Fraudulent Signatures | FORECLOSURE FRAUD | by DinSFLA

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After The Storm – Foreclosure Fraud & Robo-Signing Continues by Nye Lavalle

After The Storm – Foreclosure Fraud & Robo-Signing Continues by Nye Lavalle


Foreclosure
Fraud
&
Robo-­Signing
Continues…

A Year Ago, A Storm of Allegations And Reports Highlighting Robo-­Signing And Foreclosure Fraud Swept Across America Causing Major Banks To Halt Foreclosures Nationwide While Congressional, State, And Federal Investigations Were Launched. A Year Later, While Investigations Are Still Ongoing, Regulators Have Failed To Correct The Underlying Issues Behind Foreclosure Fraud And Robo-­Signing. The Overwhelming Evidence Presented In This Paper Is That Not Only Were American Homeowners And Borrowers Defrauded In The World’s Greatest Financial Scam, But American’s Wealth And Security Were Placed At Risk. To Date, There Has Been Only One Criminal Conviction Of An Executive Of A Major Mortgage Company And Other Criminal Convictions Have Been Halted. Still, As Shown In This Paper, Foreclosure Fraud And Robo-­Signing Continue While Some Courts Address The Issue And Others Ignore The Ramifications Of This Massive Fraud. What Is Now Known Is That These Scams Were Not Unique, But Industry-­Wide. The Mortgage-­Backed Securities Turned Out To Be Non-­Mortgage & Note Backed Empty Trusts. To Conceal This Massive Ponzi Scheme Perpetuated Against Americans, The Nation’s Mortgage Industry Continues To Manufacture, Fabricate, & Destroy Evidence, Despite The Inherent Risks And Ramifications Since Over 90% of Borrowers Don’t Challenge Their Foreclosures.

[ipaper docId=62650988 access_key=key-xyy1xa7r8lfgy2qi6jj height=600 width=600 /]

[image: flicker]

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Judge Calls Shapiro & Burson Law Firm, Notaries To Explain Signatures on Foreclosure Documents

Judge Calls Shapiro & Burson Law Firm, Notaries To Explain Signatures on Foreclosure Documents


You might recall this law firm who is accused of forging 1,000+ deeds, and most recently Freddie Mac instructed its mortgage servicers to stop referring foreclosure cases to them.

From The Baltimore Sun-

A Baltimore judge summoned attorneys from a large foreclosure law firm Monday to explain whether signatures on key documents were genuine, part of the fallout from revelations last year that foreclosures nationwide were being processed based on deficient — or fraudulent — paperwork.


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SHAPIRO & BURSON Under Investigation For Fraudulent Signatures, FREDDIE MAC Drops Them

SHAPIRO & BURSON Under Investigation For Fraudulent Signatures, FREDDIE MAC Drops Them


From the Baltimore Sun [link]

Freddie Mac has instructed its mortgage servicers to stop referring foreclosure cases to Shapiro & Burson, the Virginia law firm accused of improper handling of more than 1,000 deeds for Maryland homes in foreclosure, the mortgage giant reported this week.

Prosecutors in Prince George’s County began investigating the firm in March after a paralegal formerly employed there filed a complaint alleging that deeds and foreclosure paperwork contained fraudulent signatures.

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Battle of The Unauthorized Fraudulent Signature: DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TRUST COMPANY v. JP MORGAN, Ga: Court of Appeals 2010

Battle of The Unauthorized Fraudulent Signature: DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TRUST COMPANY v. JP MORGAN, Ga: Court of Appeals 2010


DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TRUST COMPANY,
v.
JP MORGAN CHASE BANK, N. A.

A10A1509.

Court of Appeals of Georgia.

Decided: November 19, 2010.

BARNES, Presiding Judge.

JP Morgan Chase Bank, N. A. commenced this action against Deutsche Bank National Trust Company f/k/a Banker’s Trust Company after the two banks conducted competing foreclosure sales of certain real property in DeKalb County. JP Morgan’s claim of title to the property was predicated on a 2004 security deed, while Deutsche Bank’s claim of title was predicated on a 2001 security deed. The case turned on the legal effect of a notarized warranty deed recorded in 2003 and on whether JP Morgan was a bona fide purchaser for value based upon the warranty deed. The trial court granted summary judgment to JP Morgan, concluding that JP Morgan’s interest in the property was superior to and not subject to any interest held by Deutsche Bank. We conclude that the uncontroverted evidence shows that the 2003 warranty deed was not a forgery, but was signed by someone fraudulently assuming authority, and that JP Morgan was a bona fide purchaser for value entitled to take the property free of any outstanding security interest held by Deutsche Bank. Thus, we affirm.

