Florida’s foreclosure process is in “total disarray” with a “morass” of fraudulent paperwork.

Committee member Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, criticized suggestions that banks should be pushed to employ foreclosure alternatives such as short sales. He also objected to the term “foreclosure mill” when referring to the state’s large law firms that represent banks.

“Foreclosure mill could also be called very busy law firm because you provide excellent service to your clients,” Negron said.

Edwards and Clarkson have opened their own foreclosure defense firm based in Hollywood and hope to help homeowners with the knowledge they gained in the attorney general’s office.

“It’s been a very unexpected change in circumstance,” Edwards said.

Florida Appellate Courts Are Getting It — and so is everyone else

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41737977-Servedio-v-Us-Bank

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EDITOR’S COMMENT: It all comes down to “black letter law.” None of this is new. It’s just that the pretender lenders thought they could side-step the process by making it LOOK like they were complying with the law. The failure to comply is not just indicative that they tried to short-cut the process like many people are saying in the media.

  • That would mean that they actually DO “own and hold and the note,”
  • that they COULD “tender the original promissory note to the trial court,” or
  • that they COULD prove a case to “re-establish the lost note under [Florida] State statute [673.3091].
  • It would also mean that they could show and prove that the original note was payable to the would-be forecloser OR
  • that the note had a special indorsement in favor of the forecloser
  • [OR, if it isn’t subject to the restrictions against blank indorsements in the securitization documents, that they had a blank indorsement.
  • In the securitization environment it would mean that they could show and prove that the would-be forecloser was the assignee of an assignment “from the payee to the plaintiff”
  • OR in a motion for summary judgment that is unopposed (no questions of fact in dispute) that they have an affidavit from a competent witness to prove the would-be forecloser is the owner and holder of the note.

There are several common-sense presumptions behind each one of these black letter law requirements. This isn’t technical stuff. It is substantive. If the party seeking foreclosure is not the creditor and doesn’t lawfully hold and own the note then THEY can’t foreclose no matter when the last payment was received from anyone including but not limited to the borrower, third party co-obligors set up in the securitization documents or government bailouts. If the loan is subject to foreclosure it can ONLY be by a party fitting the above description as stated in the above case in a per curium (unanimous) opinion of the appellate panel. The reason is not just that we have rules and you can’t pick and choose which rules you will follow and which you can’t.

The reason is that in foreclosure there is a change of ownership and title to the property. Any subsequent party, innocent or otherwise, must know with certainty that if they buy that property or lend money using that property as collateral, that the title is clear, marketable and free from any cloud or defect. Without that certainty, commerce comes to a virtual standstill. Not only would real estate transactions be thrown into chaos, but the principles behind the requirements for foreclosure also are applied to any other debt or the transfer of anything else, tangible or intangible. So if ANY court allows for even the possibility that disinterested parties could legally intervene in the chain without proving their right to do so, all of commerce comes to a halt.

Which brings us to my final point in this article: in the context of securitization, there is no such proof. That’s why they are faking it. If they had it, they would show it. The reason they don’t have it is that it never existed. What they want the courts to do NOW is to allow them to substitute fiction for fact. They want courts to allow them to submit either fake documents or documents that have no legal effect. The basic problem they have is that the evidence of transfers and change of ownership of the note does not reflect the original liability of the borrower nor the existence of the original real creditor. The original payee was not the lender. Thus the mortgage or deed of trust secures a note that is invalid. They can’t bring a legal action to modify the note to reflect the real lender because that would be admitting that they ever made the proper disclosures required under federal (TILA) and state lending laws.

The ONLY way they can correct the title problem, the chain of ownership problem (title and obligation) is by getting BOTH real parties in interest to agree and sign something ratifying such an arrangement or by getting a court to issue a judgment cramming such an arrangement down the throats of investors and borrowers alike. Since their problem is that the property was never worth what was represented and the loan terms, now revealed in all their glory, are not viable, it is impossible to imagine that the investors would agree to anything other than getting their money back or that the borrowers would agree to anything other than a correction of the terms and principal of the obligation to reflect the true value of the property and the losses incurred between the time of closing and the present time.

As brilliant as some of the schemers are, they based their entire framework on a completely unworkable presumption and thought they had the “risk” problem solved. Now Wall Street finds itself the cowardly owner of the risk — because they tried to split the obligation, note and mortgage each from the others in such a complex way, with repeated iterations of “assignment” of receivables that it is in reality not possible to correct in the real world. They convinced the government to be the lender of last resort when the crisis started, but now the FED is asking for its money back , as are the investors. The borrowers are filing individual and class action suits, and the opinions from the bench are turning against Wall Street in strong, angry language from the bench.

