Forgery in Missouri Foreclosures
Published: February 6, 2012
One of the largest companies that provided home foreclosure services to lenders across the nation, DocX, has been indicted on forgery charges by a Missouri grand jury — one of the few criminal actions to follow reports of widespread improprieties against homeowners.
Kelley McCall/Associated Press
Chris Koster, the Missouri attorney general, is investigating DocX.
A grand jury in Boone County, Mo., handed up an indictment Friday accusing DocX of 136 counts of forgery in the preparation of documents used to evict financially strained borrowers from their homes. Lorraine O. Brown, the company’s founder and former president, was indicted on the same charges.
Employees of DocX, a unit of Lender Processing Services of Jacksonville, Fla., executed and notarized millions of mortgage documents for big banks and loan servicers over the years. Lender Processing closed the company in April 2010, after evidence emerged of apparent forgeries in these documents, a practice now called robo-signing.
Chris Koster, the Missouri attorney general, will prosecute the case. “The grand jury indictment alleges that mass-produced fraudulent signatures on notarized real estate documents constitutes forgery,” Mr. Koster said in a statement. “Today’s indictment reflects our firm conviction that when you sign your name to a legal document, it matters.”
Mr. Koster said his office’s investigation was continuing. This suggests he may hope to persuade Ms. Brown to cooperate in his investigation of the parent company. If convicted, Ms. Brown could face up to seven years in prison for each forgery count. DocX could be fined up to $10,000 for each forgery conviction.
Chris Rosenblum, a lawyer at Rosenblum, Schwartz, Rogers & Glass who represents DocX said: “We have not had an opportunity to review the indictment at this point. The company intends to enter a plea of not guilty.”
According to the indictment, Ms. Brown acted “knowingly in concert with DocX and its employees” to mislead and defraud the Boone County recorder of deeds. The documents central to the indictments were deeds of release, which eliminate a previous claim on an asset. Such releases are typically issued when a mortgage has been paid off.
Phone messages left at Ms. Brown’s home and with her lawyer were not returned Monday evening.
Since evidence of pervasive foreclosure improprieties emerged, state officials have mostly brought civil suits against the institutions and law firms that filed the fraudulent documents. Individuals in Nevada, for example, have been charged with notary fraud, but beyond that matter, criminal cases arising from foreclosure practices have been uncommon.
The Missouri grand jury found that the person whose name appeared on 68 documents executed on behalf of a lender — someone named Linda Green — was not the person who had signed the papers. The documents were submitted to the Boone County recorder of deeds as though they were genuine, Mr. Koster said.
A recent civil lawsuit against Lender Processing by the attorney general of Nevada found that former workers at one of its divisions had described their work as “surrogate signers.” One worker who was quoted in the complaint said she had been paid $11 an hour and told that her job was “to sign somebody else’s signature on documents.” The person said she had signed roughly 2,000 documents a day for months, according to the lawsuit.
In addition to deed releases, DocX surrogate signers routinely executed assignments of mortgage, which reflect changes in ownership.
The indictment is only the latest legal assault on the company and its parent, Lender Processing. In August 2011, American Home Mortgage Servicing, a large loan servicer, sued Lender Processing contending that more than 30,000 residential mortgages that it had handled across the country contained “improper execution, notarization and recording of assignments of mortgage.” DocX executed such paperwork for American Home from April 2008 through November 2009, the lawsuit said.
Last April, Lender Processing signed a consent order with the nation’s top financial regulators, agreeing to remediate improperly executed mortgage documents and to correct its default business practices. Michelle Kersch, a Lender Processing spokeswoman, said recently that the company now executed documents “with stringent controls in place” to ensure compliance with all rules.