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Beware of mortgage relief scams


With more than $3 billion in estimated losses nationwide last year, mortgage relief scams are at an all-time high.

With promises of a loan modification or relief from foreclosure, deficiency balances and negative credit, con artists seek out vulnerable homeowners. For an advance fee, many scammers claim they have connections within most major mortgage companies and will save the homeowner from losing their home on the courthouse steps.

Fraudsters use a variety of tactics to locate homeowners in distress. Some sift through public foreclosure notices in newspapers and on the Internet while others review public files at the local courthouse.

Some scammers are bold enough to claim affiliation with governmental agencies or programs through late night television commercials and fancy websites. In most cases, they make promises, take a struggling homeowners money and then fail to deliver.

Some Scams Currently in Circulation:

The Forensic Audit — In the forensic audit scam, a mortgage loan “auditor” contacts the distressed homeowner with an offer to have an “attorney” review mortgage loan documents to determine if the real estate agent and mortgage company followed the law when originating the transaction. In exchange for an advance fee of several hundred dollars, these companies claim that a homeowner can use their audit findings to stop foreclosure, speed loan modification, reduce mortgage debt or — in some cases — cancel the loan entirely. In the majority of cases, there is no evidence that a forensic loan audit will accomplish any of these things.

Rent–to–Buy Scheme — In the rent–to–buy scheme, homeowners are encouraged by a scammer to surrender title to their home while remaining in the home as a renter. The scammer claims that this will give the homeowner a better credit rating and more financial options when attempting to repurchase the home at a later date. What is not known to the homeowner is that the terms of the deal are so typically expensive that they will never be able to repurchase the home. In other instances, the scammer periodically raises the rent until the homeowner can no longer afford it and is subsequently evicted.

Mass Joinder Lawsuits — A recent twist on foreclosure rescue schemes involves mass joinder lawsuits — the joining of two or more legal issues that are sufficiently similar to be heard in one hearing. As part of this scam, distressed homeowners are solicited by a “specialized” law firm inviting them to participate in a mass joinder lawsuit as a way to obtain a loan modification or avoid foreclosure.

The law firms charge fees between several thousand dollars to over $10,000 and claim that they will join the case with other homeowners in similar circumstances to file suit against their mortgage lender.

Many of these scammers claim they can stop foreclosures, reduce loan balances or interest rates and even remove the debt from the home so that the homeowner is free and clear of their existing mortgage. In most cases, there is no attorney reviewing the homeowner’s case or the attorney of record is not licensed to practice in the state where the homeowner resides. Homeowners are often left in worse financial shape than when they started, with some losing their homes in foreclosure.

Loan Modification Scam — In the loan modification scam, a company contacts the homeowner promising to negotiate with their lender for an advance fee. In some cases, they claim to be mortgage brokers or attorneys. These scammers often advise the homeowner to stop talking to their mortgage company and to stop making monthly payments. In other instances, they advise the homeowner to make the mortgage payments directly to them while they deal with the lender. Once they have collected the money, these scammers stop returning phone calls and then disappear.

Know Your Rights — Under the Federal Trade Commission’s Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, it is illegal for a company to require payment until they provide you a written offer of loan modification or other relief from the mortgage lender AND the homeowner accepts the offer. Companies must also disclose that they are not affiliated with the government in their telemarketing calls and advertisements.

The company also cannot advise you to stop contacting your lender. They must tell you that your mortgage lender may not agree to modify the loan and that failure to pay your mortgage could result in the loss of your home or damage your credit rating. The company must also remind homeowners of their right to reject the offer without any charge.

Attorneys are generally exempt from the MARS Rule if they meet three conditions: they are engaged in the practice of law, they are licensed in the state where the homeowner or the dwelling is located, and they are complying with state laws and regulations governing attorney conduct related to the rule. To be exempt from the advance fee ban, attorneys must also meet a fourth requirement — they must place any fees they collect in a client trust account and abide by state laws and regulations covering such accounts.