Every day it gets worse for Wall Street’s prospects. All eyes are on Wall Street and how they could survive. The answer is that Wall Street will survive because there are hundreds of investment banking firms that would be only too happy to fill the void left by the resolution of the megabanks. There are 7,000 community banks and credit unions, many with assets in the tens of billions, that could and would easily fill the retail banking void. The electronic funds transfer backbone already exists and is in use in all of these firms and banks.

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“It is the culmination of the worst civil procedure nightmare we’ve ever imagined,” said Anne L. Weintraub, a real estate attorney at Sarasota’s Syprett Meshad law firm, referring to the recent appellate rulings.

From Stopforeclosurefraud.com

florida-ruling-might-further-complicate-loan-crisis

RULING MAY COMPLICATE LOAN CRISIS

Ruling might further complicate loan crisis

Published: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 8, 2010 at 10:04 p.m.
.

( page of 4 )

Appellate courts in Tallahassee and West Palm Beach have admonished lower courts for allowing foreclosures to proceed without the proper paperwork and kicked the cases back to circuit judges in a move some experts say could further complicate the foreclosure crisis.

At issue is the use of sworn affidavits that convinced circuit judges the borrower’s original promissory note had been lost in the shuffle but that the lender still had a right to foreclose. Experts likened it to a used car dealer selling a vehicle using a photocopy of the title.

Circuit court judges have been using such promises to issue summary judgments, which have sped cases along at a time when the courts have been inundated.

Observers say the rulings from the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee and the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach could become templates for more challenges.

It is unclear just how many cases could be affected — the chief judge in this region’s circuit says foreclosure paperwork is carefully scrutinized by teams of case managers — but the rulings come as the system already is dealing with disruptions from self-imposed bank moratoriums to deal with questionable paperwork.

“It is the culmination of the worst civil procedure nightmare we’ve ever imagined,” said Anne L. Weintraub, a real estate attorney at Sarasota’s Syprett Meshad law firm, referring to the recent appellate rulings.

What happens next could have widespread implications for the more than 200,000 Floridians who have lost their homes to foreclosure since January 2007, including the more than 12,000 in Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

FRONT PAGE FORGERY — NY TIMES

SERVICES YOU NEED

“Linda M. Tirelli, a lawyer in White Plains who represents Ms. Nuer in the case against Chase. “This is not about getting a free house for my client. It’s about a level playing field. If I submitted false documents like this to the court, I’d have my license handed to me.”

“Judges may dismiss the foreclosures altogether, barring lenders from refiling and awarding the home to the borrower. That would create a loss for the lender or investor holding the note underlying the property. Almost certainly, lawyers say, lawsuits on behalf of borrowers will multiply.”

EDITORS note: you will have to obtain the paper version of the New York Times to see the three examples of obvious forgeries. The fact that it is on the front page of the newspaper is significant in itself. Gretchen Morgenson has done an excellent job of summing up the examples of fabrication, improper purposes, improper procedures and the probability that actual crimes have been committed.

Although it appears that we are rapidly approaching the reality of this situation, the absence of the “fundamentals” is conspicuous. It is true that the industry practice involved conduct by attorneys, servicers, banks, trustees and others that should probably result in disciplinary actions by the agencies that purport to regulate these entities. But the underlying theme of this article as well as the rest of mainstream media is an assumption that the “defaults” actually exist and therefore that the foreclosures are virtually inevitable but for technical violations on the part of the lenders.

This article also highlights the instances where multiple entities attempted to foreclose on the same property using the same alleged mortgage documents, each making the claim that they are the holder of the note, the real party in interest and possessed of standing to initiate foreclosure proceedings. But the article attributes this to the inability of the “lenders” to deal with the volume of defaults in mortgages.

  • The concept that the mortgages themselves may be fatally defective is completely absent from any reporting on the subject.

  • The concept that the default may not actually exist because the actual creditors have mitigated their losses through receipt of third party payments is completely absent from any reporting on this subject.

  • The concept that the encumbrance on the property may never have been perfected or that it is unenforceable now is completely absent from any reporting on the subject.

Don’t make the mistake of confusing information with evidence. The article in the New York Times as well as this article is merely information. Evidence has a legal definition and if you want to prove something you must meet that definition in order to have some fact or document admitted into the court record and considered in a decision. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. The courts have improperly admitted representations of counsel and improper affidavits as evidence, under the presumption that the underlying facts were undoubtedly true. It would be equally improper of the court to lend the same presumption to you. And this is why I have reversed myself and now discourage homeowners representing themselves in court.  A licensed experienced attorney hopefully will know how important it is to raise properly framed objections as early as possible in the proceedings in order to take control of the narrative.

In fact, all of the representations of counsel and the proffer of information contained in affidavits, assignments, endorsements, powers of attorney, substitutions of trustee, notices of default, notices of sale, or any of the other documents used to initiate foreclosure proceedings contains nothing more than false allegations that should have been subject to a simple denial by the borrower, thus requiring the party seeking affirmative relief to properly plead and prove their case. This they cannot do because of the absence of any fact or witness that would actually support their case.

