Desert Underwater: Robo-Signing Problems on Foreclosure Document - 8 News NOW

Desert Underwater: Robo-Signing Problems on Foreclosure Documents

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Tanya Butterfield Tanya Butterfield
Tara Newberry Tara Newberry

LAS VEGAS -- The nation's largest banks stopped foreclosures last fall following allegations their employees cut corners while processing paperwork. A short time later -- with promises to halt the illegal practices -- foreclosures resumed.

The I-Team has learned "robo-signing" remains what some officials call an epidemic in Nevada. Robo-signing refers to a variety of practices. Among them: employees who sign foreclosure documents they haven't read, employees who use fake signatures to process documents, or employees who fail to follow notary rules.

It matters because the people foreclosing on homes swear to the accuracy of their actions without actually verifying them. Beyond being illegal, it can lead to wrongful foreclosures.

To trace the last five years of Tanya Butterfield's life, look no farther than the home she so desperately wants to save. It was purchased in 2006 for $315,000. Now, she is at a bankruptcy attorney's office.

"I didn't realize this was going to be so emotional. It's hard because it is our first home," homeowner Tanya Butterfield said.

When a casino cut her husband's hours and Tanya lost her job in 2009, the Butterfields could no longer afford their $2,800 a month mortgage payment. They gave the last of their savings to a man who promised them a loan modification but delivered even more hardship.

"By the time they got to me, they were on the eve of foreclosure," Butterfield attorney Tara Newberry said.

She worked to facilitate a short sale. While negotiating with two different lien holders --  Bank of America and Cenlar -- Newberry uncovered even more suspected fraud.

"You look at the document and they sign as an officer of MERS and you look at the next recording down and it's the same person signing as the vice president of Bank ABC and then the next document down, they're signing as the foreclosure trustee and it's like, wait a minute," Newberry said.

Read More About MERS 

On the same day, in records used to foreclose on the Butterfields, the name Angela Nava appears wearing two hats. On one document, she's the Assistant Secretary of MERS, the Mortgage Electronic Registration System. On another document, she's the Assistant Secretary for U.S. Bank.

"The question becomes: who is Angela Nava?," Newberry said. "Did she have the authority to make this assignment and on who's behalf is she acting?"

Newberry suspects Nava is a robo-signer, a mortgage servicing employee who signs off on thousands of foreclosures attesting to the accuracy of the documents without actually reviewing them.

Infamous robo-signer Linda Green, who appeared on 60 Minutes, fraudulently identified herself as vice president of more than 20 banks. Documents bearing Green's signature have surfaced in Nevada.

"We've seen sloppy paperwork to outright fraud," said John Kelleher, Chief Deputy Attorney General for Nevada.

Kelleher supervises the Attorney General's Mortgage Fraud Task Force and its active investigation into robo-signing.

"We've been finding so many fraudulently signed documents that I think it would be fair to say you could declare the county recorder's office a crime scene. It's that bad," Kelleher said.

To test Kelleher's claim, the I-Team did its own random search of foreclosure records filed beginning in October of last year. In just under a few minutes, notary B. Perez, licensed in California, stood out due to the variation in her signature.

Her employer - Quality Loan Service Corporation - in a written statement "adamantly asserts that the signatures on its documents were signed by the actual person whose name appears." In addition, Quality Loan Service Corporation offered to have Ms. Perez and the three individuals on the documents sign a declaration under penalty of perjury that the signatures on the documents are their own.

"You can see in this, the B and the P are not connected," said Brenda Anderson, forensic document examiner. "These are interpretations of what I believe to be four different people and their rendition of the signature of the notary."

Anderson believes the signature varies with the trustee. If she's right, each forgery recorded with the county is a crime, at least on paper, be it B. Perez, Linda Green, or Angela Nava.

In practice, however, families like the Butterfields are finding it isn't enough to save their homes.

"Even if they could raise these claims and offset some, they still aren't going to be able to afford the house and they can't sell it for what they owe," Newberry said.

Even with a buyer, the short sale fizzled when the lenders couldn't reach a deal. Now, bankruptcy is the Butterfields' last hope.

"It's very overwhelming," Butterfield said.

For Tanya, the loss is about much more than a house -- it's her first home and the only home her son has known.

Many of the attorneys 8 News NOW spoke to say, as far as help for homeowners, finding this type of fraud serves several purposes.

The first: know who you're dealing with whether it be for a loan modification, a short sale, or even a foreclosure. You could end up paying someone who doesn't hold your mortgage.

The second: these issues can help to leverage your lender into negotiating with you, especially if you participate in the foreclosure mediation program.

And finally: the Attorney General is investigating this activity and criminal charges might convince the servicers to clean up their act.

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