By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
When June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards were called into a meeting last May with their boss at the Office of the Attorney General, they figured it was to talk about their promising new investigation. The two economic crime specialists were onto something big.
Florida was amid a staggering wave of foreclosures, but more and more homeowners were noticing odd problems: strange signatures, missing information, notary seals
with no signatures. With multiple investigations underway, Clarkson and Edwards had
zeroed in on a single company — Lender Processing Services — they increasingly believed was illegally feasting on underwater residents.
But as soon as they sat down, their boss cut to the chase: "You're both done at the end of the day. It's a done deal, all the way up to Tallahassee. You can either quit or be terminated."
The two were shocked. In the year since their abrupt firing, they've come to believe their termination happened because they were close to uncovering mass fraud by companies with ties to top Florida officials. "All these machinations were going on, and June and I were completely oblivious," Edwards says. "In hindsight, we were just so blind and stupid."
As Florida foreclosures spike yet again — Miami and Broward's rate leaped a shocking 11 percent last month — the pair's story is an infuriating window into how state officials have dragged their feet on prosecuting foreclosure firms at the expense of ordinary homeowners.
Clarkson, a small, lively woman with blond hair and glasses, had left a private law firm to accept a sub-$60,000-a-year job with the AG. She relished the idea of being a public watchdog, of digging into the records of companies to catch them trying to cheat customers.
The long, twisted trail that led her and Edwards to LPS began in 2010 with Lynn Szymoniak, a woman who could easily have been mistaken for an obsessive nutjob. Szymoniak's living room contained a wall of binders filled with copies of other people's court records. She burned out one copy machine, and a neighbor donated another. At meetings with fellow foreclosure activists, she showed up carrying reams of paper and giant, blown-up copies of documents.
But Szymoniak, a wonkish lawyer, had hit on a real problem: While investigating missing signatures on her own foreclosure papers, she discovered a woman named Linda Green. Green's name had been signed on thousands of documents, attached to various high-ranking job titles like vice president for at least ten companies in scores of cases. Many of the signatures looked nothing alike.
Convinced that major fraud was occurring, Szymoniak contacted a range of authorities. None seemed interested — until she met Clarkson.
Clarkson and Edwards were also skeptical at first. "As soon as you start promoting any kind of huge, vast conspiracy by large institutions, I think there's a real reason for everybody to take three steps back," Szymoniak says.
But her information checked out. Following the trail of her research led them to LPS, which has offices around the country and more than 8,000 employees. DocX, the Georgia company where Linda Green signed documents, had been acquired by Fidelity National and then effectively merged with LPS. Clarkson recalls, "I really started to say, 'This is LPS. They're behind it all.'"
What DocX and other companies were doing came to be known as "robo-signing." Szymoniak's research had effectively uncovered the practice, which involved people signing their own names or others on documents that weren't always properly filled out or notarized.
Robo-signing became national news in the fall of 2010, after Clarkson and Edwards took sworn statements of employees of the Plantation firm of David Stern, which used similar tactics. The employees said they had spent all day scrawling their names in ink on thousands of mortgage documents they hadn't read as banks foreclosed on more and more struggling homeowners. These unread, sloppy documents went straight into court records.
Clarkson became increasingly convinced that LPS was playing the same game as Stern. In December 2010, she gave a presentation to the Association of Court Clerks outlining the problems she'd found: documents made out to "bogus assignee," a placeholder used when cases were filed too quickly; banks giving mortgages to themselves; an assignment dated 9/9/9999.
Behind the scenes, Clarkson's investigation into LPS reached even further. She soon filed a subpoena of the company's internal records. "They responded by trying to flood me and Theresa with about two external hard drives, notebooks that would fill a table, CDs and electronics, online files," Clarkson says.
But the closer Clarkson and Edwards got to LPS, the harder the blowback they felt. A month after the clerks' meeting, on January 6, 2011, Joan Meyer, a lawyer for LPS, sent a harsh letter. Meyer castigated the investigators for calling the company's signatures "forgeries."
Then, in February 2011, Tallahassee-based Economic Crimes Director Richard Lawson stopped by to chew the pair out for complaints he'd fielded similar to the ones in Meyer's letter.
Three months later, Clark and Edwards were out on their asses. It was only after their dismissal that the pair realized how close LPS was to top officials in Gov. Rick Scott's administration.
Attorney General Pam Bondi's campaign, for instance, received $500 (the maximum contribution) from LPS, as well as LPS Agency Sales and Posting, an affiliate in California. Donations of $500 were also recorded from each of five mortgage-related companies that share an address in Jacksonville with LPS's Florida office.
ofcourse the government will protect lender/financial institution etc. they have the money to bankroll and finance the government averege citizens do not have the money to finance the gov, just to vote which means nothing if there is no money, this has always been like that it will be for another 100 years, there is nothing we can do, the one who has the money is the one who controles everyone
It is time for all Floridians to stop arguing over Democrat or Republican, since they are two sides of the same coin. Neither is looking out for our best interests. The only answer is to stop electing anyone who is connected with these parties. Stop re-electing anyone who has previously held an elected position. It is only when we start to show politicians that it is not money that will work to buy our votes that we will get the government and the governmental services that we deserve.
We live here. We elect our public officials. We allow them to continue to serve. We get the government we deserve. Florida institutionalizes low expectations. You can see it everywhere. Under-achievement is the order of the day in education, public services and commercial services as well as political office. By expecting too little from ourselves, we expect very little from others. The corruption of low expectations also infects Florida's judicial system. As we judge ourselves so we are judged. It will only change-if ever-when we change ourselves.
Youreminence you are quite right - I am in Maryland and we have much of the same issues albeit not as flagrant as yours, i.e. PAM BONDI. That being said, yes we do 'vote' these awful people into office but as one of the work-a-day people trying like hell just to survive, keeping one step ahead of a bottom feeding foreclosure mill creep or creepet(I find it shocking that women would actually do such underhanded and undignified acts and call it a job) who masquerade as attorneys who bring fabricated and forged documents and affidavits into our court rooms- takes up a tremendous amount of energy and time. As a result our collective attention is drawn inwards, to ourselves, to our very survival. That's why shitbags like Pam Bondi and Rick Scott remain in office. We can only do so much. Most of us are just trying to keep our head above water. Understand?