“The days of simply opening up shop and starting a mortgage relief firm have come to an end,” said Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “Individuals or businesses providing loan modification services must be licensed in order to conduct business and cannot charge advance fees.”

The Federal Trade Commission works to prevent mortgage relief and loan modification scams. To file a complaint, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website also provides free information on a variety of consumer topics at www.ftc.gov.

Foreclosure Fraud Case Settled at the Florida Supreme Court


In a matter of “great public importance” that has gone largely ignored this week, the high-profile foreclosure fraud case of Roman Pino versus The Bank of New York has been settled.  According to the Florida Supreme Court, the matter was dismissed upon Pino’s “Notice –Dismiss (Voluntary Stipulation)” on July 25th.

The opportunity for a precedent setting opinion for attorney Thomas Ice, of Ice Legal, whose boutique litigation firm specializes in uncovering forged and fraudulent foreclosure documents, must mean outright success for Pino. 

Although details of the settlement were not provided in the brief stipulation before the high court, one can only speculate whether Pino received a mortgage modification, principal reduction, right to short-sale, waiver of deficiency balance, or his home free and clear. 

One thing is clear, though.  Any settlement agreement between the parties would contain a confidentiality agreement.

Neither Ice, nor Enrique Nieves – Pino’s attorney of record – were available for comment despite several messages left at Ice Legal and on their cell phone voicemail.

An appeals court in February requested that the Florida Supreme Court consider the case of Greenacres homeowner Roman Pino as a matter of “great public importance.” The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach was unusual as neither the bank nor the homeowner had requested such a review.

“We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents,” the appeals court wrote in certification to the Supreme Court.

Had the matter been adjudicated on its merits and a decision rendered in favor of Pino, thousands of foreclosure cases could have been impacted as allegations of document fraud and robo-signing run rampant throughout the nation.

According to land records, Pino purchased his Greenacres home in July, 2006 for $203,000 by securing a $162,400 mortgage with Silver State Financial Systems. After falling behind on the mortgage, the Bank of New York moved to foreclose in October, 2008.

In their foreclosure complaint, the Bank of New York alleged that it was the owner of Pino’s mortgage note through an assignment from another lender, but did not include said assignment as part of its original complaint.

Pino retained Ice, who in moving to dismiss the complaint, argued that the bank needed an assignment in order to have standing to foreclose.

Attorneys from the Law Offices of David J. Stern in Plantation filed an amended complaint and attached an unrecorded mortgage assignment “which happened to be dated just before the original pleading was filed,” the appeals court wrote.

Stern’s now defunct law firm is one of several foreclosure mills throughout Florida that are under investigation by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Just as Pino’s attorneys were set to take depositions of Stern employees to determine how the assignment was created, the Bank of New York dismissed its foreclosure action.  Ice had wanted an opportunity to prove that Pino was the victim of fraud but was unable to do so because of the voluntary dismissal. The bank refiled the foreclosure in August 2009, and that case is pending.

In its written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling about the dismissal but because of its importance on similar foreclosure matters, sent the case to the state’s highest court in Tallahassee. One appellate judge, Gary Farmer, dissented saying he thought the trial judge could have kept the case open to litigate Pino’s claim of fraud.

“I’m not surprised at a settlement of this matter considering the allegations of forged or fraudulent documents and the risk of substantial loss to the bank,” said Carlos J. Reyes, of the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “As a foreclosure defense attorney, my preference would have been for a written opinion from the Florida Supreme Court, but the client is the ultimate decision maker in any settlement discussions.”

Foreclosure Defense: Dead Man Served with Foreclosure Papers


 

Foreclosure defense attorneys have long alleged that process servers occasionally file false affidavits in support of personal service in foreclosure matters.  Some homeowners are defending themselves stating that mortgage lenders did not serve them properly.

Contrary to the sworn affidavit of process server Robin Lucas-Peters on one local foreclosure case, the homeowner was not served at all.  Having died on August 4, 2010 “personal service” upon him on April 21, 2011 was simply not possible. 

“It’s equivalent to perjury,” said Andrew Dinnerstein, the Sunrise attorney representing the family of the deceased.  “The system is being abused to such an extent that people aren’t even being served properly.”

