County Recorder First in Nation to Step Forward and Reject Robo-Signed Documents
By Daniel Edstrom
DTC Systems, Inc.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
June 7th, 2011
Kevin Harvey, 1st Assistant Register
Jeff Thigpen, Register of Deeds
Massachusetts Register of Deeds John O’Brien is first in the nation to say no to recording robo-signed documents; North Carolina Register of Deeds, Jeff Thigpen agrees.
Saying “the buck stops here” Massachusetts Southern Essex District Register of Deeds, John O’Brien today rejected 2 robo-signed documents submitted to his Registry for recording and plans to continue doing so. “My Registry will not be a knowing participant in this fraud against homeowners. From today forward, lenders be on notice, the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds will not record robo-signed documents.” The rejected documents contain the signatures of three known robo-signers, Linda Green, Korell Harp and Linda Burton. According to O’Brien, in his Registry he has 22 different variations of Linda Green’s signature and 5 different variations between Korell Harp and Linda Burton. “I find this practice very troubling on many levels. It has completely jaded my understanding that a notarized document was something that could be relied upon.” stated O’Brien. In Massachusetts, notaries must take an oath of office, under the pains and penalties of perjury. “If these documents are signed by anyone other than the noted signatories, these notaries and those that employed them should be held accountable for the fraudulent documents that they have produced and the havoc they have caused to chains of title everywhere.”
O’Brien says that he will record the documents, at such time as the law firm and/or the lender presenting the documents for recording, sign a notarized affidavit, under the pains and penalties of perjury, that they certify the authenticity of the signatures, including the notary’s on the recording. O’Brien’s cover letter and requested affidavit call attention to the Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 266, Section 35A, which makes it illegal to record a document that contains false information with a registrar of deeds. The affidavit that O’Brien is asking for, states that the signatory of the affidavit accept full responsibility, should any of the statements be incorrect which could corrupt or cloud the homeowner’s chain of title.
Register O’Brien is completing an internal investigation into robo-signed documents and expects to release a full report on the number of robo-signed documents recorded in his office shortly. In May, Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen in Greensboro, NC sent state and federal regulators over 4,500 robo-signed documents submitted by DocX. DocX is owned by Lender Processing Services which is used by Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and MERS amongst others. Those documents included 1,947 signed by Linda Green with 15 different signature variations and 373 documents signed by Korell Harp with 4 signature variations. Thigpen joins O’Brien’s effort saying “The basic question here is whether we as Recorders are going to sit on our hands, in the face of what appears to be clear fraud or are we going to stand up for 400 years of integrity in land records? John is on the right side of this question and these are reasonable actions that he is taking.”
Register O’Brien said, “Knowing what I now know, it would be a dereliction of my duties as the keeper of the records to record these documents and any other documents that contain questionable signatures. To do so, would make me a willing participant in a continuing scheme which has corrupted the chain of title of thousands of Essex County property owners. I have decided to put a stop to this reckless behavior and hold these lenders and their agents accountable for the authenticity of what they are attempting to record in my Registry. I do not believe this to be unreasonable.”
O’Brien understands that this may be the first time that a Register of Deeds has refused to record a robo-signed document. However, he feels that someone must be accountable to the homeowners, especially the ones being foreclosed upon. He feels that if the lenders are not paying attention to preparing correct documents, then the individual notaries that are acknowledging these signatures must be aware that what they were doing was wrong and has consequences. “Now that Register Thigpen has joined with me, I am hopeful that my other colleagues around the country will also take the same action. I strongly believe that this will send a message, loud and clear, that we as Registers and Recorders of Deeds, whose responsibility it is to protect the integrity of the land recordation system, will not be a party to any fraudulent scheme that may damage individual’s property rights” said O’Brien.
April 7, 2011
Jeff Thigpen, Guilford County Register of Deeds
REGISTER OF DEEDS JEFF THIGPEN (NC) AND JOHN O’BRIEN (MA) ASK 50 STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL FORECLOSURE WORK GROUP TO REQUIRE ALL PAST AND PRESENT MERS ASSIGNMENTS TO BE FILED!
JOHN L. O’BRIEN, JR. JEFF L. THIGPEN
Register of Deeds Register of Deeds
April 6, 2011
The Honorable Tom Miller
Iowa Attorney General
1305 E. Walnut Street
Des Moines IA 50319
Dear Attorney General Miller,
We appreciate your leadership in the mortgage foreclosure working group, as part of a coordinated national effort by states, to review the practice of “robo-signing” within the mortgage servicing industry. We understand this investigation is nearing conclusion, but we want to implore you to act on a very important issue to homeowners across the country.
As County Land Record Recorders in Massachusetts and North Carolina, we have been gravely concerned about the role of the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) in not only foreclosure proceedings, but as it undermines the legislative intent of our offices as stewards of land records. MERS tracks more than 60 million mortgages across the United States and we believe it has assumed a role that has put constructive notice and the property rights system at risk. We believe MERS undermines the historic purpose of land record recording offices and the “chain of title” that assures ownership rights in land records.
As a result, we are asking as part of your probe, that this task force and the National Association of Attorney Generals require that all past and present MERS assignments of deeds of trust/mortgages be filed in local recording offices throughout the United States immediately. Assignments are required by statute to be filed in Massachusetts, however they are not currently required to be recorded in North Carolina. We feel, that it is important that the Registers of Deeds should have representatives at the table before any settlement is discussed or agreed to as it relates to MERS failure to record assignments and pay the proper fees.
This action would serve three specific purposes. First, the filing of all assignments would help recover the chain of title that determines property ownership rights that has been lost and clouded over during the past 13 years because of the scheme that MERS has set in place. Second, transparency and confidence in ownership rights would be restored and this would prevent the infringement upon those rights by others. Third, this action would support a return to sound fundamentals in our economy between the financial services industry and public recording offices.
MERS has defended their practices by saying that they were helping the registries of deeds by reducing the amount of paperwork that needed to be recorded. This claim is outrageous. This is help we did not ask for, nor was it help that we needed. It is very clear that the only ones that they were helping were themselves. Over the past 10-12 years, recording offices across the United States have upgraded their internal and external technology to meet the demands of lenders, title underwriters, title searchers and citizens. In fact, in 1998 the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds in Massachusetts became the first registry of deeds to provide both document images and indices available to the public, 24 hours a day, free of charge on the world-wide-web. In doing so, the Registry received a Computerworld Smithsonian Award which recognized the innovative use of technology to benefit society. In 2009, the Guilford County Register of Deeds was given a Local Government Federal Credit Union Productivity Award by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners for their technological innovations. Nationally, over 93% of the public land records are up to date and current, according to Ernest Publishing.
As of today, there are over 600 recording jurisdictions, covering 43% of the US population that have incorporated an eRecording model into their document recording operations. We believe these jurisdictions cover nearly 80% of the volume of assignments that should be recorded. The remaining areas could be covered quickly, with legislation requiring such action by state legislatures.
Quite frankly, we believe this can and should be done. It’s the right thing to do.
In the coming weeks, we will be working with our national organizations, the National Association of County Recorders, Election Officials and Clerks (NACRC) and the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials, and Treasurers (IACREOT) to take the same position. We are also sending a copy of this letter to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL) and the National Association of Counties (NACO).
Thank you for your immediate attention.
Guilford County Register of Deeds, NC
Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds, MA
SOURCE: Jeff Thigpen