To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the undisputed facts, viewed in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, warrant judgment as a matter of law. Our review of a grant of summary judgment is de novo, and we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Consumer Solutions Fin. Svc. v. Heritage Bank, 300 Ga. App. 272 (684 SE2d 682) (2009). See OCGA § 9-11-56 (c); Lau’s Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491 (405 SE2d 474) (1991). Guided by these principles, we turn to the record in the present case.

This case involves a dispute over the tract of real property located at 275 Haas Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30316 in DeKalb County (the “Property”). The Property was conveyed to Rebecca Diaz by warranty deed recorded in September 2001. On the same date, Diaz executed and recorded a security deed encumbering the Property in favor of People’s Choice Home Loan, Inc. (the “2001 Security Deed”). IndyMac Bank, F. S. B. acquired the 2001 Security Deed by assignment.

In July 2003, a notarized warranty deed from “Indy Mac Bank, F. S. B.” to Diaz was recorded which purported to reconvey the Property to Diaz in fee simple (the “Warranty Deed”). The Warranty Deed was executed by an individual named Pamela Whales, who identified herself as an Assistant Vice President of IndyMac. The Warranty Deed was attested by two witnesses, one of whom was a notary public.

The Property subsequently was deeded to various parties but ultimately to an owner who, in April 2004, executed and recorded a security deed encumbering the Property in favor of OneWorld Mortgage Corporation (the “2004 Security Deed”). Washington Mutual Bank F. A. acquired the 2004 Security Deed by assignment.

In June 2004, IndyMac assigned the 2001 Security Deed to Deutsche Bank. That same month, Deutsche Bank foreclosed upon the Property pursuant to the power of sale provision contained in the 2001 Security Deed. Deutsche Bank was the highest bidder at the foreclosure sale.

In December 2005, Washington Mutual also foreclosed upon the Property pursuant to the power of sale provision contained in the 2004 Security Deed. Washington Mutual was the highest bidder at the foreclosure sale. Thereafter, Washington Mutual was closed by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, and JP Morgan succeeded to Washington Mutual’s interest in the Property under the terms of a purchase and assumption agreement.

Following the competing foreclosure sales, JP Morgan brought this action against Deutsche Bank for declaratory relief and attorney fees, alleging that its interest in the Property was superior to and not subject to any interest held by Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank answered and counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment that its interest in the Property was superior to and not subject to any interest held by JP Morgan.

The parties cross-moved for summary judgment on their declaratory judgment claims. JP Morgan argued that the 2001 Security Deed upon which Deutsche Bank predicated its interest in the Property had been canceled by the Warranty Deed as a matter of law. Alternatively, JP Morgan argued that the uncontroverted evidence showed that it qualified as a bona fide purchaser for value such that it was protected against any outstanding security interest in the Property held by Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank strongly disputed these arguments, contending that the Warranty Deed was facially irregular, had been forged, and failed to satisfy the statutory requirements for cancellation of a security deed. The trial court granted summary judgment to JP Morgan and denied it to Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank now appeals the trial court’s grant of JP Morgan’s motion for summary judgment.[1]

1. We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of JP Morgan because the uncontroverted evidence shows that JP Morgan was afforded the protection of a bona fide purchaser for value, not subject to any outstanding security interest in the Property held by Deutsche Bank.

“To qualify as a bona fide purchaser for value without notice, a party must have neither actual nor constructive notice of the matter at issue.” (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Rolan v. Glass, 305 Ga. App. 217, 218 (1) (699 SE2d 428) (2010). “Notice sufficient to excite attention and put a party on inquiry shall be notice of everything to which it is afterwards found that such inquiry might have led.” (Citation and footnote omitted.) Whiten v. Murray, 267 Ga. App. 417, 421 (2) (599 SE2d 346) (2004). “A purchaser of land is charged with constructive notice of the contents of a recorded instrument within its chain of title.” (Citation and footnote omitted.) VATACS Group v. HomeSide Lending, (2005). Furthermore, the grantee of a security interest in land and subsequent purchasers are entitled to rely upon a warranty deed that is regular on its face and duly recorded in ascertaining the chain of title. See Mabra v. Deutsche Bank & Trust Co. Americas, 277 Ga. App. 764, 767 (2) (627 SE2d 849) (2006), overruled in part on other grounds by Brock v. Yale Mtg. Corp., ___ Ga. ___ (2) (Case No. S10A0950, decided Oct. 4, 2010). 276 Ga. App. 386, 391 (2) (623 SE2d 534)

On motion for summary judgment, JP Morgan argued that it was entitled to protection as a good faith purchaser because the notarized, recorded Warranty Deed purported to transfer the Property back to Diaz, thereby extinguishing the 2001 Security Deed, and there was no reason to suspect a defect in the Warranty Deed calling into question the chain of title. In contrast, Deutsche Bank argued that JP Morgan was not entitled to such protection because the Warranty Deed was facially irregular in that it misidentified the grantor and failed to comply with OCGA § 14-5-7 (b).