These cases are not simply flawed. They are complete shams, a fraud upon the court, the homeowner, and any subsequent party  who believes that they received clear title resulting from a foreclosure or short sale. The current conduct of the pretender lenders and their attorneys and foreclosure mills is only a continuation of the Ponzi scheme that started with the first sale of an alleged mortgage bond to an investor who believed that the proceeds were being used primarily to fund loans that were properly valued and subjected to rigorous industry-standard underwriting procedures. The lies told to the investors who were the actual lenders in these transactions were identical to the lies told to the homeowners who were the borrowers in these transactions. Separating these parties–the lender and the borrower–was the core tactic and requirement of those who originated this fraudulent scheme.

The reason for the stonewalling on answers to qualified written requests, on answers to debt validation letters, and on responses to demands for discovery is not just that the fabrication and forgery of documents will be revealed–a fact well known to attorneys whose employees created and executed the fabrications and forgeries. The greater reason is to maintain the separation between the lender and the borrower. At some point in the evolution of this epic drama the lenders and the borrowers will get together and compare notes. At that time, the revelation of fraudulent and perhaps criminal conduct throughout this fraudulent scheme extending over a decade will be unavoidable. Stonewalling kicks the can down the road while the perpetrators explore their options to avoid liability and prosecution.

Here is a contribution from Ann:

For full Deposition transcripts of Robot Signers, go to
http://www.scribd.com
and put their name on the search.

Many interesting foreclosure legal pleadings and info
at
http://www.scribd.com/83jjmack
http://www.scribd.com/winston2311
http://www.scribd.com/foreclosure
fraud

October 3, 2010

Flawed Paperwork Aggravates a Foreclosure Crisis

04mortgage.html?_r=1&hp

By GRETCHEN MORGENSON

As some of the nation’s largest lenders have conceded that their foreclosure procedures might have been improperly handled, lawsuits have revealed myriad missteps in crucial documents.

The flawed practices that GMAC Mortgage, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have recently begun investigating are so prevalent, lawyers and legal experts say, that additional lenders and loan servicers are likely to halt foreclosure proceedings and may have to reconsider past evictions.

Problems emerging in courts across the nation are varied but all involve documents that must be submitted before foreclosures can proceed legally. Homeowners, lawyers and analysts have been citing such problems for the last few years, but it appears to have reached such intensity recently that banks are beginning to re-examine whether all of the foreclosure papers were prepared properly.

In some cases, documents have been signed by employees who say they have not verified crucial information like amounts owed by borrowers. Other problems involve questionable legal notarization of documents, in which, for example, the notarizations predate the actual preparation of documents — suggesting that signatures were never actually reviewed by a notary.

Other problems occurred when notarizations took place so far from where the documents were signed that it was highly unlikely that the notaries witnessed the signings, as the law requires.

On still other important documents, a single official’s name is signed in such radically different ways that some appear to be forgeries. Additional problems have emerged when multiple banks have all argued that they have the right to foreclose on the same property, a result of a murky trail of documentation and ownership.

There is no doubt that the enormous increase in foreclosures in recent years has strained the resources of lenders and their legal representatives, creating challenges that any institution might find overwhelming. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the percentage of loans that were delinquent by 90 days or more stood at 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 2010, up from 4 percent in the same period of 2008.

But analysts say that the wave of defaults still does not excuse lenders’ failures to meet their legal obligations before trying to remove defaulting borrowers from their homes.

“It reflects the hubris that as long as the money was going through the pipeline, these companies didn’t really have to make sure the documents were in order,” said Kathleen C. Engel, dean for intellectual life at Suffolk University Law School and an expert in mortgage law. “Suddenly they have a lot at stake, and playing fast and loose is going to be more costly than it was in the past.”

Attorneys general in at least six states, including Massachusetts, Iowa, Florida and Illinois, are investigating improper foreclosure practices. Last week, Jennifer Brunner, the secretary of state of Ohio, referred examples of what her office considers possible notary abuse by Chase Home Mortgage to federal prosecutors for investigation.

The implications are not yet clear for borrowers who have been evicted from their homes as a result of improper filings. But legal experts say that courts may impose sanctions on lenders or their representatives or may force banks to pay borrowers’ legal costs in these cases.

Judges may dismiss the foreclosures altogether, barring lenders from refiling and awarding the home to the borrower. That would create a loss for the lender or investor holding the note underlying the property. Almost certainly, lawyers say, lawsuits on behalf of borrowers will multiply.

In Florida, problems with foreclosure cases are especially acute. A recent sample of foreclosure cases in the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida showed that 20 percent of those set for summary judgment involved deficient documents, according to chief judge Lee E. Haworth.

