Foreclosure Settlement Worth $18 Million to Gardens Woman

Posted by revolt | Foreclosure Settlement Worth $18 Million to Gardens Woman | Friday 16 March 2012 7:23 am

Foreclosure Settlement Worth $18 Million to Gardens Woman

By: Kimberly Miller The Palm Beach Post, Fla. (MCT)) — PALM BEACH GARDENS —

Tucked into the landmark $25 billion national foreclosure settlement filed this week in federal court is an $18 million payday for Palm Beach Gardens home­owner Lynn Szymoniak.

The 63-year-old attorney specializes in white collar crime cases and was featured last year on the CBS news show 60 Minutes for her role in uncovering mortgage and foreclosure fraud. She has fought the banks since her own foreclosure saga began in 2008.

On Tuesday, she said the settlement is the culmination of years of work combing through foreclosure documents to piece together how the banks took illegal shortcuts to repossess people’s homes.

“The $18 million is real, but it seems so surreal,” Szymoniak said. “I’ve worked very, very hard for this.”

Her award is included in a $95 million agreement reached among the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina and Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.

The agreement is part of an overall federal recovery written into the $25 billion nationwide settlement between five banks and 49 state attorneys general. The settlement also includes Ally Financial.

“It’s definitely been worth the fight,” said Szymoniak, whose Palm Beach Gardens home went into foreclosure after a dispute over her adjustable rate mortgage. “I don’t understand how if you see something like this happening that you wouldn’t fight to make it right.”

Szymoniak filed her lawsuit as a whistle-blower under the federal False Claims Act, which allows the government to bring civil actions against entities that knowingly use or cause the use of false documents to obtain money from the government. The whistle-blower provision allows for the filer to receive between 15 percent and 30 percent of the proceeds won by the government.

The lawsuit alleged that banks undertook a nationwide practice of failing to obtain required mortgage assignments, resulting in servicing misconduct and the use of false assignments to submit federal housing administration mortgage insurance claims.

A mortgage assignment is a document used to attest to the true owner of a mortgage, which proves that a bank has the right to foreclose on a home.

Mortgage assignments became necessary following the real estate sales run-up and the banking industry’s creation of the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, which muddied the chain of ownership. MERS is used to internally track the transfer, sale or securitization of loans instead of each move being recorded in the public record. With MERS, banks also avoid paying recording fees.

When a bank forecloses on a home, it may need a mortgage assignment from MERS or another lender to prove ownership.

In the rush to foreclose on homes, banks, and some law firms, took shortcuts that led to robo-signed assignments.

Szymoniak identified one of the most prolific robo-signers, a woman named Linda Green, who once worked for a subsidiary of the Jacksonville-based company Lender Processing Services.

“By this agreement we are making an important first step to hold mortgage servicers accountable for fraudulent and abusive practices not only in South Carolina but nationwide,” said Bill Nettles, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina.

Szymoniak, who is limited in what she can reveal because of continued litigation, said she plans to pay off her mortgage with her settlement money and donate to charities.

Nettles said Szymoniak was working with several attorneys who filed the case in South Carolina because the state has made a commitment to pursue these kinds of lawsuits. Because the practice was happening nationally, it could have been filed in any state, he said.

“We are able to move them through a little faster than bigger districts,” said Fran Trapp, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina.

St. Petersburg foreclosure defense attorney Matt Weidner said he doesn’t believe Szymoniak would have received the support to pursue the case in Florida.

“Our state leadership has made it absolutely apparent they have no interest in going after the banks at all,” he said. “To an unfortunate degree, the courts have also allowed the banks to run roughshod over consumers.”

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