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Tampa Bay homeowners claim GMAC 'robo-signers' drove their foreclosures

TAMPA — Four Tampa Bay area homeowners are suing what used to be GMAC, claiming the company used "robo-signers" to foreclose on their homes illegally.

The plaintiffs are Geoffrey Huber, who owns a house in Spring Hill; Beatriz D'Amico-Souza of Land O'Lakes; and Michael and Tina Unsworth of Hudson.

Their $5 million lawsuit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tampa. It seeks class-action status for "tens of thousands" of Florida homeowners with mortgages serviced by GMAC, now known as Ally Financial.

The suit accuses the company of an "abusive, fraudulent, deceptive and unfair scheme" to obtain the plaintiffs' homes "by systematically fabricating evidence in the form of fraudulent affidavits" used in foreclosure cases.

"I don't know how they thought they could legally get away with this," said Huber, 57, a New Jersey construction company owner who bought a four-bedroom retirement home in Hernando County's Sterling Hills development.

Huber said he has tried to work with the company to modify the principal and interest on his $176,400 mortgage, but it seems determined to push the case through foreclosure.

"It's just like they make up this document that they have a deed or a title," he said. "It's really aggravating."

An Ally spokesman said in an e-mail that an internal review of foreclosure sale files in 23 states, plus an independent review of the company's overall foreclosure process in all 50 states "found no evidence of any inappropriate foreclosures."

"The average property is not foreclosed on until the mortgage is unpaid for 18 months," Ally spokesman Jim Olecki said. "Additionally, the borrower has the ability to contest the foreclosure and bring the loan current at any time.

"We believe the claims in this lawsuit are meritless," Olecki said, "and will examine and defend it appropriate to the circumstances."

In two of the foreclosures in question, the lawsuit said the affidavits were signed by GMAC executive Jeffrey Stephan, who has testified in a deposition that he signs 6,000 to 10,000 such statements a month.

Stephan testified that he spends five to 10 minutes with each file, but the new lawsuit said that's impossible unless he works days 37 to 50 hours long. Rather, it contends Stephan would have to spend less than a minute on each case to keep that pace.

Consequently, there's no way he could review the loan records he swears he has personal knowledge of, the suit said.

In September, GMAC suspended evictions in Florida and 22 other states after finding employees didn't always sign documents in the presence of a notary or have direct personal knowledge of the facts at issue in a foreclosure.

In October, the company said it had found no evidence of inappropriate foreclosures in those 23 states. As foreclosure files were reviewed and re-executed with fresh affidavits when necessary, the cases have gone forward.

In 2006, GMAC was sanctioned for similar practices after a Duval County court found that the company gave "false testimony" by submitting sworn affidavits signed by a mortgage executive who later said under oath that she did not actually review the loan documents or sign in the presence of a notary.

The proliferating allegations about the use of robo-signers further complicates the nation's tortured foreclosure landscape.

Also on Thursday, well-known foreclosure attorney David J. Stern told his staff in an e-mail that the firm was laying off 70 percent of its employees.

The Florida Attorney General's Office is investigating whether Stern's firm in Plantation and three others used false or improper affidavits in thousands of foreclosures.

With the investigation pending, lenders such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have stopped doing business with Stern's firm, where business has fallen 90 percent.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Tampa Bay homeowners claim GMAC 'robo-signers' drove their foreclosures 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:56pm]

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