“We have sent repeated notices to law firms saying, ‘You are not following the rules, and if you don’t clean up your act, we are going to impose sanctions on you,’ ” Mr. Haworth said in an interview. “They say, ‘We’ll fix it, we’ll fix it, we’ll fix it.’ But they don’t.”

As a result, Mr. Haworth said, on Sept. 17, Harry Rapkin, a judge overseeing foreclosures in the district, dismissed 61 foreclosure cases. The plaintiffs can refile but they need to pay new filing fees, Mr. Haworth said.

The byzantine mortgage securitization process that helped inflate the housing bubble allowed home loans to change hands so many times before they were eventually pooled and sold to investors that it is now extremely difficult to track exactly which lenders have claims to a home.

Many lenders or loan servicers that begin the foreclosure process after a borrower defaults do not produce documentation proving that they have the legal right to foreclosure, known as standing.

As a substitute, the banks usually present affidavits attesting to ownership of the note signed by an employee of a legal services firm acting as an agent for the lender or loan servicer. Such affidavits allow foreclosures to proceed, but because they are often dubiously prepared, many questions have arisen about their validity.

Although lawyers for troubled borrowers have contended for years that banks in many cases have not properly documented their rights to foreclose, the issue erupted in mid-September when GMAC said it was halting foreclosure proceedings in 23 states because of problems with its legal practices. The move by GMAC followed testimony by an employee who signed affidavits for the lender; he said that he executed 400 of them each day without reading them or verifying that the information in them was correct.

JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America followed with similar announcements.

But these three large lenders are not the only companies employing people who have failed to verify crucial aspects of a foreclosure case, court documents show.

Last May, Herman John Kennerty, a loan administration manager in the default document group of Wells Fargo Mortgage, testified to lawyers representing a troubled borrower that he typically signed 50 to 150 foreclosure documents a day. In that case, in King County Superior Court in Seattle, he also stated that he did not independently verify the information to which he was attesting.

Wells Fargo did not respond to requests for comment.

In other cases, judges are finding that banks’ claims of standing in a foreclosure case can conflict with other evidence.

Last Thursday, Paul F. Isaacs, a judge in Bourbon County Circuit Court in Kentucky, reversed a ruling he had made in August giving Bank of New York Mellon the right to foreclose on a couple’s home. According to court filings, Mr. Isaacs had relied on the bank’s documentation that it said showed it held the note underlying the property in a trust. But after the borrowers supplied evidence indicating that the note may in fact reside in a different trust, the judge reversed himself. The court will revisit the matter soon.

Bank of New York said it was reviewing the ruling and could not comment.

Another problematic case involves a foreclosure action taken by Deutsche Bank against a borrower in the Bronx in New York. The bank says it has the right to foreclose because the mortgage was assigned to it on Oct. 15, 2009.

But according to court filings made by David B. Shaev, a lawyer at Shaev & Fleischman who represents the borrower, the assignment to Deutsche Bank is riddled with problems. First, the company that Deutsche said had assigned it the mortgage, the Sand Canyon Corporation, no longer had any rights to the underlying property when the transfer was supposed to have occurred.

Additional questions have arisen over the signature verifying an assignment of the mortgage. Court documents show that Tywanna Thomas, assistant vice president of American Home Mortgage Servicing, assigned the mortgage from Sand Canyon to Deutsche Bank in October 2009. On assignments of mortgages in other cases, Ms. Thomas’s signatures differ so wildly that it appears that three people signed the documents using Ms. Thomas’s name.

Given the differences in the signatures, Mr. Shaev filed court papers last July contending that the assignment is a sham, “prepared to create an appearance of a creditor as a real party in interest/standing, when in fact it is likely that the chain of title required in these matters was not performed, lost or both.”

Mr. Shaev also asked the judge overseeing the case, Shelley C. Chapman, to order Ms. Thomas to appear to answer questions the lawyer has raised.

John Gallagher, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank, which is trustee for the securitization that holds the note in this case, said companies servicing mortgage loans engaged the law firms that oversee foreclosure proceedings. “Loan servicers are obligated to adhere to all legal requirements,” he said, “and Deutsche Bank, as trustee, has consistently informed servicers that they are required to execute these actions in a proper and timely manner.”

Reached by phone on Saturday, Ms. Thomas declined to comment.

The United States Trustee, a unit of the Justice Department, is also weighing in on dubious court documents filed by lenders. Last January, it supported a request by Silvia Nuer, a borrower in foreclosure in the Bronx, for sanctions against JPMorgan Chase.

In testimony, a lawyer for Chase conceded that a law firm that had previously represented the bank, the Steven J. Baum firm of Buffalo, had filed inaccurate documents as it sought to take over the property from Ms. Nuer.