We agree with JP Morgan and reject the arguments raised by Deutsche Bank. The Warranty Deed was regular on its face and duly recorded. See OCGA § 44-5-30 (“A deed to lands must be in writing, signed by the maker, and attested by at least two witnesses.”). See also OCGA § 44-2-21 (a) (4), (b) (one of two required attesting witnesses may be a notary public). Also, the Warranty Deed on its face was executed in a manner that conformed with OCGA § 14-5-7 (b), which provides:

Instruments executed by a corporation releasing a security agreement, when signed by one officer of the corporation or by an individual designated by the officers of the corporation by proper resolution, without the necessity of the corporation’s seal being attached, shall be conclusive evidence that said officer signing is duly authorized to execute and deliver the same.

The Warranty Deed appeared to be executed by an assistant vice president of IndyMac, and thus by an “officer of the corporation.” Moreover, the only interest that IndyMac held in the Property prior to execution of the Warranty Deed was its security interest arising from the 2001 Security Deed, and reconveyance of the Property by way of a warranty deed was a proper way to release that security interest. See Clements v. Weaver, 301 Ga. App. 430, 434 (2) (687 SE2d 602) (2009) (grantor of quitclaim deed estopped from asserting any interest in property conveyed); Southeast Timberlands v. Haiseal Timber, 224 Ga. App. 98, 102 (479 SE2d 443) (1996) (physical precedently only). The Warranty Deed, therefore, facially complied with OCGA § 14-5-7 (b) and would appear to anyone searching the county records to serve as “conclusive evidence” that execution of the deed had been authorized by IndyMac.

(a) In opposing summary judgment, Deutsche Bank argued that the Warranty Deed was facially irregular because it improperly identified the grantor as “Indy Mac Bank, F. S. B.” rather than “IndyMac Bank, F. S. B.” But “a mere misnomer of a corporation in a written instrument . . . is not material or vital in its consequences, if the identity of the corporation intended is clear or can be ascertained by proof.” (Citation, punctuation, and emphasis omitted.) Hawkins v. Turner, 166 Ga. App. 50, 51-52 (1) (303 SE2d 164) (1983). It cannot be said that the mere placement of an additional space in the corporate name (i.e., “Indy Mac” versus “IndyMac”) made the identity of the corporation unclear. As such, the misnomer did not render the Warranty Deed irregular on its face.

(b) Deutsche Bank also argued that the Warranty Deed failed to comply with OCGA § 14-5-7 (b) because the phrase “when signed by one officer of the corporation” should be construed as requiring the signature of the corporate president or vice president. “The cardinal rule of statutory construction requires that we look to the intention of the legislature. And in so doing, the literal meaning of the statute prevails unless such a construction would produce unreasonable or absurd consequences not contemplated by the legislature.” Johnson v. State, 267 Ga. 77, 78 (475 SE2d 595) (1996). The words of OCGA § 14-5-7 (b) are unambiguous and do not lead to an unreasonable or absurd result if taken literally: any officer of the corporation has authority to sign the instrument releasing the security interest. There is no basis from the language of the statute to limit that authority to a subset of corporate officers such as a president or vice president.

It is clear that the legislature knew how to specify such a limitation when it chose to do so. In OCGA § 14-5-7 (a),[2] the legislature imposed a limitation on the specific types of corporate officers who could execute instruments for real estate conveyances other than those releasing security agreements. Consequently, we must presume that the legislature’s failure to include similar limiting language in OCGA § 14-5-7 (b) “was a matter of considered choice.” Transp. Ins. Co. v. El Chico Restaurants, 271 Ga. 774, 776 (524 SE2d 486) (1999).

Deutsche Bank further argued that the Warranty Deed failed to comply with OCGA § 14-5-7 (b) because the statute should be construed as requiring the instrument to expressly state that it was “releasing a security agreement,” and the Warranty Deed did not contain such express language. But nothing in the plain language of OCGA § 14-5-7 (b) imposes an express language requirement, “and the judicial branch is not empowered to engraft such a [requirement] on to what the legislature has enacted.” (Citation omitted.) Kaminer v. Canas, 282 Ga. 830, 835 (1) (653 SE2d 691) (2007).

