Friday, April 29, 2011

Foreclosures and the Register of Deeds - Special Guest: Curtis Hertel, Jr.

With the crazy news about foreclosures, I thought it would be a good idea this week to invite Ingham County Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel, Jr. to this week's Ingham County Blog. Curtis has been on the forefront of weeding out foreclosure fraud and has been the subject of several media reports lately. Thanks for everything, Curtis. Great job!


On the heels of some fairly big news here in the Ingham County Register of Deeds office recently, Andy asked me to stop by the blog and share some information about what we’ve been up to. My name is Curtis Hertel Jr., and I am the elected Register of Deeds for the county.

I wanted to talk briefly about foreclosure fraud, in which certain steps in the process to foreclose on a home are either skipped or mishandled by the bank that is trying to foreclose.

Foreclosure fraud is something that we’ve always suspected was taking place, in county offices across America. Until recently, we never had any hard information that would allow us to pursue it and actually be able to hold the responsible parties accountable.

That all changed with an excellent piece of investigative journalism on the national news program “60 Minutes”, which aired on April 3rd. The segment gave us some very certain information that we could use to begin searching our records and try to identify those who had been frauded.

The specific fraud, at least in this case, goes something like this: You probably are aware that many mortgages, if not your own, have been transferred between many different banks, throughout the last decade. Every time a mortgage is transferred to a new bank in this way, the bank is supposed to file a document called an “Assignment of Mortgage” in my office. This establishes which bank is the new servicer of that mortgage.

Many of these banks, instead of immediately filing the proper assignments when they take place, will actually wait to file that paperwork until they need to take some other action with the mortgage, such as a foreclosure or a modification. This saves them from paying money into our local economy in the form of filing fees. In Michigan, they are actually legally allowed to do this.

So when it came time for many of these banks to foreclose on a given mortgage, they began the process of filing the assignments… and found that they had lost the original paperwork.

The solution? Many banks contracted with a small company called DocX, whose primary business was to employ low-paid hourly workers to sit at a desk and forge signatures. One day an employee could be Linda Green, a vice-president for Bank A. The next day they could be Korell Harp, the assistant vice-president at Bank B. And then the next day they might find themselves as Linda Green again, except this time they were the assistant secretary at Bank C.

It’s almost laughable that some of this forgery was so obvious, but now that my office has some names to look for, like Linda Green and Korell Harp, we can begin searching our own records and looking for forgery. And we have – so far we’ve found over 80 mortgage assignments that were signed by the names in question.

I am currently working with the FBI, and the Attorney General’s office, to see what sort of larger legal action can be taken against the banks, on behalf of all the register’s offices across the state. I have also filed a criminal complaint with the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office and a complaint in Fulton County, Georgia, where most of these fraudulent documents were notarized.

I truly believe that these names – Linda Green and others – are just the tip of the iceberg. As we continue to investigate fraudulent documents in our records, and compare notes with other offices, it becomes more and more evident that this is not a problem that was isolated to the small DocX sweatshop in Georgia.

So what can you do? Well, if you are going through foreclosure, I would definitely recommend that you give us a call, or stop into the office to examine the records associated with your property. Take note of anyone who signed an assignment or other action on your mortgage, and check the name to see if they are a known or suspected forger. You should also ask your lender to show proof that they actually own your mortgage, in the form of a recorded assignment from my office, before they foreclose.

If you find that there ARE fraudulent documents associated with your foreclosure, or that paperwork is missing, it may not save you from your situation, but it can certainly buy you some time while the banks get their act together. Hopefully a little extra time could be exactly what you need to get through a crisis.

Curtis Hertel Jr.
Follow me on twitter:!/CurtisHertelJr

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