The Chase lawyer told a judge last January that his predecessors had combed through the chain of title on the property and could not find a proper assignment. The firm found “something didn’t happen that needed to be fixed,” he explained, and then, according to court documents, it prepared inaccurate documents to fill in the gaps.

The Baum firm did not return calls to comment.

A lawyer for the United States Trustee said that the Nuer case “does not represent an isolated example of misconduct by Chase in the Southern District of New York.”

Chase declined to comment.

“The servicers have it in their control to get the right documents and do this properly, but it is so much cheaper to run it through a foreclosure mill,” said Linda M. Tirelli, a lawyer in White Plains who represents Ms. Nuer in the case against Chase. “This is not about getting a free house for my client. It’s about a level playing field. If I submitted false documents like this to the court, I’d have my license handed to me.”

Barney Frank, Alan Grayson, Corinne Brown Come Through With Sharply Worded Letter To FNMA

SERVICES YOU NEED

9.24.10 BARNEY FRANK LETTER-Letter-to-Fannie-on-Foreclosure-Fraud[1]

VIDEO FEED FROM TAMPA TV

In a blunt, no nonsense letter to Fannie Mae three congressional representatives including Barney Frank who has enormous clout, a shot heard round the country was heard. It wasn’t just a letter of inquiry or even at the level of complaint. It was an accusation and a demand that FNMA comply with law and stop employing foreclosure mills who violate the law in the name of the former government sponsored entity which is now wholly owned by the U.S. Government. We can expect similar action from congress and other agencies as the fog starts to lift and public officials come to realize what the rest of us have known for three years — the whole foreclosure mess is a fraud, should never have begun and the resulting horrific consequences on people’s lives could have and should have been avoided.

Rally in Tally and Other News

It looks bad for the Florida Banker’s Association (FBA) effort to convert Florida into a non-judicial foreclosure state. Wrong time in the wrong place under the wrong circumstances. Attorney Weidner was seen on TV giving instructions to homeowners to have them lobby legislators who were not too keen on the idea anyway, but you can never be sure when you have a strong bank lobby. Once there was a Community Bankers Association in Florida, but it was gobbled up by FBA. FBA is dominated by the major banks and does little to foster the interests of consumers or small banks who serve consumers.

Don’t expert FBA to give up. It is a time honored practice to be persistent and tack on unrelated legislation to an otherwise acceptable bill. State legislators in all 50 states have precious little time to actually read all proposed legislation and they often vote off of summaries prepared by legislative aides or third parties. (That is how the Boston Strangler was cited for his efforts at population control by the Texas legislature about 20 years ago). So expect them to attempt to strangle their victims by surprise. Maintain vigilance.

In the meantime, here’s a call for some help for attorney Weidner and frankly for everyone else. It’s all about the fix in the auction of foreclosed homes and who is getting the benefit of a wrongful foreclosure with control of the title being directed by a non-creditor:

——-

From Matt Weidner Esq at http://www.mattweidnerlaw.com

I’ve been hearing chatter and rumors about parties affiliated with the foreclosure mills buying properties after they have completed the foreclosure and now apparently reporters have been hearing such chatter as well.

If anyone has details on such transactions from anywhere in the state, please email that information to me at weidnerlaw@yahoo.com. Some of you good researchers out there, this could be bombshell material. If you’ve got the time, I would be looking at all sales in a given area, then backtrack that sale to see if the last record was a certificate of title. I would suspect that properties would first be going into LLCs or land trusts so multiple deeds going into these would catch my attention.

We uncovered a mountain of questionable information last time I asked for Assignments, and federal investigations across the country are currently underway into the assignment practices, most notably into the practices of Lender Processing Services, LLC… but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The feds move slowly, but unlike other crimes, these paper crimes leave a long, recorded trail.

So get out there are poke around…let me know what you find

U.S. Starts Criminal Probe of Lender Processing Services Inc. Foreclosure-Data Provider

The case follows on the dismissal of numerous foreclosure cases in which judges across the U.S. have found that the materials banks had submitted to support their claims were wrong. Faulty bank paperwork has been an issue in foreclosure proceedings since the housing crisis took hold a few years ago. It is often difficult to pin down who the real owner of a mortgage is, thanks to the complexity of the mortgage market.

the majority of foreclosures go unchallenged, some homeowners have won the right to keep their homes by proving the bank couldn’t show, on paper, that it owned the mortgage.

[LPS a/k/a DOCX] produces documents needed by banks to prove they own the mortgages. LPS’s annual report said that the processes under review have been “terminated,” and that the company has expressed its willingness to cooperate. Ms. Kersch declined to comment further on the probe.

Editor’s Note: The executive branch is finally becoming involved. The foreclosure mills have been producing dubious and/or fraudulent, fabricated, forged documentation for 3 years or more. Some of these foreclosure mills are operating in the same office and owned by the law firms prosecuting foreclosures. Maybe sooner than later these unethical, illegal practices will stop and the people responsible will be prosecuted for criminal violations, civil fines, and administrative grievances in which their licenses will be revoked.

