NEW YORK » In an effort to rush through thousands of home foreclosures since 2007, financial institutions and their mortgage servicing departments hired hair stylists, Walmart floor workers and people who had worked on assembly lines and installed them in "foreclosure expert" jobs with no formal training, a Florida lawyer says.
In depositions released yesterday, many of those workers testified that they barely knew what a mortgage was. Some couldn’t define the word "affidavit." Others didn’t know what a complaint was, or even what was meant by personal property. Most troubling, several said they knew they were lying when they signed the foreclosure affidavits and that they agreed with the defense lawyers’ accusations about document fraud.
"The mortgage servicers hired people who would never question authority," said Peter Ticktin, a Deerfield Beach, Fla., lawyer who is defending 3,000 homeowners in foreclosure cases. As part of his work, Ticktin gathered 150 depositions from bank employees who say they signed foreclosure affidavits without reviewing the documents or ever laying eyes on them — earning them the name "robo-signers."
The deposed employees worked for the mortgage service divisions of banks such as Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, as well as for mortgage servicers like Litton Loan Servicing, a division of Goldman Sachs.
Ticktin said he would make the testimony available to state and federal agencies that are investigating financial institutions for allegations of possible mortgage fraud. This comes on the eve of an expected announcement today from 40 state attorneys general that they will launch a collective probe into the mortgage industry.
"This was an industrywide scheme designed to defraud homeowners," Ticktin said.
The depositions paint a surreal picture of foreclosure experts who didn’t understand even the most elementary aspects of the mortgage or foreclosure process — even though they were entrusted as the records custodians of homeowners’ loans. In one deposition taken in Houston, a foreclosure supervisor with Litton Loan couldn’t define basic terms like promissory note, mortgagee, lien, receiver, jurisdiction, circuit court, plaintiff’s assignor or defendant. She testified that she didn’t know why a spouse might claim interest in a property, what the required conditions were for a bank to foreclose or who the holder of the mortgage note was. "I don’t know the ins and outs of the loan, I just sign documents," she said at one point.
Until now, only a handful of depositions from robo-signers have come to light. But the sheer volume of the new depositions will make it more difficult for financial institutions to argue that robo-signing was an aberrant practice in a handful of rogue back offices.
Judges are unlikely to look favorably on a bank that claims paperwork flaws don’t matter because the borrower was in default on the loan, said Kendall Coffey, a former Miami U.S. attorney and author of the book "Foreclosures."