(c) Given the facial regularity of the recorded Warranty Deed, there was no reason to suspect that it might be defective in some manner or that there might be a problem in the chain of title resulting from the deed. Nothing in the Warranty Deed would have excited attention or put a party on inquiry that the 2001 Security Deed might remain in full force and effect. Accordingly, the original grantee of the 2004 Security Deed (OneWorld Mortgage Corporation) was entitled to rely upon the facially regular Warranty Deed and was afforded the protection of a bona fide purchaser of the Property, entitled to take the Property free of the 2001 Security Deed. See generally Farris v. Nationsbanc Mtg. Corp., 268 Ga. 769, 771 (2) (493 SE2d 143) (1997) (“A bona fide purchaser for value is protected against outstanding interests in land of which the purchaser has no notice.”). Because OneWorld Mortgage Corporation had the status of a bona fide purchaser, subsequent holders of the 2004 Security Deed were likewise afforded that status, including Washington Mutual (now JP Morgan). See OCGA § 23-1-19 (“If one without notice sells to one with notice, the latter shall be protected[.]”; Murray v. Johnson, 222 Ga. 788, 789 (3) (152 SE2d 739) (1966); Thompson v. Randall, 173 Ga. 696, 701 (161 SE 377) (1931). Consequently, summary judgment was appropriate to JP Morgan on the issue of its status as a bona fide purchaser for value.

2. In opposing summary judgment, Deutsche Bank contended that even if JP Morgan qualified as a bona fide purchaser for value, there was a genuine issue of material fact over whether the Warranty Deed constituted a forgery, and thus over whether JP Morgan acquired good title to the Property. JP Morgan responded that the uncontroverted evidence showed that the Warranty Deed did not constitute a common law forgery, which occurs when someone signs another person’s name, since the Warranty Deed was signed by a person using her own name but who fraudulently assumed authority to act on behalf of IndyMac. JP Morgan further maintained that its status as a bona fide purchaser for value protected it against any fraud (rather than forgery) that might have been involved in the execution of the Warranty Deed.

The dispute between the parties centered on the assertions contained in the affidavit of Yolanda Farrow, which was filed by Deutsche Bank in opposition to summary judgment (the “Farrow Affidavit”). Farrow averred that she was a records keeper formerly employed by IndyMac and currently employed at IndyMac’s successor bank. Farrow further averred that her office maintained the IndyMac personnel records in an electronic database; that she had personal knowledge of the maintenance and upkeep of those records; and that she had personally researched and examined the records database for the person identified in the Warranty Deed as Pamela Whales, Assistant Vice President. Based upon her review of the records database, Farrow opined that to the best of her knowledge and belief, no one by that name was an employee or agent of IndyMac when the Warranty Deed was executed. Deutsche Bank maintained that the Farrow Affidavit served as circumstantial evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact over whether the Warranty Deed was a forgery.

[W]e have . . . long recognized that a forged deed is a nullity and vests no title in a grantee. As such, even a bona fide purchaser for value without notice of a forgery cannot acquire good title from a grantee in a forged deed, or those holding under such a grantee, because the grantee has no title to convey.

(Citations and punctuation omitted.) Brock, ___ Ga. at ___ (2). See also Second Refuge Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ v. Lollar, 282 Ga. 721, 726-727 (3) (653 SE2d 462 (2007). In contrast, a bona fide purchaser is protected against fraud in the execution or cancellation of a security deed of which he or she is without notice. See Murray, 222 Ga. at 789 (4).

We conclude that the Farrow Affidavit filed by Deutsche Bank was insufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Warranty Deed was a forgery.

A recorded deed shall be admitted in evidence in any court without further proof unless the maker of the deed, one of his heirs, or the opposite party in the action files an affidavit that the deed is a forgery to the best of his knowledge and belief. Upon the filing of the affidavit, the genuineness of the alleged deed shall become an issue to be determined in the action.

OCGA § 44-2-23. While “forgery” is not defined in the statute, we have previously noted that the general principles espoused in the statute were “taken from the common law.” McArthur v. Morrison, 107 Ga. 796, 797 (34 SE 205)Intl. Indem. Co. v. Bakco Acceptance, 172 Ga. App. 28, 32 (2) (322 SE2d 78)Barron v. State, 12 Ga. App. 342, 348 (77 SE 214)Gilbert v. United States, 370 U. S. 650, 655-658 (II) (82 SC 1399, 8 LE2d 750) (1962) (discussing the common law of forgery); People v. Cunningham, 813 NE2d 891, 894-895 (N. Y. 2004) (same). On the other hand, (1899). Furthermore, we favor the construction of a statute in a manner that is in conformity with the common law, rather than in derogation of it. See (1984). Under the common law, a forgery occurs where one person signs the name of another person while holding out that signature to be the actual signature of the other person. See (1913) (“[T]o constitute forgery, the writing must purport to be the writing of another party than the person making it.“) (citation and punctuation omitted). See also

[w]here one executes an instrument purporting on its face to be executed by him as the agent of the principal, he is not guilty of forgery, although he has in fact no authority from such principal to execute the same. This is not the false making of the instrument, but merely a false and fraudulent assumption of authority.

