Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner says she has referred specific instances of notary abuse occurring at Chase Home Mortgage and by the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS) to a federal prosecutor for investigation. As Ohio's secretary of state, Brunner is the state officer responsible for licensing notary publics.
According to a statement published Thursday, Brunner referred matters of alleged notary abuse in thousands of foreclosures to U.S. District Attorney Steven Dettelbach in Cleveland. Brunner cited depositions of Chase employee Beth Cottrell and MERS Secretary and Treasurer William Hultman.
Cottrell stated in depositions from May that eight people execute and notarize 18,000 documents per month at Chase Home Mortgage. According to Brunner's office, the depositions admitted ‘apparent violations’ of state laws.
According to Brunner, Hultman's deposition, which was taken in April, admitted that after corporate status changes occurred for MERS, new designations of authority were not executed. This, in turn, left one or more individuals for the former MERS corporation continuing to delegate authority on behalf of the new corporation without authorization by the new corporation, Brunner's office says.
"Mortgage foreclosure documents must be notarized according to the law,’ Brunner says. ‘Requiring this is not an afterthought or an exercise of form over substance – the law must be followed when taking away someone's home, regardless of the circumstances.’
Last week, GMAC Mortgage announced it had suspended evictions and post-foreclosure closings in 23 states over concerns about employees' preparing foreclosures with affidavits submitted to judges containing information they did not personally verify. It was announced Wednesday that JPMorgan Chase hired external counsel to review its affidavit process based on the depositions of Cottrell and is delaying approximately 56,000 current foreclosure proceedings.
‘It's not fair to consumers or to the employees, who, by virtue of their jobs, are signing these documents,’ Brunner says. ‘I urge the U.S. Department of Justice to take up this investigation with vigor and purpose to protect consumers and hold financial institutions to the standards of scrutiny and exactitude required by law, even if it means prosecuting some of our largest corporations.’
Chase spokesperson Tom Kelly declined to comment on the matter.
MERS says it has not received any correspondence from Brunner's office or from the U.S. Justice Department.
‘We look forward to a dialogue with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland to discuss how MERS has always practiced and advocated strict attention to all aspects of a foreclosure,’ says R.K. Arnold, president and CEO of MERS. ‘We expect everyone involved with a mortgage loan to abide by any state and federal laws to ensure proper document review and signing. MERS operates with transparency and provides a valuable service to homeowners by connecting them with their mortgage company to address any problems they may have with their mortgages.’