Over the past several years, Bryan Bly, Crystal Moore and Dhurata Doko have signed thousands of mortgage assignments as vice presidents of Citi Residential and other major lenders.
Yet when asked in a recent deposition what a mortgage assignment is, Bly replied: "I'm really not sure."
Moore, meanwhile, defined a promissory note as something "that says the interest rate and stuff like that on it.'' And Doko, a native of Albania who speaks shaky English, expressed befuddlement at the whole idea of loaning someone money to buy a house.
"We don't do mortgages in my country,'' she said.
Bly, Moore and Doko work for Nationwide Title Clearing, a Pinellas County company that found itself in an unwelcome spotlight this week when video depositions they gave in a foreclosure case popped up on YouTube and AOL.
"We kind of suspected those would be some of the answers we'd get, but to hear it done in sworn testimony was disturbing,'' says Christopher Forrest, the lawyer who questioned the three on Nov. 4 and uploaded the videos to the Internet.
"This issue potentially affects so many, I thought people should be able to see for themselves what's going on.''
Forrest represents a Sarasota couple challenging their foreclosure on the grounds that Nationwide Title improperly prepared a mortgage assignment in their case.
Critics say Bly and the others are prime examples of "robo-signers'' who handle so many mortgage-related documents that they cannot possibly be sure that what they're signing is accurate or legal. Concerns about flawed documentation prompted Bank of America and many other lenders to temporarily halt foreclosures this fall.
Nationwide Title does not prepare foreclosure documents. However, it does process assignments of mortgage, which transfer ownership of a loan from one party to another and are key in determining who has the legal right to foreclose.
In a statement issued Thursday, the Palm Harbor company said that it follows court-approved industry practices and that it was "unethical'' to suggest that preparing common, mortgage-related documents is "somehow harmful for consumers.''
The statement included a quote from Bly, who said he "of course'' knows what a mortgage assignment is but had found it "unsettling'' to be questioned on camera in the presence of five lawyers.
"We are very proud of our employees for doing a great job of serving the firms that service mortgage borrowers and for clearly describing what we do in their depositions,'' the statement said.
However, under Forrest's questioning, all three employees seemingly struggled at times to define common industry terms.
Moore, who said she had no training in banking, finance, real estate or the law, acknowledged signing one mortgage assignment as a vice president of Citi Residential Lending and attesting that Citi had "received good and valuable'' consideration for transferring ownership of a loan.
"Do you know whether in fact Citi Residential received good and valuable consideration?''
"Do you have any idea what that term means?'
Asked if she ever read any of the documents she signed, Moore replied, "No.'' Asked how much time she spent with each document, she said, "a few seconds.''
To expedite processing of huge volumes of assignments, lenders authorize Moore, Bly and other Nationwide Title employees to sign mortgage-related documents on their behalf.
Pressed in his deposition to say how many banks he had represented as vice president, Bly demurred. When asked if it would be "in excess of 20,'' he said, "That would be accurate.''
Bly, who is also a notary, said he signed an average of 5,000 documents a day — a pace that would equal 10 signings a minute for eight hours without a break. His signature even appeared on documents he didn't personally sign. Instead, it was added electronically, he said.
All three employees described an assembly-line process in which they signed huge stacks of documents at a time and attached "routing'' forms that showed who should get the paperwork next. Moore said some documents she signed were notarized by a notary public who was in another part of the room and couldn't see her. State law requires the notary to be in the presence of the person signing.
"I don't see how that's legal,'' Forrest said of documents notarized out of view. "You've got potentially 100,000 assignments of mortgage out there that are legally questionable, casting a cloud on the title of all these properties.''
Nationwide said all documents were legally notarized. "We have openly invited the attorney general of Florida to visit our facility and review our practices,'' the company said.
Since the St. Petersburg Times in 2009 became the first to report on the mass signings by Bly and Moore, they have become two of the country's best-known robo-signers. So many people search for them on Google that Nationwide Title now has ads that appear at the top of the screen whenever anyone types in their names.
"Does Bryan Bly know what he is signing?'' the ad asks. It answers, "yes,'' and says there have not been any legal judgments against him, the company or other employees for improper signing.
Earlier this year, though, the governor's office, which regulates notaries, reprimanded Bly for violating state law. But his offense might be understandable given the huge volume of documents he handled. Rather than use his full, state-approved signature, he signed with the initial B.
Susan Taylor Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.