(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Ga. Cas. & Surety Co. v. Seaboard Surety Co., 210 F. Supp. 644, 656-657 (N. D. Ga. 1962), aff’d, Seaboard Surety Co. v. Ga. Cas. & Surety Co., 327 F.2d 666 (5th Cir. 1964) (applying Georgia law). This common law distinction between forgery and a fraudulent assumption of authority has been discussed and applied in several Georgia cases. See Morgan v. State, 77 Ga. App. 164, 165 (48 SE2d 115) (1948); Samples v. Milton County Bank, 34 Ga. App. 248, 250 (1) (129 SE 170) (1925); Barron, 12 Ga. App. at 347-350.

In the present case, the Farrow Affidavit merely asserted that Whales, the individual who signed the Warranty Deed, was not an employee or agent of IndyMac. It is undisputed that the individual signing the Warranty Deed was in fact Whales. Hence, the Farrow Affidavit alleged a fraudulent assumption of authority by Whales, not a forgery, under the common law. See Georgia Cas. & Surety Co., 210 F. Supp. at 656-657; Morgan, 77 Ga. App. at 165; Samples, 34 Ga. App. at 250 (1); Barron, 12 Ga. App. at 347-350.

Arguing for a contrary conclusion, Deutsche Bank maintained that the cases applying the Georgia common law of forgery which have addressed the doctrine of a “fraudulent assumption of authority” have involved an admitted agent with some authority to act on behalf of its principle, but who exceeded that authority. Deutsche Bank asserted that the present case is thus distinguishable, since the Farrow Affidavit reflected that Whales had no authority to act as an agent of IndyMac in any capacity or under any circumstances.

We are unpersuaded. Nothing in the language or reasoning of the cases applying the doctrine of fraudulent assumption of authority suggests that the doctrine should be limited in the manner espoused by Deutsche Bank. See Georgia Cas. & Surety Co., 210 F. Supp. at 656-657;Morgan, 77 Ga. App. at 165; Samples, 34 Ga. App. at 250 (1); Barron, 12 Ga. App. at 347-350. Indeed, in Georgia Cas. & Surety Co., 210 F. Supp. at 652, 656-657, the district court did not hesitate to apply the doctrine, even though the court found that the individuals who had executed the corporate documents were “purely intruders” with “no contract of employment existing nor even in contemplation,” who lacked any authority whatsoever to act on behalf of the corporation as officers or otherwise.

For these reasons, the trial court correctly rejected Deutsche Bank’s contention that there was evidence that the Warranty Deed had been forged. Because the Farrow Affidavit at best showed a fraudulent assumption of authority by Whales as signatory to the Warranty Deed, JP Morgan, as a bona fide purchaser, was protected against the fraudulent actions alleged by Deutsche Bank. See Murray, 222 Ga. at 789 (4).

3. In opposing summary judgment, Deutsche Bank also maintained that the Warranty Deed could not cause the 2001 Security Deed to be canceled because the Warranty Deed failed to comply with the requirements of OCGA § 44-14-67 (b) (2). That statute provides in pertinent part:

(b) In the case of a deed to secure debt which applies to real property, in order to authorize the clerk of superior court to show the original instrument as canceled of record, there shall be presented for recording:

. . .

(2) A conveyance from the record holder of the security deed, which conveyance is in the form of a quitclaim deed or other form of deed suitable for recording and which refers to the original security deed[.]

According to Deutsche Bank, the Warranty Deed did not authorize the clerk of the superior court to cancel the 2001 Security Deed because the Warranty Deed made no express reference to the 2001 Security Deed, as required by this statute. As such, Deutsche Bank argued that, as a matter of law, the Warranty Deed could not effectuate the cancellation of the 2001 Security Deed and thereby extinguish Deutsche Bank’s interest in the Property.

