Tomorrow, a bank—not your bank, but any bank—could evict you from your home. Even if you didn’t know the bank was foreclosing. Even if your mortgage is paid off. Even if you never had a mortgage to begin with. Even if the bank doesn’t hold a single piece of paper that you signed. And major banks not only know this fact, but have spent millions of dollars to defend it in court. Why? The answer starts with a Jacksonville homeowner named Patrick Jeffs.
In 2007, Deutsche Bank sued Jeffs for his home, which is a necessary step in the process of foreclosing on a homeowner in the state of Florida. Curiously, despite the fact that he immediately hired a law firm to defend his property when he found out about the foreclosure, neither Jeffs nor his attorneys were at the trial. That’s because it had already happened. Deutsche won by default because Jeffs wasn’t able to travel backwards in time to attend, even though the trial featured a signed affidavit indicating that he had been served his court summons.
The only problem with the summons Jeffs supposedly received was that it had been conjured out of thin air.
In June of this year, a Florida court ruled that the document was fraudulent, as the person who was supposed to make sure Jeffs was served had mysteriously received a copy of the summons before the lawsuit had even been filed, and Jeffs never even saw the copy. The text of that ruling was posted on various financial news websites in September. The lawyers that Jeffs hired to defend his case say that fraud such as this is not uncommon. It’s a widespread problem, and it has cost countless families their homes.
“I think it’s safe to say that 95% of the foreclosure cases in Florida involve some form of fraud on the part of the bank,” David Goldman of Apple Law Firm, PLLC told The Daily Caller in a phone interview. “It’s probably closer to 99%. And the court system is helping them get away with it.”
A 95% rate of fraud sounds preposterous, but the number was repeated by a paralegal familiar with the case, Lisa Beasley, as well as Michael Redman, who was prompted to create a website called 4closurefraud.org after enduring personal experiences with the matter. There’s a reason for them to say so—they take and report on a lot of foreclosure fraud cases—but there’s also a reason they devote so much of their time to these cases, just like there’s a reason that multiple states are suing major banks for the same type of fraud.
The Sunshine State has something called the “Sunshine Law,” which states that unless very specific conditions, such as the need to protect a witness, are met by a trial, it must be open to the public. But over the past several months, Goldman says that attempts to observe foreclosure proceedings have been met with bailiffs and locked doors. Then, banks successfully argue that because they own the paperwork behind mortgages and don’t want anyone who doesn’t have to see those titles to see them, the public doesn’t have the right to ask for them as part of an examination of court records.
Representatives of Deutsche Bank told The Daily Caller via email that the bank’s involvement in the Jeffs case was merely nominal, as it had to be named as the plaintiff in the case because it ultimately held the right to foreclose, not Chase, the bank that originally created the loan and that was accepting Jeffs’ payments and forwarding them to the proper recipients. But as the loan servicer, Chase had tried to work out a loan modification with Jeffs, and he was current on his payments when Chase abruptly informed him that his modification was denied without explanation. Several days later, Jeffs found out that he supposedly no longer owned his home. He stopped making payments, and he hasn’t made them since. But no bank has been able to successfully repossess and sell the property. To the banking system, the asset backed by the house—the mortgage—has simply vanished into thin air.
Does that mean that Jeffs is finally in the clear? Not exactly. “Quite often, what happens in these cases is the bank creates new documents to fix the old documents,” said Goldman. “One of the most common things we see is a paper with a notary stamp that gives the bank the legal authority to foreclose. Well, anyone can buy those stamps. I can buy those stamps. A lot of what’s going on is law firms desperate to win a case are hired by banks who don’t know what those law firms are up to. Then the bank thinks it can foreclose, even though other banks also think they have that right, and those banks might not figure out what happened for a long time because the system is absolutely overloaded with foreclosures. And even if they do figure it out, suing to repossess a property that another bank already sold is a long and arduous process. So you wind up with a scenario in which the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”
The “right hand” took three years to figure out the Jeffs case. Meanwhile, the fraud continues. Earlier this year, Goldman worked with Jane Doe, an elderly woman whose real name couldn’t be disclosed for legal reasons. She had just spent several weeks outside of her home state of Florida visiting relatives, and she was current on her mortgage payments, which she had been paying for the past 15 years. She even called up her bank during her trip to ask about the best way to send in her latest payment. The bank told her that it wasn’t allowed to discuss the mortgage with her because her husband was the property owner, not her. But the bank couldn’t discuss the mortgage with her husband, either. Why? Because he was dead. And he had been for five years. Confirming this fact would have taken mere minutes.