The homeowner has not been identified to protect the family’s privacy.

Foreclosure defense attorneys have documented a number of cases where process servers allegedly filed false affidavits.  While investigating the law firms that employed “robo-signers,” state investigators are closely examining the service of process in a number of cases.

The process server in this case said she attempted to serve the homeowner on five separate occasions.   On the fifth attempt, the person answering the door said he was the homeowner being sought and accepted the foreclosure papers.

Several recent foreclosure cases allege homeowners never received foreclosure papers even though they still occupied their home.  Others allege that process servers did not take the required steps to locate them or filed false affidavits about whom or when they delivered papers.   

This is the first reported case of a deceased homeowner being served with foreclosure papers.

Lucas-Peters filed a falsified document, swearing foreclosure papers were properly served when they were not, Dinnerstein said.

When a homeowner is deceased, the mortgage lender must request that the court assign an administrator and then serve foreclosure papers upon them.

Dinnerstein indicates that he will seek sanctions against the lender and ProVest, which is under investigation by the Florida Attorney General for allegations of false returns of service under oath and forged signatures of process servers.

In a number of unrelated foreclosure defense matters, some process servers allegedly violated rules related to the personal delivery of legal papers.  Like robo-signing foreclosure documents without reviewing them for accuracy, a number of homeowners are now alleging they were never served with foreclosure papers.

Once rare, “bad service” of process has become more common as lenders and their attorneys speed thousands of foreclosure cases through “rocket dockets” that are designed to clear an ever growing backlog.

“With the foreclosure debacle, it’s become more complicated,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “For the sake of expediency, process servers are being rushed. As they are paid by the piece, they have an interest in earning a higher income.”

Homeowners involved in foreclosures are required to receive a summons and complaint personally delivered by a process server. Repeated attempts at personal service are required before court permission can be obtained to publish a legal notice in the alternative.

In the case of a deceased homeowner, foreclosure papers are served upon an administrator. 

Some process servers have allegedly cut corners.  One recently claimed she could not find a homeowner facing foreclosure on a second home, despite conducting extensive record checks. This held true even though the foreclosure complaint clearly provided a primary home address in Connecticut.

Lenders and attorneys typically contract their summons delivery work to large process serving firms, who sub-contract to private independent servers. In her deposition to state investigators, former Stern paralegal Tammie Lou Kapusta, testified that summons serving procedures were a “complete mess,” with homeowners routinely complaining they never received papers.

She and another former employee, Kelly Scott, said their managers told them move forward with the foreclosures anyway.

Investigators also questioned staff at Stern’s firm regarding billing practices that involved serving multiple parties at an address and billing for each one.

“Good service of process is crucial”, Reyes said. He has heard of homeowners losing their home because they never received a summons and missed filing dates or court hearings.

While a court summons must be accepted by an adult, state law does not require it to be served upon the property owner. No one has to sign, verifying receipt, “which makes it easier to say the person was served, when they weren’t,” Reyes said.

Laws governing the service of process vary from state to state. In Florida, there is no statewide licensing or regulating body for process servers, and rules vary greatly among the 20 judicial circuits.

While ProVest declined to comment on specific cases, company president James Ward stated they “utilize properly licensed or authorized independent contractors” and require them to “fully comply with state and local guidelines.”

“ProVest is confident the vast majority of notifications are being conducted appropriately and where there are anomalies of inadequate service we strive to learn from those situations,” Ward said.

To learn more about the foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General, visit their website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

Broward Chief Judge Vic Tobin Quits – Joins Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson


In a move that is sure to stun the legal community, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Victor Tobin  has notified Governor Rick Scott of his intent to resign as a Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit effective June 30, 2011.

In an after-hours e-mail sent to all judges, judicial assistants, and the court administrator, Judge Tobin stated:

Late this afternoon, I notified Governor Scott that I would be resigning as a Circuit Court Judge effective June 30, 2011. Effective July 1,2011, I will return to private practice with the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson. I wish to express my sincere thanks to each judge for permitting me the honor of being your Chief Judge during the last four years. I appreciate the confidence you placed in me.