Deutsche Bank’s argument was predicated on the false assumption that OCGA § 44-14-67 (b) provides the exclusive means for the cancellation or extinguishment of a security deed. But as previously noted, a bona fide purchaser for value is entitled to take property free of any outstanding security interest of which the purchaser had no actual or constructive notice. See Farris, 268 Ga. at 771 (2). And it would produce an anomalous result to interpret Georgia’s recording statutes, including OCGA § 44-14-67 (b), in a manner that would defeat the interests of a bona fide purchaser for value. See Lionheart Legend v. Northwest Bank Minn. Nat. Assn., 253 Ga. App. 663, 667 (560 SE2d 120) (2002) (noting that Georgia’s recording acts are intended to protect bona fide purchasers for value). It follows that because JP Morgan was a bona fide purchaser for value, it was entitled to take the Property free of the 2001 Security Deed, separate and apart from the procedures for cancellation by the clerk of the superior court set forth in OCGA § 44-14-67.

For these combined reasons, the trial court correctly concluded that the uncontroverted evidence of record showed that JP Morgan’s interest in the Property was superior to and not subject to any interest held by Deutsche Bank. The trial court, therefore, committed no error in granting summary judgment in favor of JP Morgan on its claim for a declaratory judgment.

Judgment affirmed. Blackwell, and Dillard, JJ., concur.

[1] Deutsche Bank does not appeal the trial court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment.

[2] OCGA § 14-5-7 (a) provides:

Instruments executed by a corporation conveying an interest in real property, when signed by the president or vice-president and attested or countersigned by the secretary or an assistant secretary or the cashier or assistant cashier of the corporation, shall be conclusive evidence that the president or vice-president of the corporation executing the document does in fact occupy the official position indicated; that the signature of such officer subscribed thereto is genuine; and that the execution of the document on behalf of the corporation has been duly authorized. Any corporation may by proper resolution authorize the execution of such instruments by other officers of the corporation.

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LENDERS TURNING TO OLD FASHION WAY OF “PAPER”, TURN AWAY FROM MERS

LENDERS TURNING TO OLD FASHION WAY OF “PAPER”, TURN AWAY FROM MERS


Thanks to a tip from California’s hero Brian Davies:

Lenders Turning Their Backs on MERS, Going Back to Paper

With more borrowers filing legal challenges to foreclosure, many mortgage lenders have turned their back on using MERSCORP Inc., which operates an electronic loan registry, to bring foreclosure actions. Some lenders are even returning to the old-fashioned, paper-based system of physically recording mortgage assignments at county recorder offices to ensure an unbroken chain of title.

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Questioned Document Examination | By E’LYN BRYAN

Questioned Document Examination | By E’LYN BRYAN


posted with written permission from Author

By E’Lyn Bryan

QUESTIONED DOCUMENT EXAMINATION

An overview of the basic techniques and technology

AT NO TIME IN HISTORY was crime more rampant than it is today. White-collar crime accounts for more than $140 billion in losses annually. Nearly $20 billion worth of check fraud occurs annually. More than $2 million of worthless checks are passed daily. Telemarketing accounts for $48 billion in fraud, while according to the FBI, Internet fraud as of 2009 had topped $264 million in online losses. A crime wave of this proportion has put the services of competent investigators and certified forensic-document examiners in high demand.

This article is intended to educate and assist attorneys or investigators when they are speaking with attorneys, judges, or clients about cases that involve questioned documents. There are numerous types of cases where a document or handwriting evidence may be involved as a result of being found either at the crime scene or at the center of a civil suit.

A competent investigator is cognizant of all the clues at a crime scene. Items such as credit-card receipts, legal papers, canceled checks, personal notes, leases, and other types of documents and writing may hold the clues to the motive. The observant investigator will call attention to these documents. An investigator who does not think along those lines may miss the subtle clues that could be found on even the smallest scrap of paper, on a blank writing pad (that might reveal “invisible” indented writing), or among the personal belongings of a victim.

Crimes involving fraud, larceny, forged wills, death threats, identity theft, ransom notes, poison-pen letters, “other-hand” disguised writing, traced signatures, assisted deathbed signatures, altered medical records, fingerprint examination, ink and paper analysis, watermarks, contrived faxes, “cut-and-pasted” signatures on legal documents, anachronisms (chronological errors, such as paper or ink that did not exist simultaneously), disputed pre- and post-nuptial agreements, and auto-pen signatures are examples of the types of cases that are filed in our courts every day. An investigator should be aware of the fact that any documents or written material found at the crime scene may hold clues to solving the case, whether it is written on paper, walls, a car door, or a mirror. Questioned documents or writing can be typed, written in blood, lipstick, ink, pencil, or body fluids.

