The "king" of Florida foreclosures is under investigation. The firm of millionaire foreclosure attorney David J. Stern is under scrutiny after an affidavit was given by a former paralegal to the office of the Florida Attorney General. Included in the statements by former Stern employee Tammie Lou Kapusta were allegations that the firm often signed court paperwork without reading it, misdated records, forged signatures and passed around notary stamps to those who were not notaries, in their hurry to foreclose on homes.
It is not just the practices of David Stern and his employees who are under increasing scrutiny, but the whole mortgage-servicing industry. ABC reports that 40 state attorneys general are expected to announce an investigation into the industry. In Florida, one of the states hit hardest by the real estate crisis, the investigation of Stern's firm is emblematic of the issues throughout the industry.
According to ABC, the number of Florida foreclosures leads the nation with more than 400,000 filings in 2010.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is investigating three foreclosure firms for filing improper court documents. Stern's is the largest of the three, having filed 70,382 foreclosure cases last year. The statements given by Kapusta to the AG's office include allegations that signatures on notarized documents were regularly forged and legal papers were out-sourced to Guam and the Philippines. ABC reports Kapusta says she was fired from the firm after she refused to falsify documents.
Stern's attorney depicts Kapusta's allegations as the claims of a disgruntled former employee. "You can see she has a real vindictiveness against the firm," Jeffrey Tew told ABC. "From David Stern's perspective, he's a lawyer given defaulted mortgages to foreclose in a court proceeding," Tew said. "So it's really wrong to vilify him ..."
Recently, major lenders such as GMAC, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have discontinued or slowed foreclosures after bank employees and affiliates admitted to signing thousands of documents without knowing the details of the cases.
Stern has made a fortune in his practice. ABC reports he has purchased $60 million in real estate in recent years, mostly in Florida, per state records. Reports say Stern wanted to name his yacht the "Su Casa Es Mi Casa" (Your House is My House). He later denied considering the name and settled for "Misunderstood" instead.
- Challenges mount at foreclosure law firm (Miami Herald)
- What is Foreclosure? (FindLaw)
- How to Avoid Foreclosure (FindLaw)
- Wrongful Foreclosure: Don't Let this Happen to You (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)