Vic Tobin

On March 25th, Attorney General Pam Bondi announced a settlement against attorney Marshall C. Watson and his law firm for alleged improprieties in the prosecution of foreclosure cases throughout Florida. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson is one of the largest foreclosure firms in Florida.

The settlement is a first of its kind and stems from an investigation into the alleged deceptive practices of Florida foreclosure mills. It calls for a $2 million payment and imposition of certain requirements to conduct business. $1 million of that payment will be contributed to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the Florida Attorney General Mortgage Foreclosure Grant Program.

The Foreclosure Grant Program provides for the funding of Legal Aid attorney positions throughout the state that are specifically devoted to the representation of low-income Floridians facing foreclosure.

“We are aggressively investigating these law firms in order to protect the interests of everyone involved in foreclosure proceedings. Homeowners, lending institutions and the courts deserve to know that the law is being followed and all documentation is true and accurate,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Anything short of total assurance of complete accuracy during such serious situations is unacceptable.”

Florida has led the nation with an investigation into law firms allegedly engaged in the improper production and filing of foreclosure documents. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson fully cooperated with the investigation with the Florida Attorney General.

Although a settlement is being negotiated with other alleged foreclosure mills, the investigation into the practices of several other Florida law firms is continuing.

Hiring Judge Vic Tobin seems to be another move in the right direction.

A Slap on the Wrist for Mortgage Servicers


While negotiations continue between mortgage servicers and the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group, enforcement action has been taken by the Office of the Comptroller (OCC), the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), and the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) against 14 U.S. bank and two third-party mortgage servicers.

Amid allegations of unsafe and unsound practices in the processing of foreclosures, enforcement action has been taken against bank servicers: Ally Financial, Aurora Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, Citigroup, EverBank, HSBC, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife Bank, OneWest Bank, PNC, Sovereign Bank, SunTrust Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo and third-party servicers: Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), and MERSCORP also known as Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS).

“These comprehensive enforcement actions, coordinated among the federal banking regulators, require major reforms in mortgage servicing operations,” said acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh. “These reforms will not only fix the problems we found in foreclosure processing, but will also correct failures in governance and the loan modification process and address financial harm to borrowers. Our enforcement actions are intended to fix what is broken, identify and compensate borrowers who suffered financial harm, and ensure a fair and orderly mortgage servicing process going forward.”

As part of the enforcement action by the OCC, OTS and FRB, servicers must significantly improve residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing.  This includes borrower communication and “dual-tracking,” which will prohibit foreclosure during the loan modification process. 

Mortgage servicers are also required to promptly correct deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing that were identified by examiners in reviews conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010. 

Each mortgage servicer must, among other things, submit plans acceptable to the FRB that:

►Strengthen coordination of communications with borrowers by providing them with the name of the person who is their primary point of contact at the servicer;

►Ensure that foreclosures are not pursued once a mortgage modification has been approved, unless repayments under the modified loan are not made;

►Establish robust controls and oversight over the activities of third-party vendors that provide residential mortgage loan servicing, loss mitigation, or foreclosure-related support, including local counsel in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings;

►Provide remediation to borrowers who have suffered financial injury as a result of wrongful foreclosures or other deficiencies identified in their review of the foreclosure process; and

►Strengthen their programs to ensure compliance with state and federal laws regarding mortgage servicing and the processing of foreclosures.

“This settlement provides that if you’re negotiating or in the midst of a trial modification, a lender is prohibited from seizing the property,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale.  “Defense attorneys now have a basis to go forward to try and save a property in litigation with the additional argument that failing to modify or settle is a breach of the lender settlement with federal regulators.”

The enforcement action is based upon an OCC, OTS and FRB review of foreclosure practices that found mortgage servicers “failed to conform to state legal requirements.”  The review stopped short at robo-signing and other forms of document fraud.  It did not investigate the illegal imposition of fees, the failure to comply with loan modification requirements or other alleged servicer abuses.  In fact, federal regulators only reviewed a small sample of loan files containing key information on foreclosure practices.