Most documents are written with non-violent, white-collar criminal intent. Others are written with darker purposes in mind: murder, stalking, kidnapping, and suicide. In questioned-document investigations—as in any investigation—it is the duty of the document examiner to remove the shadow of doubt. The examiner, if possible, will determine—without prejudice—if the document is authentic or forged, original or altered. The document examiner is an advocate of the courts. Examiners do not have clients; they represent the justice system. As a result, the examiner cannot become emotionally involved or empathetic. Upon initial contact, the examiner must disclose a non-fiduciary relationship to the person who retains the examiner’s services.

A well-trained document examiner knows to examine all the physical features of a questioned document, not just the questioned signature. There are dozens of components to consider when examining a signature or a document. Characteristics to consider include the writing medium used and the surface it is written upon, the age of the paper or ink, and watermarks.

There are deletions, alterations, inclusions, and other aspects that must be considered, as well. The evaluation of letter formations, pen strokes, pen pressure, spacing, letter height, relation to the baseline, and slant are all part of the evaluation process.

When a document is typewritten, there are other problems to consider. Was a page added after the fact? Is the page a copy? Did someone possibly apply “white out” on the original, type over it, and then make a copy so that it looks like an original? Was another typewriter used to make the forgery or the added page? And what about a computer-generated document? Are the pages all from the same ream of paper? With technology such as infrared and ultraviolet light sources, these questions can be answered.

On a daily basis, document examiners are faced with a multitude of questioned-document problems. The most common cases, for example, involve forged checks, forged wills, graffiti, credit-card fraud, leases, deeds, contracts to purchase items—including homes, cars, and businesses—mortgage fraud, disguised writing, and poison-pen letters (hate letters). With the improved technology of printers and copiers, forging and counterfeiting is rampant through the use of “cut and paste” and “lifting signatures”.

It is well known that the field of digital science is constantly evolving. As new technology becomes available, the document examiner must stay on top of the latest state-of-the-art and work to anticipate the ways criminals may use new technology to their advantage. The certified forensic document examiner must utilize all the latest techniques and technology that science has to offer when examining questioned documents. When investigating digital crimes—crimes such as forged passports, driver’s licenses, computer-generated documents, and digital images inserted into other items—document examiners are referred to as digital-crime investigators.

Comparative Ink Analysis

The newest technology today is found in comparative ink analysis equipment. One very useful forensic tool in pen-formula differentiation is ink analysis that involves the determination of chemicals specific to certain types of compounds. One method used to identify a certain kind of ballpoint-pen ink is called thin-layer chromatography. The process involves using an ultraviolet-visible photodiode array detector that allows for the dye components to be rapidly separated.

A standard is a known authentic sample from which comparisons are made. The United States Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) jointly maintain the International Ink Library. This collection includes more than 9,500 inks, dating from the 1920s. New inks are chemically tested and added to this database on a regular basis. This reference serves as a great resource for the detection of fraudulent signatures and documents.

In the comparison of inks, chemical analysis can be useful in a number of cases, such as medical charts, tax evasion, insurance fraud, altered checks, counterfeiting, and other types of forgeries or frauds. A 2004 article from the Associated Press referenced ink-comparison evidence as one piece of evidence that assisted in the high-profile conviction of Martha Stewart. Examination of the ink on a document showed that an entry was made at a different time, possibly as an attempt to cover up insider-trading violations.

Aging Papers and Inks

The age of paper and ink can provide important clues when attempting to verify and authenticate a document. A key example was the Hitler Diaries case from the 1980s—one that involved purported diaries written by Adolf Hitler. The document examiner in the case unknowingly compared forged writing to the writing of the diaries. Taking the authentication and investigation one step further, the diaries were sent to a laboratory where the paper and ink was analyzed. It was proven conclusively that the document could not have been written by Hitler, since there were chemical compounds discovered in the paper of the book’s cover that were not available when Hitler was alive. The age of paper can be determined according to the additives and chemicals or by watermarks. The Hitler Diaries, as well as many other questioned historical papers, have been debunked, while others have been authenticated.

Two new methods of determining the relative age of ballpoint inks has recently come to the forefront in forensic-document examination. Studies have shown that different inks have different drying times. The new method for analyzing the drying time of ink is done by chemical analysis. Unfortunately, this is a destructive process.

These new developments are extremely important when examining ledger or medical-record entries. It has been established that the longer ink has been on a sheet of paper, the slower it will dissolve in the various solvents used to analyze them. It is now possible to identify the age of ink to within a six-month period. This new process of dating the age of inks has had dramatic impact on the examination and detection of backdated documents. Many malpractice cases have been won due to the analysis of ink on questioned medical records.

