After the forensic audit was completed, Register O’Brien proclaimed: :My registry is a crime scene as evidenced by this forensic examination. The Audit makes the finding that this was not only a MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) problem, but a scheme also perpetuated by MERS shareholder banks such Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan and others. I am stunned and appalled by the fact that America’s biggest banks have played fast and loose with people’s biggest asset – their homes. This is disgusting, and this is criminal. This evidence has made it clear to me that the only way we can ever determine the total economic loss and the amount of damage done to the taxpayers is by conducting a full forensic audit of all registry of deeds in Massachusetts. I suspect that at the end of the day we are going to find that the taxpayers have been bilked in this state alone of over $400 million not including the accrued interest plus costs and penalties.”
With 40,000 Home Foreclosures, Massachusetts Official Declares Foreclosure Crisis Is “Still A Crime Scene”
The foundation of America is being eroded every day, as people keep losing their homes through fraudulent foreclosures with no one to turn to for help. Seven years since the housing crisis began, we should stop, think about the facts and ask: How with a clear conscience can we let this continue?
Massachusetts has a special place in American history. The state was home to those who realized they couldn’t, and wouldn’t, take any more injustice – and that they were the ones responsible for making change. One of the new popular heroes from Massachusetts is the Southern Essex County Register of Deeds, John O’Brien. O’Brien was the first government official in the country to stand up and speak out about illegal foreclosures. Until today, he hasn’t given up on his mission to uncover and prosecute the bankers and their accomplices whose fraud brought the country to the edge of an economic and moral collapse.
I remember, at first, how as a taxpayer and someone who believed in our justice system, I was extremely upset that there weren’t more elected officials willing to do their jobs and defend not only homeowners, but Americans’ basic property rights as well. Register O’Brien was among the few nationwide who was unafraid to do what was right – and who courageously continues to fight for homeowners against unscrupulous and corrupt banks.
In 2010, after a homeowner tipped off O’Brien’s office about on-going irregularities and fraudulent recordings by the banks in his registry, O’Brien decided to conduct an audit of all mortgage assignments. He probably never suspected that audit findings would bring out so much irregularity in his own registry, where he has been serving since 1978. After the forensic audit was completed, Register O’Brien proclaimed:
“My registry is a crime scene as evidenced by this forensic examination. The Audit makes the finding that this was not only a MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) problem, but a scheme also perpetuated by MERS shareholder banks such Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan and others. I am stunned and appalled by the fact that America’s biggest banks have played fast and loose with people’s biggest asset – their homes. This is disgusting, and this is criminal.
“This evidence has made it clear to me that the only way we can ever determine the total economic loss and the amount of damage done to the taxpayers is by conducting a full forensic audit of all registry of deeds in Massachusetts. I suspect that at the end of the day we are going to find that the taxpayers have been bilked in this state alone of over $400 million not including the accrued interest plus costs and penalties.“
In the audit, 16% of the assignments were valid, 75% were invalid, and 9% were deemed questionable. Only in 60% of the mortgages could the accurate owner be determined.
O’Brien suspects his county lost as much as $22 million in revenue since 1998, though the number is probably much higher. He also has a message for those who are trying to play the blame game between America’s two leading political parties:
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” he says, “it is an American issue, one that strikes at the very backbone of our country – people’s property rights. To make deals and turn a blind eye to fraud is awful.”
After I met with Register O’Brien, he agreed to attend the backyard meeting for homeowners that I organized in 2012. He showed up while the temperature was reaching close to 100 degrees that day. He did his wonderful presentation, the same one that he presented to the country’s registers of deeds during their annual conference.
Since the start, O’Brien was diligent in his work and eager to share his findings with those who have more authority to stop and prosecute foreclosure fraud. O’Brien also sent his findings to the Mortgage Task Force and informed its leadership about the enormous fraud occurring in his registry of deeds, perpetrated by the banks and law firm representing them. I asked him how he feels today about the lack of response and action on their part.
“I am disappointed, I think they had the opportunity to make real change, but sadly they choose another road,” he replied.