Many believe that the settlement by federal regulators will undermine the investigation of foreclosure fraud by the Multistate Mortgage Foreclosure Group.  Initially, there were hopes of a “global settlement” covering state and federal regulators, but the agencies, led by the OCC, broke off and delivered their own enforcement action.  

While federal regulators and the various state attorneys general maintain this enforcement action will not affect the AG probe or ongoing negotiations, mortgage servicers can now report they have been punished for alleged violations of law.  Although an independent review is determining damages, they may reject any additional settlement since they have already been punished by their regulators.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Foreclosure Mill Settles With Florida Attorney General


Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced today a first-of-its-kind settlement against attorney Marshall C. Watson and his law firm – the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson – for alleged improprieties in the prosecution of foreclosure cases throughout Florida.  

This settlement calls for a $2 million payment and imposition of certain requirements to conduct business and is the first stemming from numerous investigations into Florida foreclosure law firms.

“We are aggressively investigating these law firms in order to protect the interests of everyone involved in foreclosure proceedings. Homeowners, lending institutions and the courts deserve to know that the law is being followed and all documentation is true and accurate,” stated Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Anything short of total assurance of complete accuracy during such serious situations is unacceptable.”

Florida led the nation in the investigation of law firms and foreclosure mills engaged in the improper production and filing of foreclosure documents. The Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson fully cooperated with the investigation since its inception.

Half of the $2 million payment from Marshall Watson’s law firm to the Attorney General’s Office will be contributed to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the Florida Attorney General Mortgage Foreclosure Grant Program. This grant program provides for the funding of Legal Aid attorney positions throughout Florida specifically devoted to the representation of low-income individuals facing foreclosure actions.

The investigation of the Florida Attorney General into the practices of several other Florida law firms is continuing.

To access the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, please click here: http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/SKNS-8FAHED/$file/WatsonAVC.pdf

David J. Stern Foreclosure Mill Out-of-Business


Amid civil and criminal investigations into fraudulent documents filed in Florida courts, the once powerful foreclosure attorney, David J. Stern, is out of business.

DJSP Enterprises, the publicly traded firm that handled Stern’s back-office paperwork, filed a disclosure today with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the Law Offices of David J. Stern would be closing on March 31, 2011.

Before the Florida Attorney General’s Office announced an investigation into the method in which Stern and DJSP Enterprises handled foreclosure matters, they had more than 1,200 employees.  Over the last sixty days, that number has dwindled to less than 50.

The law firm’s major customers, including mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, began pulling their cases from the firm last fall.   Stern’s law firm handled tens of thousands of foreclosure cases around Florida.

It was widely reported last month that Stern was trying to sell some luxury assets, including several homes and a yacht, worth millions of dollars. He resigned as chief executive of Plantation, Florida-based DJSP Enterprises in November.

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.  To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

Court’s stance on foreclosure case could have big impact


A Palm Beach county homeowner fighting alleged foreclosure fraud has ended up before the Florida Supreme Court.

An appeals court last week requested that the high court consider the case of Greenacres homeowner Roman Pino as a matter of “great public importance.” The decision by the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach was unusual as neither the bank nor the homeowner requested such a review.

“We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents,” the appeals court wrote in certification to the Supreme Court.

Should the case be accepted by the Florida Supreme Court and a decision rendered in favor of Pino, thousands of cases could be impacted as allegations of document fraud run rampant throughout the state.

According to land records, Pino purchased his Greenacres home in July, 2006 for $203,000 by securing a $162,400 mortgage with Silver State Financial Systems. After falling behind on the mortgage, the Bank of New York moved to foreclose in October, 2008.

In their foreclosure complaint, the Bank of New York alleged that it was the owner of Pino’s mortgage note through an assignment from another lender, but did not include said assignment as part of its original complaint.

Pino retained Thomas Ice, of Ice Legal, whose boutique litigation firm specializes in uncovering forged and fraudulent foreclosure documents. In moving to dismiss the complaint, Pino’s attorney argued that the bank needed an assignment in order to have standing to foreclose.