Infrared Comparisons

Infrared-imaging equipment and infra-red photography have given the document examiner an exciting new world of technology for investigating cases. Although this is not a new concept, the technology has been refined and taken to mind-boggling new heights.

The mechanics behind infrared are quite simple. The human eye perceives the reflected portion of the light spectrum. But there is much more of the spectrum that the human eye cannot see. For instance, when we see a rainbow, we are not seeing all the colors that exist. We see only red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The colors on each side of the rainbow that we cannot see with the naked eye are the ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) areas. The instruments we need to convert UV and IR wavelengths of the light spectrum into visible images for the human eye are called video spectral comparators and forensic imaging spectrometers. This equipment is used for non-destructive analysis of questioned documents in the presence of seemingly equal but physically different features of writing. With IR and UV, we can see “through” writing that has been blacked out or obscured by “white out”, as well as scribbled-out writing.

With split-screen and overlay software, direct visual comparison can be made of several individual images. Erased elements or chemically altered characters can be easily detected with IR and UV technology. The exceptional sensitivity and broad spectral range can detect even the slightest differences in similar inks, not seen by the unaided eye. This equipment is at the highest level of authentication technology available today.

Obliterated, faded, or altered writing can also be detected with IR and UV analysis. In a recent case handled by the IRS, the IRS claimed the defendant could not prove an expense he had written off for office equipment because the receipt had faded. The paper was old and the writing was “invisible”. Under an IR filter, the “blank” receipt luminesced, showing writing that was outside the wavelength of visible light to the naked eye.

Electrostatic Detection Apparatus

Another valuable piece of equipment to the document examiner is an electrostatic detection apparatus (ESDA). With an ESDA and specialized infra-red side-lighting photographic techniques, the characteristic indentations found in writing may prove that the writing was traced. In addition, when the top page of a pad that has been written on is removed, the “blank” writing underneath can be processed with an ESDA to show the writing by the indentations on the pages below. Research performed by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City indicates that an ESDA can recover indented impressions from documents that were written up to 60 years earlier.

The technology behind the ESDA is fairly simple: To develop the indentations on paper, the indented paper is placed in a high-humidity device and transferred onto a bronze vacuum plate. The page is then carefully covered with a Mylar (transparent, non-conducting) film. The page is then electrically charged so that toner will adhere to the impressions when applied to the Mylar covering. The final step is to pour the toner on the Mylar. This process develops the page containing the various indentations.

An example of the use of an ESDA in a recent case involved a bust on a PCP drug lab. Although there was no paper evidence at the scene of the raid, the telephone book at the scene was analyzed and, in the end, it held the incriminating evidence—only visible by use of the ESDA. An astute investigator noticed a telephone book on the counter where the drugs were being processed. On the cover of the phone book were slight indentations that appeared to be writing. The indentations were restored by ESDA and the writing was compared to that of the known chief chemist of the PCP lab. The writing the ESDA retrieved was the chemical formulas, written by the chief chemist. Busted!

As an investigator, you need to think outside the parameters of visible evidence. Evidence to solve your case may be right in front of you and may easily go unnoticed. In this case of the PCP lab, the real incriminating evidence was truly invisible. If not for the trained eye of the investigator, the case may have been dismissed for lack of solid evidence that could link the suspect with the actual manufacturer of the drugs.

As an advocate of the court, the document examiner is relied upon to dispel any doubts about a questioned document. Sometimes, the examiner simply will not be able to render an opinion on certain documents. In those instances, the document examiner’s letter of opinion will state an explicit explanation.

From murder scenes where notes are left behind, to kidnappings, to white-collar crimes such as forged checks, document examiners, investigators, and the technology they utilize prove to be a formidable team.

Questioned documents are a global issue. As investigators, you must be cognizant of the technologically advanced level of the criminals we face today. We must use all of the intelligence, the technology, and the resources available to educate ourselves on the topic of continually evolving criminal minds.

About the Author

E’lyn Bryan is a court-qualified and certified document examiner through the National Questioned Document Association. She offers presentations and training sessions for businesses and law-enforcement agencies on questioned-document examination. She is the current president of the South Florida Investigators Association and a member of the World Association of Detectives. She can be reached by phone at: 561-361-0007 or by e-mail at: bocaforensic@aol.com

Litigation Support
Forensic Document Examiners Inc.
div. of Forensic Bureau of Investigations Inc.

www.FloridaDocumentExaminer.com
President of South Florida Investigators Association
Instructor of Forensic Document Examination to Law Enforcement
National Association of Document Examiners
World Association of Detectives
Gold Coast Forensics Association
Florida Association of Private Investigators
Member of South County Bar Association
Forensic Expert Witness Association

561.361.0007


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