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Special report: Legal woes mount for a foreclosure kingpin

Special report: Legal woes mount for a foreclosure kingpin


By Scot J. Paltrow
updated 12/6/2010 2:10:09 PM ET 2010-12-06T19:10:09
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JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Lender Processing Services is riding the waves of foreclosures sweeping the United States, but in late October its CEO, Jeff Carbiener, found himself needing to reassure investors in the $2.8 billion company.

Although profits were rolling in, LPS’s stock had taken a hit in the wake of revelations that mortgage companies across the country had filed fraudulent documents in foreclosures cases. Earlier in the year, the company, which handles more than half of the nation’s foreclosures, had disclosed that it was under federal criminal investigation and admitted that employees at a small subsidiary had falsely signed foreclosure documents.

Still, Carbiener told the Wall Street analysts in an October 29 conference call that LPS’s legal concerns were overblown, and the stock has jumped 13 percent since its close the day before the call.

But a Reuters investigation shows that LPS’s legal woes are more serious than he let on. Public records reveal that the company’s LPS Default Solutions unit produced documents of dubious authenticity in far larger quantities than it has disclosed, and over a much longer timespan.

Questionable signing and notarization practices weren’t limited to its subsidiary, called DocX, but occurred in at least one of LPS’s own offices, mortgage assignments filed in county recorders’ offices show. And rather than halt such practices after the federal investigation got underway, the company shifted the signing to firms with which it has close business ties. LPS provided personnel to work in the new signing operations, according to information from an LPS spokeswoman and court records including an October 21 ruling by a judge in Brooklyn, New York. Records in county recorders’ offices, and in the judge’s opinion, show that “robosigning” and preparation of apparently false documents went on at these sites on a large scale.

In one instance, it helped set up a massive signing operation at the nearby office of a major client, a spokeswoman for the client, American Home Mortgage Servicing, confirmed. LPS-hired notaries who worked there said in interviews that troves of documents were improperly handled. They said that about 200 affidavits per day were robosigned during the two months the two notaries remained there.

A spokeswoman for LPS confirmed to Reuters that it had helped other firms establish operations that performed the same function. LPS spokeswoman Michelle Kersch didn’t specify which firms. But beginning early in 2010, county recorders’ records show, signing shifted also to law firms under contract with LPS.

Interviews with key players and court records also show that pending investigations and lawsuits pose a bigger threat to the company than Carbiener let on.

The criminal investigation in Jacksonville by federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is intensifying. The same goes for a separate inquiry by the Florida attorney general’s office. Individuals with direct knowledge of the federal inquiry said that prosecutors have impaneled a grand jury, begun calling witnesses and subpoenaed records from LPS.

The company confirmed to Reuters that it has hired Paul McNulty, former deputy U.S. attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, to represent it in the investigation. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on the probe.

The U.S. Comptroller of the Currency’s office, which is responsible for supervising national banks, also announced in November that it had teamed up with the Federal Reserve to conduct an on-site examination of LPS.

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