Attorneys from the law offices of David J. Stern in Plantation filed an amended complaint and attached an unrecorded mortgage assignment “which happened to be dated just before the original pleading was filed,” the appeals court wrote.

Stern’s firm is one of four foreclosure mills under investigation by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. In addition to Stern, the Florida Default Law Group, the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A. and Shapiro & Fishman, LLP, have all denied wrong doing.

Just as Pino’s attorneys were set to take depositions of Stern employees to determine how the assignment was created, the bank dismissed its foreclosure action. Ice had wanted an opportunity to prove that Pino was the victim of fraud but was unable to do so because of the voluntary dismissal. The bank refiled the foreclosure in August 2009, and that case is pending.

In its written opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s ruling about the dismissal but because of its importance on similar foreclosure matters, sent the case to the state’s highest court in Tallahassee. One appellate judge, Gary Farmer, dissented saying he thought the trial judge could have kept the case open to litigate Pino’s claim of fraud.

“In recognizing the procedural issue at hand, the District Court of Appeal is inherently signaling that forged or fraudulent documents have been introduced into foreclosure cases,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “The Pino case illustrates an issue where banks have dismissed foreclosures when problematic documents have been discovered only to be refiled later with different documents.”

To learn more about the mortgage foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, please visit www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, visit http://www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, weekdays at 9 o’clock on AM 1470 WWNN.

The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, as reported in the Highlands Today, a Media General Group publication: http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/feb/06/courts-stance-on-foreclosure-case-could-have-big-i/

Foreclosure fraud: AG releases critical report


One day after a reported settlement between Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial with attorneys general across the U.S. in the foreclosure epidemic, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi released a highly critical presentation detailing legal issues surrounding the crisis.

The presentation, titled “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” was provided by the attorney general’s economic crimes division during an early December conference of the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers as an overview and was not representative of any specific misconduct.

The comprehensive presentation was compiled in exploration of foreclosure malpractice and condemns banks, mortgage servicers, and law firms for contributing to the crisis by cutting corners.

Although not aimed at a specific case, four of Florida’s largest foreclosure law firms are under investigation by the state. The Florida Default Law Group, the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A.; the Law Offices of David J. Stern, P.A.; and Shapiro & Fishman, LLP, all have denied wrong doing.

Sweeping evidence of mortgage fraud was outlined in the 98-page presentation complete with copies of alleged forged signatures, false notarizations, bogus witnesses and improper mortgage assignments. Examples of alleged fraud and missteps made during the securitization process by major financial institutions when they wrote, packaged, and sold mortgages during the boom years was also provided.

The “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases” presentation meticulously documents cases of questionable signatures, notarizations that could not have occurred when claimed due to expired notary commissions and foreclosures filed by banks or law firms that lacked legal standing to foreclose on a particular property.

The presentation also focused largely on assignments of mortgage, a legal document that transfers ownership of mortgages from one bank to another. Mortgage assignments became an issue after the real estate boom, when mortgages were sold and resold, packaged into securitized trusts and otherwise transferred in a fashion that made tracking difficult.

“The Attorney General’s Office has a long standing commitment to fighting mortgage fraud and is dedicated to continuing this critical effort,” said Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “Since 2008, our office has started over 150 formal mortgage fraud investigations, 70 which remain active, 21 that resulted in civil lawsuits, and over 50 companies in review.”

As the foreclosure crisis mounted, banks and law firms appointed people to create assignments, of which tens of thousands were executed by robo-signers who failed to properly verify the claims in which they were swearing upon.

In one example, the signature of an individual named Linda Green appears – in varying styles – on hundreds of thousands of mortgage documents from dozens of banks and mortgage companies.

In another example, the signature of Scott Anderson, an employee of West Palm Beach-based Ocwen Financial Corp., appears in four styles on mortgage assignments.

