When Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced a probe into one of the state’s largestforeclosure law firms for allegedly fabricating legal papers used to speed upforeclosures, Hobe Sound attorney Trent Steele dubbed it “a good
That’s because for a couple of years, he and other foreclosure
attorneys have been questioning suspicious looking documents lenders
have presented to judges statewide to expedite the thousands of
foreclosure cases grinding their way through the courts.
“It’s far more than forging signatures,” Steele said about what he
and other lawyers have witnessed first-hand. “I have never seen this
kind of institutionalized fraudulent behavior going on.
“You hear about individuals, small businesses, where this kind of
shenanigans occur,” he added, “but to see it on this broad of a scale,
where it negatively impacts homeowners and the public — and seeing them
lose their homes — it’s just something I’ve not experienced before.”
McCollum’s office on April 28 announced the Tampa-based Florida Default Law
Group “appears to be fabricating and/or presenting false and
misleading documents” in foreclosure cases.
“These documents have been presented in court before judges as actual
assignments of mortgages and have later been shown to be legally
inadequate and/or insufficient,” officials stated on the Attorney
The investigation into Florida Default is civil and not criminal in
nature, Attorney General’s Office officials confirmed, and is being
conducted by its Fort Lauderdale economic crimes division.
Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins said consumer
complaints alerted them to the troubling claims against Florida Default.
“Our office is still looking for additional potential victims,”
Wiggins said. “The investigation is ongoing and if it is discovered that
Florida Default Law Group is in violation of Florida Statute, we will
release more information.”
Florida Default officials in Tampa didn’t respond to repeated
requests for comment.
Attorney General’s Office officials confirmed another probe launched
in April into Docx LLC,
(doa) a subsidiary of Lender
Processing Service Inc., of Jacksonville, and a leading provider
of documents to banks foreclosing on properties.
Lender Processing Service officials also didn’t respond to requests
to comment for this story.
The Wall Street Journal last month reported that Docx
is under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Florida,
which Lender Processing Service first disclosed in an annual report.
The probe, according to the Wall Street Journal, involves Docx
documents that incorrectly claimed an entity called “Bogus Assignee” was the owner of the loan. A
Lender Processing Service spokeswoman noted the “bogus” phrase was used
as a placeholder, but some documents had been “inadvertently recorded
before the field was updated.”
Steele said attorneys have long suspected Docx was providing phoney
documents to lenders foreclosing on mortgages that banks nationwide had
been bundling together — usually thousands at a time — to be sold,
often several times over before landing in foreclosure court.
One of Steele’s clients, Lori Silverthorn, 34, of Lakewood Park, was
sued for foreclosure two years ago on the $126,000 childhood home she
bought from her family in 2004 with hopes of raising her 4-year-old
“My grandma bought it 36 years ago,” Silverthorn said. “I moved there
when I was 6 years old.”
But after she and her fiance lost their construction jobs, she tried
to refinance the mortgage and later turned to the lender who owned her
“They said they’d reinstate my mortgage if I had $5,000 down and I
had to come up with it in two weeks,” she said. “But I didn’t have
After she hired Steele, he discovered papers being used to foreclose
on Silverthorn’s home were missing information, such as the name of the
Later, when Deutsche Bank National Trust Company bought the mortgage,
Steele said a new assignment of mortgage was filed, this one created
“The minute I saw it was owned by a securitized trust I knew there
was trouble,” he said. “These mortgages were sold thousands at a time …
and the paperwork was very sloppy.”
Steele said Silverthorn’s case is still before a judge, who has been
asked by her lender to grant final summary judgment to take possession
of her home.
Some assignments of mortgage Steele has in other cases show the same
names signing as executives for up to 30 different banks,
which he said attorneys have repeatedly tracked to Docx.
“That was one of the commonalities that we started noticing,” he
Stuart attorney John Chapman, who has about 300 foreclosure cases,
said he’s seen dummied-up documents used in court, including against a
client he thinks is being defrauded.
“It doesn’t take a signature expert to tell you there are … three or four different signatures for the same person
on various assignments of mortgages,” he said. “There’s definitely a
The practice, he said,
hurts the entire judicial system.
“There are certain things you need to prove to win a foreclosure
case,” he said. “You’re not entitled to go create documents to overcome
problems created because they were doing a shoddy job of record