By MICHELLE CONLIN – Feb 6, 2011 7:29 PM ET
By The Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — During the housing crash, it was good to be a foreclosure king. David Stern was Florida’s top foreclosure lawyer, and he lived like an oil sheik. He piled up a collection of trophy properties, glided through town in a fleet of six-figure sports cars and, with his bombshell wife, partied on an ocean cruiser the size of a small hotel.
When homeowners fell behind on their mortgages, the banks flocked to “foreclosure mills” like Stern’s to push foreclosures through the courts on their behalf. To his megabank clients — Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, GMAC, Citibank and Wells Fargo — Stern was the ultimate Repo Man.
At industry gatherings, Stern bragged in his boyish voice of taking mortgages from the “cradle to the grave.” Of the federal government’s disastrous homeowner relief plan, which was supposed to keep people from getting evicted, he quipped: “Fortunately, it’s failing.”
The worse things got for homeowners, the better they got for Stern.
That is, until last fall, when the nation’s foreclosure machine blew apart and Stern’s gilded world came undone. Within a few months, Stern went from being the subject of a gushing magazine profile to being the subject of a Florida investigation, class-action lawsuits and blogger Schadenfreude that, at last long, the “foreclosure king” was dead.
“What Stern represents is an industry that was completely unrestrained, unchecked, unpunished and unsupervised,” says Florida defense attorney Matt Weidner. “This was business gone wild.”
The rise and fall of Stern, now 50, provides an inside look at how the foreclosure industry worked in the last decade — and how it fell apart. It also shows how banks, together with their law firms, built a quick-and-dirty foreclosure machine that was designed to take as many houses as fast as possible.