Paul Koches, executive vice president of Ocwen, has acknowledged that the signatures were not all Anderson’s, “but that doesn’t mean they were forged,” he said. “Certain employees were given authorization to sign for Anderson on mortgage assignments.” Once the robo-signing crisis was revealed, Ocwen stopped allowing other employees to sign for Anderson.

“For the sake of expediency, no one bothered to verify or otherwise validate these assignments and affidavits prior to signing them,” says Carlos J. Reyes, a foreclosure defense attorney with the Reyes Law Group in Fort Lauderdale. “In some cases, courts have found that banks did not have standing to foreclose on the property sued upon.”

To learn more about the mortgage foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, visit www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226). To review the scathing 98-page presentation, visit: http://scr.bi/gbSIsO

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2011/jan/09/foreclosure-fraud-ag-releases-critical-report/

To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, visit www.williamlewis.us.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

Mortgage and Foreclosure – Florida AG joins Mortgage Foreclosure Multi State Group


Attorney General Bill McCollum announced last week an ongoing effort to rein in mortgage servicers and protect Floridians from purported deceptive and unfair practices. Along with 49 other attorneys general who are part of the Mortgage Foreclosure Multi State Group, McCollum is leading an effort to stop mortgage loan servicers from submitting alleged false affidavits in support of mortgage foreclosure actions.

Homeowners, attorneys and investigators have long alleged that many of the affidavits contained within mortgage foreclosure complaints have been signed without personal knowledge of the facts asserted within them. Having recently come to light is the fact that many of affidavits were signed outside of the presence of a notary public. This process of signing documents without confirming their accuracy has come to be known as “robo-signing” and is in direct violation of Florida law.

In an effort to effectively address and investigate the robo-signing crisis, the Mortgage Foreclosure Multi State Group is now comprised of all 50 state Attorneys General, mortgage regulators and state banks. Led by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, plans are being made to speak with all relevant mortgage servicers to determine whether they have properly submitted affidavits or signed notices in support of foreclosure actions.

State banks and mortgage regulators are participating both individually and through their Multistate Mortgage Committee, which represents mortgage regulators from all 50 states. As a member of the Executive Committee, Florida has taken a leading role in this multistate initiative. The Executive Committee is also comprised of Attorneys General from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington; and state banking regulators from the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation and the New York State Banking Department.

McCollum previously initiated an investigation of the Florida Default Law Group, the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A.; the Law Offices of David J. Stern, P.A.; and Shapiro & Fishman, accusing the four firms of faulty foreclosure practices. Those firms are fighting back, with one of the legal showdowns taking place last week in Broward County, where lawyers for David J. Stern presented a motion to “quash” the state’s subpoena.

Ruling for the attorney general in his efforts to subpoena the foreclosure records of Stern’s law firm, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Eileen O’Connor denied the Plantation attorney’s motion to quash McCollum’s subpoena.

O’Connor’s ruling was in stark contrast to an earlier ruling in Palm Beach County, where a judge told McCollum’s lawyers they could not subpoena the records of Tampa-based foreclosure firm Shapiro & Fishman.

Stern’s attorney said he would appeal the case to the 4th District Court of Appeal, meaning the difference between the two cases may become an issue at the appellate level. “We respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling and plan to file an appeal,” said attorney Jeffrey Tew, who represents Stern.

While O’Connor did not provide a reason for her ruling, Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Jack Cox stated that “only the Supreme Court controls the conduct of lawyers in the courtroom and in court proceedings,” and that the attorney general did not have a right to subpoena the records.

Meanwhile, Stern’s support company, the publicly traded DJSP Enterprises, confirmed that it was cutting back 10 percent of its workforce. DJSP had grown to about 1,100 employees during the height of the foreclosure crisis. Lawyers from Greenberg Traurig were also retained to mount an internal investigation into allegations that its employees helped fabricate court documents in foreclosure cases.

If you would like to learn more about the mortgage foreclosure crisis or to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, visit their website at www.myfloridalegal.com or call (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226).

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune (Media General Group) – http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/oct/17/florida-ag-joins-mortgage-foreclosure-multi-state-/  To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series, please visit http://www.williamlewis.us

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

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