JPMorgan Chase & Co. faces a legal challenge next month that could cast doubt on thousands of foreclosures after a mortgage executive at the bank said that she did not verify documents used to justify home seizures.
Lawyers for a Palm Beach County, Fla., homeowner asked a judge to throw out a foreclosure as a penalty for misleading the court, according to attorney Tom Ice of Ice Legal PA.
They're citing a May 17 deposition in which the JPMorgan Chase executive said she signed thousands of affidavits and documents supporting the New York bank's claims without personally checking loan records. The court is scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 19.
The Chase Home Finance operation supervisor, Beth Ann Cottrell, said in May she was among eight managers who together sign about 18,000 documents a month, according to a transcript of her deposition.
Asked how they were prepared, she said she relied on other people at the firm.
"My review is more or less signing the document unless it's questionable," she said.
That means, "somebody has a question and brings it to me and says, 'Beth, can you take a look at this?' "
Inaccurate statements by banks in foreclosure documents may give borrowers who have lost their homes a legal basis to challenge the seizures, derailing resales and casting doubts on property titles. A Florida court sanctioned Ally Financial Inc.'s GMAC Mortgage unit for faulty affidavits in 2006, and the firm suspended evictions in 23 states this month after finding employees still signing affidavits without checking the data.
JPMorgan Chase spokesman Tom Kelly declined requests for comment. Cottrell did not return phone calls to her office. A lawyer representing her at the deposition, Joseph Mancilla of the Florida Default Law Group PL, did not return calls.
Cottrell is not named as a defendant.
Cottrell signed the affidavit at issue in the case, dated June 2009, while at her previous employer, an outside servicing firm working for JPMorgan Chase, according to court documents.
When signing documents there for the JPMorgan Chase unit, she used the title "assistant secretary and vice president" of Chase Home Finance, according to the transcript. She became a JPMorgan Chase employee about three months after signing the affidavit.
Document signers sometimes endorse affidavits on behalf of other firms to streamline the foreclosure process, said Dustin Zacks, an attorney at Ice's firm.
Affidavits lay the legal foundation for a foreclosure by attesting that the borrower is delinquent and that the lender is entitled to seize the home.
Lawyers in Florida and New York, among other states, have halted foreclosures and evictions by showing affidavits were faulty. Attorneys general in Texas, Iowa and Illinois started investigations into practices at GMAC Mortgage following last week's revelations.
California ordered the company to prove its foreclosures are legal or halt them.