Article Courtesy of The Palm
By Kimberly Miller
June 9, 2015
The Nevada attorney general calls signing another
person's name on documents used to repossess a home "forgery" and a
Michigan's attorney general launched a criminal investigation that
includes whether "falsified signatures" were used in foreclosure cases.
Pam Bondi's office was cleared of wrongdoing for firing two lawyers.
But Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson were forced to resign their jobs
as foreclosure fraud investigators for the Florida Attorney General's
Office, in part, for referring to so-called "surrogate signing" as
According to a Florida Inspector General report that cleared Attorney
General Pam Bondi's office of wrongdoing in the firings, the duo
repeatedly used the word "forgery" in a 2010 presentation that included
documents from the Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services. The
company complained and drew the attention of economic crimes boss
Lawson says in the inspector general's Jan. 6 report that surrogate
signing as it relates to Lender Processing Services, also called LPS, is
not forgery, which requires an intent to defraud. The practice was
authorized by the company, more evidence, Lawson said, that no forgery
Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson, who led Florida’s foreclosure fraud
investigations, were routinely praised in performance reviews before
losing their jobs.
Homeowner advocates who support Edwards and Clarkson are now questioning
portions of the 83-page report. They point to the LPS signature issue as
an example of what they say is Florida's resistance to go after
Big paperwork processor
"Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson were fired for aggressively
investigating these practices," said Palm Beach County homeowner Lynn
Szymoniak, who is in foreclosure. " Are these practices really OK in the
opinion of the chief financial officer and the attorney general?"
LPS processes paperwork for more than 50 percent of the nation's
foreclosures, according to a December lawsuit filed by the Nevada
attorney general. The company has said it stopped surrogate signing
after its own investigation uncovered it at a now-closed subsidiary
company called DocX.
Still, tens of thousands of documents are affected nationwide and the
forgery debate contributes to the foreclosure logjam that has stalled
Florida's economic recovery.
While at least one Florida law professor agrees with Lawson, others
maintain the issue transcends surrogate signing. Most of the signed
foreclosure documents are also notarized, said Royal Palm Beach-based
foreclosure defense attorney Tom Ice, meaning someone is swearing that
the person signing is who they say they are.
"So, at the very least, surrogate signers are a species of notary fraud,
which the courts take very seriously," Ice said. "Why require
notarizations at all if we don't care who actually signs them?"
Edwards and Clarkson, who led Florida's foreclosure fraud
investigations, were routinely praised in performance reviews by their
direct supervisor, Robert Julian, and lauded for netting a $2 million
foreclosure-related settlement from the Law Offices of Marshall C.
But the inspector general report details complaints about the duo's work
made by Lawson, some of their colleagues, and LPS.
Those complaints include disorganized paperwork, the lack of independent
investigation, relying too heavily on two Palm Beach County homeowner
advocates for evidence (including Szymoniak), being unprofessional, and
using incorrect legal theory.
Their work was so slipshod, Lawson said, that the investigations didn't
truly begin until after Edwards and Clarkson left and the files were
A major issue raised was a December 2010 PowerPoint presentation Edwards
and Clarkson gave at a conference of the Florida Association of Court
Clerks and Comptrollers.
The presentation includes several references to LPS and "forgeries."
LPS attorney Joan Meyer wrote a letter to Edwards and Clarkson on Jan.
6, 2011, criticizing the PowerPoint, which she said mischaracterized
"delegated signing authority" as forgery.
Lawson supports that stance, adding that Meyer gave the information to
Edwards and Clarkson prior to the presentation.
Edwards maintains surrogate signing is forgery. If there was no intent
to injure or defraud, why wouldn't the person just sign their own name,
"Clearly, it was done to mislead the reader of the document," Edwards
said. "It is unbelievable the manner in which these entities believe
they can flaunt the requirements for the proper execution of legal
In Nevada's lawsuit, the attorney general said LPS' forged documents,
often signed by temporary workers with no training and, in at least one
case, limited English skills, caused "grievous harm" to homeowners.
Professor backs state
One confidential witness told the Nevada attorney general that she may
have notarized documents that she had actually signed because "she was
signing her own name as a notary, but forging someone else's name as a
LPS says on its website that the Nevada suit was filed to sensationalize
"false allegations in a misleading manner."
"Because the surrogate signers were signing the documents as part of
their jobs, and presumably believed that they had the authority to sign,
they could not have committed fraud," said Nova Southeastern Law
professor Robert Jarvis. "Moreover, in most loan documents, the borrower
expressly agrees that the bank, or the bank's representatives, can take
all steps necessary to protect its interest. This would include signing
Bondi foes complain LPS has an undue influence on her office, pointing
to LPS' hiring last year of former Deputy Attorney General Joe Jacquot
and campaign donations from LPS to Bondi and the Republican Party.
In a July 14 email, Meyer asked Florida Chief Assistant Attorney General
of Economic Crimes Victoria Butler, to "please encourage" Michigan to
consider a civil pursuit rather than criminal investigation.
"The only discussion we had with Michigan was in regards to their
attendance at an informational meeting with LPS," said Bondi spokeswoman
Jennifer Meale. "They chose not to attend the meeting."
Lawson said in the report it's "laughable" to insinuate his office was
"cutting LPS some favors" because he assigned Julian, an experienced
attorney and the former supervisor of Edwards and Clarkson, to the LPS
"And this is one of the biggest issues in my division," Lawson said in
the report and referring to LPS, "and it's one of the biggest issues in
the State of Florida."
Generally referred to as a bank employee who signs thousands of
foreclosure documents regularly, swearing to the veracity of the
information contained in them, but in reality does not have personal
knowledge of the case.
Someone who signs another person’s name on documents after receiving
permission to do so. Some attorneys say this practice is forgery and can
also lead to notary fraud.