But in the end we still have millions of homes whose title is at least clouded, probably defective and will soon become unmarketable as title companies realize the issues presented by fraudulent foreclosures by entities other than the creditor.

Wall Street Journal

April 3, 2010

U.S. Probes Foreclosure-Data Provider

Lender Processing Services Unit Draws Inquiry Over the Steps That Led to Faulty Bank Paperwork

By AMIR EFRATI and CARRICK MOLLENKAMP

A subsidiary of a company that is a top provider of the documentation used by banks in the foreclosure process is under investigation by federal prosecutors.

The prosecutors are “reviewing the business processes” of the subsidiary of Lender Processing Services Inc., based in Jacksonville, Fla., according to the company’s annual securities filing released in February. People familiar with the matter say the probe is criminal in nature.

Michelle Kersch, an LPS spokeswoman, said the subsidiary being investigated is Docx LLC. Docx processes and sometimes produces documents needed by banks to prove they own the mortgages. LPS’s annual report said that the processes under review have been “terminated,” and that the company has expressed its willingness to cooperate. Ms. Kersch declined to comment further on the probe.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the middle district of Florida, which the annual report says is handling the matter, declined to comment.

The case follows on the dismissal of numerous foreclosure cases in which judges across the U.S. have found that the materials banks had submitted to support their claims were wrong. Faulty bank paperwork has been an issue in foreclosure proceedings since the housing crisis took hold a few years ago. It is often difficult to pin down who the real owner of a mortgage is, thanks to the complexity of the mortgage market.

During the housing boom, mortgages were originated by lenders, quickly sold to Wall Street firms that bundled them into debt pools and then sold to investors as securities. The loans were supposed to change hands but the documents and contracts between borrowers and lenders often weren’t altered to show changes in ownership, judges have ruled.

Related Documents

Documents processed by LPS that said an entity called “Bogus Assignee” owned the mortgage:

That has made it hard for banks, which act on behalf of mortgage-securities investors in most foreclosure cases, to prove they own the loans in some instances.

LPS has said its software is used by banks to track the majority of U.S. residential mortgages from the time they are originated until the debt is satisfied or a borrower defaults. When a borrower defaults and a bank needs to foreclose, LPS helps process paperwork the bank uses in court.

LPS was recently referenced in a bankruptcy case involving Sylvia Nuer, a Bronx, N.Y., homeowner who had filed for protection from creditors in 2008.

Diana Adams, a U.S. government lawyer who monitors bankruptcy courts, argued in a brief filed earlier this year in the Nuer case that an LPS employee signed a document that wrongly said J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. had owned Ms. Nuer’s loan.

Documents related to the loan were “patently false or misleading,” according to Ms. Adams’s court papers. J.P. Morgan Chase, which has withdrawn its request to foreclose, declined to comment.

Linda Tirelli, a lawyer for Ms. Nuer, declined to comment directly on the case.

Ms. Kersch said LPS didn’t actually create the document and that the company’s “sole connection to this case is that our technology and services were utilized by J.P. Morgan Chase and its counsel.”

While the majority of foreclosures go unchallenged, some homeowners have won the right to keep their homes by proving the bank couldn’t show, on paper, that it owned the mortgage.

Some lawyers representing homeowners have claimed that banks routinely file erroneous paperwork showing they have a right to foreclose when they don’t.

Firms that process the paperwork are either “producing so many documents per day that nobody is reviewing anything, even to make sure they have the names right, or you’ve got some massive software problem,” said O. Max Gardner, a consumer-bankruptcy attorney in Shelby N.C., who has defended clients against foreclosure actions.

The wave of foreclosures and housing crisis appears to have helped LPS. According to the annual securities filing, foreclosure-related revenue was $1.1 billion last year compared with $473 million in 2007.

LPS has acknowledged problems in its paperwork. In its annual securities filing, in which it disclosed the federal probe, the company said it had found “an error” in how Docx handled notarization of some documents. Docx also has processed documents used in courts that incorrectly claimed an entity called “Bogus Assignee” was the owner of the loan, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Kersch said the “bogus” phrase was used as a placeholder. “Unfortunately, on a few occasions, the document was inadvertently recorded before the field was updated,” she said.

Write to Amir Efrati at amir.efrati@wsj.com and Carrick Mollenkamp at carrick.mollenkamp@wsj.com

Livinglies Posts $100 Reward for HERS Fabrication Index

Announcing the establishment of the Homeowners Electronic Registration System (HERS) to assist in mortgage negotiations, litigation, foreclosures and modifications. HERS v MERS, Get It?

