ALL BUSINESS: Tales of robo-signers hit YouTube

By Rachel Beck
AP Business Writer / November 12, 2010

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NEW YORK—It isn't just Justin Bieber videos or stunning plays in a middle-school football game that are getting attention on YouTube these days. Add to the list a former hotel maid explaining how she signs thousands of mortgage documents a year without a clue to what she's putting her name on.

"I don't usually read the docs when I sign," says Dhurata Doko, an employee of Nationwide Title Clearing, a mortgage services company.

"So it is not part of your job to review the document? Your job is just to sign it?" asks Florida foreclosure defense attorney Christopher Forrest during a videotaped deposition of Doko earlier this month.

"I just look for my name and then sign," she says.

Robo-signing mortgage document handlers have found their way to YouTube, giving a rare live view into the latest mess to rock the troubled housing industry.

The nation's foreclosure crisis took a turn six weeks ago when it became clear that banks and processing firms had employees sign court documents that had information that was unverified or even false. The reason -- or at least the reason lenders give for the sloppy work -- is that they are drowning in foreclosures.

Banks have seized more than 909,000 homes through the first 10 months of the year and are on pace to take back more than 1 million homes this year. Now, foreclosures are being challenged in court because of the allegations of fraudulent documents.

Lenders say that this mess has been overblown. Some paperwork might be flawed, the banks acknowledge, but delinquent borrowers still deserve to lose their homes. The depositions say otherwise.

Doko worked as a maid and assembled electronics before joining Nationwide Title Clearing six years ago. She is one of three NTC employees whose video depositions were posted on YouTube by Forrest as part of a foreclosure case he is handling in Florida.

She and her colleagues tell of signing thousands of mortgage documents a day. One worker estimates signing 5,000 documents a day on average, another says she signs her name every 2 seconds. They acknowledge their signatures differ on certain documents.

The videos show that employees didn't even know the most basic mortgage terminology. For instance, they don't know what an "assignment of mortgage" is, even though that is crucial in a foreclosure case because it establishes who the final holder of the loan is.

Doko says she only signs documents as a witness. She says she never signs under the title of vice president. Forrest then shows her a document with her name on it. "Beneath your name it says vice president?" Forrest asks.

"I don't pay attention to that," responds Doko, looking uncomfortable as she answers.

"But you do agree with me, beneath your name it says vice president ... and above your name it says Financial Freedom Senior Funding Corp. So when you sign this document, do you know whether you are signing as vice president of this company or as a witness?" asks Forrest.

"I just sign my name," Doko says.

Courts, state financial regulators and attorneys general nationwide are investigating whether lenders violated the law by submitting fraudulent documents, often prepared by robo-signers.

The fact that delinquent borrowers face foreclosure is not the issue, but whether the documents used to get them out of their homes are signed by compromised witnesses, says Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney in Miami and author of the book "Foreclosures in Florida."

"You still need truthful witnesses. Robo-signers aren't. They are impostors," Coffey says.

NTC said in a statement to The Associated Press that its employees had been deposed but criticized the placement of the depositions on the Internet.

"It is unethical to imply that long-standing industry practices, which have been found in court to be legal methods of preparing common mortgage related documents, are somehow harmful to consumers," NTC said.

The big mortgage lenders have been doing their own investigations regarding the entire foreclosure process. Some, including Bank of America and Ally Financial Inc.'s GMAC Mortgage, have started processing foreclosures again, after calling a temporary halt while they reviewed documents.

The courts will have the ultimate say over what happens next. If judges feel that borrowers have been wronged, they can halt the foreclosure process. An Ohio judge ruled on Tuesday that a state challenge to the validity of lender foreclosure documents will be heard in court early next year in Cleveland.

Attorney Craig Robins of Woodbury, N.Y., says he is already seeing some judges taking a stand.

"Many judges have seen so much sloppy and careless paperwork (from lenders) that they are saying 'enough is enough'," says Robins, a foreclosure defense attorney who writes the Long Island Bankruptcy Blog. "They won't rubber-stamp the foreclosure proceedings."

As the YouTube videos show, there already has been enough rubber-stamping.


Rachel Beck is the national business columnist for The Associated Press. Write to her at rbeck (at)