O’Brien has printed all fraudulent, robo-signed documents that were recorded at his office; as of today, there are more than 40,000 of those documents sitting on his office desk. When I asked him how he feels about facing this kind of fraud every day, and how these recordings can impact the future of his registry, O’Brien replied:
“I am disgusted. Every day I come in and I look at the over 40,000 fraud documents that have corrupted homeowners’ chains of title. I truly believe that we need a full forensic audit to show the extent of the fraud that has been committed by these Wall Street banks.
“I also believe that the audit should take place in the Salem Registry, as it was my office that exposed this fraud nationally,” he continued. “I suspect the results of the audit to be far worse than anyone could have imagined, and that is why my requests for funding have fallen on deaf ears. Let us not forget that the pennies on the dollar settlement which the Attorneys General entered into with these banks was nothing more than a slap on the wrist. I compare it to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where Texaco would be fined but not required to clean up the mess.”
Register O’Brien had his suspicions about the National Mortgage Settlement – the settlement between 49 state attorneys general, the federal government and the five largest mortgage servicers – since the signing of the agreement in February of 2012. Here is what he said when settlement was signed:
“Sadly, the banks have won again. I am convinced, however that many parts of this AGs’ settlement will prove to be the biggest sellout this country has ever seen. I am continuing to do what I have been doing. I have a duty to my constituents and I intend to make sure that I do everything I can to stop fraud from being recorded and expose anyone who is part of this scheme.
“The Registers who are refusing to follow my steps should go back and read the oath of office that they took and stand up and be counted,” he added. “They should meet with people who have been victimized by this fraud, and then they may understand why they were elected and maybe then they would join with us and say enough is enough.”
He also wrote a letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley before she signed the settlement. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
“I implore you not to agree to any settlement that would give criminal immunity to MERS and its member-banks. A settlement that includes this feature will not help the homeowners of MA and will permanently damage chains-of-title and property rights forever, with no hope of resolving the permanent damage that these institutions have caused to titles across the state.”
Even foreign journalists heard about this Massachusetts county’s register of deeds, and about the man who was fighting not only the giants that perpetrated the enormous fraud, but those who were trying to sweep the fraud under a rug. A German journalist who interviewed O’Brien implicated to him that these type of illegalities could never happen in Germany – then asked if it was possible Deutsche Bank was also involved in the fraud. O’Brien, with his usual smile, answered:
“Of course, come here, there is something on this chair I would like to show you! And here it is – a pile of Deutsche Bank’s robo-signers!”
I wanted to know O’Brien’s opinion about what we, the general public, can do to shed more light on the crimes and demand action and accountability from those in charge of overseeing financial institutions. Register O’Brien’s answer was that we must constantly write and keep reaching out to elected officials. Here is his message to the country’s registers of deeds/recorders:
“Please stand up and do the right thing. Don’t turn a blind eye to fraud. People elected us to insure the integrity and accuracy of the land recordation system. That is our job. We took an oath to uphold the laws and the Constitution of this great country. By allowing these banks to record whatever they want, any register/recorder who allows this to happen, knowing what we now know, is making a huge mistake.
“If I receive a document with a surrogate signer, I record it, [and] place a marginal reference on it to let the world know that I have sent the document to our Attorney General as I believe it violates the Massachusetts law pertaining to mortgage fraud. I have done this hundreds of times. I would be more than happy to show anyone how to do this.”
When we are constantly exposed to stories about foreclosure fraud, and to our government’s ignorance in addressing and criminally prosecuting those involved, we must ask ourselves, Where is the way out? Where to go from here when all around us are very high walls protecting the fraudsters? When and how can we, as a nation, recover from this?
Here is what Register O’Brien said about that:
“Only when we admit that this was the biggest scandal to ever hit the land recordation system in this country. Those who are responsible for this should be held accountable. Audits should be conducted and peoples’ property rights and chains of title restored to what they were prior to this national nightmare.
“Let us not forget that the Salem Registry of Deeds houses the oldest land records in this country dating back to the original Indian Deeds and sadly, because of what these financial institutions have done, I can no longer attest for their integrity or accuracy of those records.”