We are looking for someone to go through the comments and blog posts that give the name of an officer or other person signing any paper involved in the mortgage or foreclosure of property and to create a index using EXCEL or ACCESS cross referencing the state, financial institution, actual employer etc. that was revealed. If you are successful we will set up a subscription site for people to pay for the inquiries and you will receive income from that site.

You must submit your resume and all relevant contact information to ngarfield@msn.com by March 31, 2010. And you must commit to having the project in final form, subject to continuing revisions no later than April 30, 2010. Upon your selection you will receive a check for $100 in advance.

Good Comment from Rand:

It’s a good idea but you should put a few more requirements for the database. It’s not enough to simply look at the affidavits of indebtedness. Any affidavit filed is worthy of note because if you can establish than any of them were signed by a questionable, including an affidavit by another law firm or attorney verifying the validity of the attorneys fees being sought as reasonable (requirement here in FL to get attorneys fees) then you can through the entire case in doubt.

Example, bad attorney who gets cited personally by a judge or the local bar, any case he’s signed an affidavit in is questionable. I don’t know say “Coucgh”ivd “hack”ern. or the elk.

Finally, there is no such thing as narrowing the focus to filings withing a state. With due respect Ian the person who signs for PA probably also signs for FL, CA and anywhere else that’s not within 100 miles of where they live in MO. However, it’s important to not only note who signs, but when and where. How else could the sign in two different states on the same day? Better be ready to show plane tickets.

FLORIDA FORECLOSURE MILLS EXPOSED

Editor’s Note: READ this Tampa Tribune article ALL THE WAY through. It exposes the cracks you should exploit. The clerical staff of foreclosure mills, sometimes charged with the responsibility of fabricating documents, has no idea what they are doing. The paralegals don’t know anything about the loan, the securitization, or anything else. The junior lawyer who signs off on the foreclosure hasn’t the foggiest idea of what he is signing and whether the allegations or representations are true, false or unknown.

Your discovery request should initially be directed at information the foreclosure mill should have had BEFORE they commenced the action. So you can argue that you are not seeking delay. If they started the foreclosure they obviously have this information. If they have the information, they should have no trouble in giving it to you within hours or days.

By the time your discovery request comes in asking for the name of the creditor and an accounting for what is owed and how much is owed to which parties, they are completely unable to answer because they only have the information from the last servicer. They don’t have the information from what happened before this servicer took over, and they certainly don’t have any knowledge or even interest in what financial transactions took place between other parties affecting this loan before, during or after the servicer entered into a relationship with the homeowner.

Remember that your discovery request should be laser-like. What document gives this servicer the right to collect payments from the homeowner? Did the grantor of servicing rights have the title or authority to do so? Again trace the documents. And then hit them with the big one — who is the creditor and exactly how does the creditor get the proceeds of  foreclosure when this is done?

By MICHAEL SASSO

msasso@tampatrib.com

Published: January 3, 2010

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TAMPA – If there’s one industry that’s not feeling the economy’s sting these days, it’s the business of filing foreclosure lawsuits.

Recently, mortgage servicing companies have been filing about 2,000 initial foreclosure documents every month in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. To handle the overwhelming caseload, an army of lawyers, paralegals and clerks at big foreclosure law firms have streamlined the art of separating homeowners from their homes.

Few are as large or as efficient as Tampa-based Florida Default Law Group, which processes at least 300 new foreclosure suits a month in Hillsborough County, court documents show.

By forging relationships with mortgage companies and focusing on volume, Florida Default Law Group offers to foreclose on a home at the bare-bones price of $1,200, about half the typical cost.

In the streamlining, distressed homeowners such as 75-year-old Janice Winemiller of Sarasota sometimes get hurt. Florida Default Law Group charged her more than $4,000 for delivery of legal documents, according to her nonprofit legal aid lawyer. The firm couldn’t substantiate the fees.

Dubbed foreclosure mills by some in the industry, these companies have turned the job into a factorylike process. Speed is the key to their success.

“The only way their business model works is if they don’t lay eyes on the lawsuit,” said Jim Kowalski, a Jacksonville lawyer who has litigated against Florida Default Law Group.

Four firms, 1,049 filings

Few areas of the legal field are so dominated by a handful of players as foreclosure law. Florida Default Law Group is one of four foreclosure mills operating in Florida that appear to be winning the lion’s share of business from lenders or their representatives. Along with Florida Default, other big firms include the law offices of David J. Stern in Plantation, the law offices of Marshall C. Watson in Fort Lauderdale and Shapiro & Fishman in Boca Raton.

The Tribune looked at 1,994 initial foreclosure documents filed in October to see which firms were handling the most foreclosures.

Combined, those four industry heavyweights filed 1,049 foreclosure cases in October, or 53 percent of all new foreclosures filed in Hillsborough County that month. Florida Default filed 323 new foreclosure cases in October, second only to the 352 cases filed by David J. Stern. Florida Default operates in Florida’s 66 other counties, the firm’s managing partner testified in a court deposition.

