Every day in America, people continue to be kicked out of their homes based on false documents. The settlements over allegations of robosigning, faulty paperwork, and illegal mortgage servicing didn’t end the misconduct. And law enforcement, along with most judges and politicians, have looked away in the mistaken belief that they wrapped up a scandal that just goes on and on.
My new book, Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, is about three foreclosure victims who ended up doing more investigation of the corrupt U.S. mortgage industry than any state or federal law enforcement or regulatory official.
They exposed the mass production of false mortgage documents in courthouses and county records offices across the country.
It’s a work of history, depicting events that occurred from 2009 to 2012. But it’s a living history, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book.
Here at The Intercept, in the past 10 months, I’ve written about the New Jersey man who had precious family heirlooms robbed by Wells Fargo subcontractors when they illegally “trashed out” his foreclosed home. I’ve written about the use of false documents in Seattle and the unregistered business trusts operating in Montana. I’ve written about the Texas jury that awarded $5 million in one wrongful foreclosure case with fabricated and robosigned documents. I’ve written about the California Supreme Court enabling foreclosure victims to challenge phony documents in their cases.
That’s just a small sampling of what I hear nearly every day from homeowners who continue to challenge their cases and reveal massive fraud. And these are a few more:
- Here’s a document dated August 4, 2010. It’s an assignment of a deed of trust from the originator, American Brokers Conduit, to Wells Fargo. It was not only digitally signed, but it was digitally notarized. So the computer appeared personally before the other computer, I guess, to verify that this was the authentic computer that signed the document.
- Here are some documents from a “Tanya Ramirez,” signing as an officer of Countrywide, Bank of America, Recontrust, New Century Mortgage, and MERS (an private electronic registry used by banks to transfer mortgages), and once as a notary. All of the signatures are different. The partial lien release on the home of Doug Didrick, used to speed up a sheriff’s sale, was submitted to a Collier County, Florida court in April 2015, just one year ago. So this robosigner still works for a company that forecloses on people for a living.
- Earlier this month, a lawsuit from a Wells Fargo whistleblower named Duke Tran was unsealed. Tran says that he discovered that the bank routinely foreclosed on borrowers without proper documentation to prove they owned the loans. Wells Fargo managers instructed Tran, a 10-year veteran of a call center in Oregon, to lie about this lack of proof to customers. “When you come across a situation where we have a lost contract, deed, any type of document, really, but especially when it relates to securing a property, we are not to share that with the customer,” read one email from management. When Tran refused to comply, he says they fired him. This was in November 2014, years after Wells settled cases with the federal government over improper mortgage documentation. Tran said that Wells used improper documentation to collect on $1.4 billion in foreclosure prevention funding from the Home Affordable Modification Program. Wells Fargo denies any wrongdoing.
- After Marina Boyd, a former corporate human resources manager from Los Angeles, fell into financial trouble, she sought a loan modification to stay in her home. In July 2010 she got approved; all she had to do was send a cashier’s check for $2,000. She did, but the bank said they never received it. The property was sold to CitiMortgage without her knowing about it until the sale went through. After fighting for a year, the sheriff told her to move out in September 2011; she left with the clothes on her back, expecting to be able to come back for her possessions, most of which were boxed up. Boyd begged the real estate agent in multiple phone calls to allow her to pick up her stuff. But one day she went by the house and everything was gone. “I called the agent and said ‘where’s my property, who took it?’” Boyd said. “The agent said ‘it’s gone, that’s it,’ and hung up on me.” Boyd, acting as her own lawyer, discovered that Citi explicitly instructed the real estate agent to haul everything away, offering him thousands of dollars to do it. “Task opened for the trashout. … amount approved is $3,050. … please get it done ASAP,” reads one email Boyd obtained in the case. The case is still in court, as years of discovery requests and attempts to depose Citi employees continue. There’s a trial scheduled in June. “Access to justice shouldn’t take five years,” Boyd said in a recent article posted at a website she created about the case. She’s made a video about the case too.
- Just last month, a Dade County, Florida, Circuit Court judge dismissed HSBC’s foreclosure case against Joseph Buset. HSBC had cited an alleged 2012 mortgage assignment from Freemont Investment and Loan, a company that was liquidated in 2008. HSBC claimed they had bought the mortgage directly from the defunct company, but the judge ruled that the 2012 document reflected “a transaction that never happened,” was “created for purposes of litigation,” and failed to establish proof that HSBC is the proper owner and holder of the loan. It’s one of many cases out of Florida that have been reversed recently for lack of standing to foreclose, years after the issue was supposed to have been resolved.
- On May 7, protesters sought to stop the eviction of Barbara Campbell, a wheelchair-bound former Girl Scouts director, from her Detroit home. While seeking a loan modification in 2013, Campbell was told by her mortgage servicer, Nationstar, to stop making mortgage payments while they reviewed the request. The servicer then immediately moved to foreclose, citing the “failure to make mortgage payments.” A different bank, Flagstar, is the plaintiff in the foreclosure case, despite not having definitive proof that it owns the loan, according to activists with Detroit Eviction Defense. You can see at the Detroit Eviction Defense website that they fight dozens of similar cases.
I could go on for more than a day merely by printing out my email correspondence. “United Bankshares Inc is criminally defrauding me out of my farm.” “I lost my home, the assignment was after they started foreclosure.” “Contractors illegally came into the home, helping themselves to a third of everything she owned in the world.” I don’t have enough time to check them all out. But they keep coming, from people abused by a rotted system.
When the Justice Department and state attorneys general finished their press conferences lauding big headline settlement penalties (numbers that shrink upon inspection), they neglected the ongoing chaos in our courts. People have been tied up in foreclosure nightmares for nearly a decade, with the same kinds of false documents used to grease the evictions.
It’s virtually impossible for a foreclosure case on a securitized subprime loan from the housing bubble era to NOT involve false documents.
The government, the regulators, and the judges seem content to refer back to their press releases about what they delivered for homeowners, while willfully blinding themselves to the continuing destruction of the integrity of the nation’s judicial system. They’ve collectively decided to pretend that the ruination of a 300-year-old property records system never happened. And homeowners are left to pick through the rubble on their own.