To handle the workload, foreclosure mills have developed a common model: use lower-paid paralegals and support staff for much of the routine legwork, and hire young lawyers to sign off on the lawsuits and handle complications.

It’s unclear how big Florida Default has gotten. Founder Michael Echevarria, 52, did not return several calls and e-mails from the Tribune.

According to Martindale-Hubbell, an information service for lawyers, Florida Default Law Group has at least 32 lawyers. Its offices take up the bulk of a three-story building in an office park near the Veterans Expressway and Anderson Road, and it has an office in Miami.

Jeffery Hakanson was a lawyer at Echevarria’s former law firm in the late 1990s, then known as Echevarria and Associates. It wasn’t as large as Florida Default Law Group, but even then it was using an assembly-line model to handle foreclosures.

Generally, there were six to 10 paralegals and support staff for every lawyer. One group handled the title documents, another group prepared the foreclosure lawsuit, another was responsible for the delivery of legal documents to the affected parties and so on, he said.

Its clients aren’t banks, which long ago pooled their mortgages into securities and sold them to investors. Instead, Florida Default’s clients are the mortgage servicing companies that collect monthly mortgage payments from homeowners and, when necessary, foreclose on them. Often, major banks own the mortgage servicers.

Why these companies like dealing with mills is simple: With their efficient structures, they can underbid other law firms on foreclosures, which otherwise might cost thousands of dollars apiece.

“It’s machinery,” said Hakanson, who practices real estate and bankruptcy law with a different firm in the Bay area. “We thought it was huge (in the 1990s) when we got 200 files a month, and now these firms are doing 1,000 or 1,500 a month.”

On the back burner

The foreclosure factory begins to sputter, though, when foreclosure cases break from the routine, critics say.

Attorneys who defend homeowners against foreclosures say they have trouble contacting Florida Default lawyers.

“They’re just extremely nonresponsive in the bankruptcy arena,” said Patrick Smith, a Tampa bankruptcy lawyer who occasionally deals with Florida Default. “I don’t think they’re structured to put too much time into any one case.”

In Sarasota County, Lee Haworth, chief judge in the state’s 12th Judicial Circuit, got fed up when his fellow judges had to wait weeks for a returned call from a foreclosure firm, he said.

Haworth started noticing a trend: Foreclosure law firms would start a foreclosure lawsuit against a homeowner but push it to the back burner if complications arose. Meanwhile, the stalled cases began to languish in Sarasota and Bradenton courts. Foreclosure mills seemed to think pursuing such cases was too much trouble for the $1,200 fee, he said.

Haworth is trying to clear up the backlog. Florida Default is one of the major players in Sarasota County, but the judge would not speak about specific foreclosure mills.

John Olson, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in Fort Lauderdale, had no problem taking Florida Default and a big client, Wells Fargo, to task. After the firm made errors in up to 50 cases in court, Olson called out the firm in October 2008 in a strongly worded opinion.

Florida Default made the errors when an employee pulled information from the wrong computer screen, according to court documents.

Florida Default and Wells Fargo “have engaged in the systematic process of churning out unrefined and unexamined form pleadings, instead of producing and filing carefully considered legal papers,” Olson wrote.

Winemiller, the Sarasota retiree, faced foreclosure this year when she fell behind on her mortgage payments. She was negotiating to pay off her mortgage with Wells Fargo with a reverse mortgage, but the process got delayed. Wells Fargo filed for foreclosure in April.

What upset her was Florida Default’s $4,004 charge for process service. Her case required the delivery of numerous documents to her family and the family of a friend with whom she owned the house. But when pressed to explain the fees, Florida Default could substantiate about $3,200 in charges, said her lawyer, Elizabeth Boyle of Gulfcoast Legal Services.

“It took setting a court hearing and getting to the eve of the hearing to get (Florida Default) to address the request for an accounting,” Boyle said.

Florida Default eventually refunded Winemiller about $1,500, Winemiller said.

Despite the critics, Hakanson, who formerly worked at Echevarria and Associates, called Echevarria a shrewd businessman who built relationships with mortgage servicing companies years before the mortgage crisis. Now his firm is a leader in a booming business.

And despite drawing the scorn of homeowners’ attorneys and some judges, Hakanson insisted Echevarria is a humble, giving person, rather than a diehard capitalist.

He chalks up some of the criticism of Florida Default to the overwhelming caseload facing foreclosure lawyers and the impersonal nature of the work. When you’re dealing with so many distressed homeowners, it’s sometimes easier to avoid picking up the phone when one of them calls, he said.

“It’s a reality of real estate lending in America,” Hakanson said. “It’s a natural culmination of the lending practices.”

Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.

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