The firm’s fall has spawned more chaos in Florida’s circus-like foreclosure courts. A slew of homes Stern foreclosed on that sold for $240,000 each during the credit bubble sold at auction as orphaned cases for $200. Recently, even the most infamous “rocket docket,” in Lee County, where judges were reported to have signed off on a foreclosure every 30 seconds, ground to a virtual standstill as the Stern firm withdrew from case after case. Some of Stern’s remaining lawyers show up court with greasy hair, fleece jackets and food-stained clothing. As for Stern, if federal and state prosecutors file criminal charges, he could end up in prison.
Meanwhile, Stern’s payment on his $12 million line of credit with Bank of America is late. So is the rent on his headquarters.
He’s now in default.
The Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — During the housing crash, it was good to be a foreclosure king. David Stern was Florida’s top foreclosure lawyer, and he lived like an oil sheik. He piled up a collection of trophy properties, glided through town in a fleet of six-figure sports cars and, with his bombshell wife, partied on an ocean cruiser the size of a small hotel.
When homeowners fell behind on their mortgages, the banks flocked to “foreclosure mills” like Stern’s to push foreclosures through the courts on their behalf. To his megabank clients – Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, GMAC, Citibank and Wells Fargo – Stern was the ultimate Repo Man.
At industry gatherings, Stern bragged in his boyish voice of taking mortgages from the “cradle to the grave.” Of the federal government’s disastrous homeowner relief plan, which was supposed to keep people from getting evicted, he quipped: “Fortunately, it’s failing.”
The worse things got for homeowners, the better they got for Stern.
That is, until last fall, when the nation’s foreclosure machine blew apart and Stern’s gilded world came undone. Within a few months, Stern went from being the subject of a gushing magazine profile to being the subject of a Florida investigation, class-action lawsuits and blogger Schadenfreude that, at last long, the “foreclosure king” was dead.
“What Stern represents is an industry that was completely unrestrained, unchecked, unpunished and unsupervised,” says Florida defense attorney Matt Weidner. “This was business gone wild.”
The rise and fall of Stern, now 50, provides an inside look at how the foreclosure industry worked in the last decade – and how it fell apart. It also shows how banks, together with their law firms, built a quick-and-dirty foreclosure machine that was designed to take as many houses as fast as possible.
Not long ago, the world of back-office bank procedures was of little interest to the public. But revelations last fall about robo-signers powering through hundreds of foreclosure affidavits a day, without verifying a single sentence, changed all that. Today the banking industry’s eviction juggernaut is under intense scrutiny as allegations of systemic foreclosure fraud mount.
The 50 state attorneys general are conducting a foreclosure industry probe. So are state and federal regulators. Class-action lawsuits are gathering force, and, with increasing frequency, state judges are tossing out foreclosure suits in favor of homeowners. The developments are prolonging the housing market depression, casting doubt on mortgage ownership and calling into question whether mortgage-backed securities are, in fact, backed by nothing at all.
The Florida attorney general’s economic crimes division is investigating three law firms, including Stern’s, over allegations that they created fraudulent legal documents, gouged homeowners with inflated fees, steered business to companies they owned and filed foreclosures without proving the bank actually had a legal interest in the loan. Florida authorities characterize the foreclosure process at these law firms as a “virtual morass” of “fake documents” and depicted Stern’s operations as something akin to the TV show “Lost” – only instead of people that went missing, it was paperwork. Stern’s employees churned out bogus mortgage assignments, faked signatures, falsified notarizations and foreclosed on people without verifying their identities, the amounts they owed or who owned their loans, according to employee testimony. The attorney general is also looking at whether Stern paid kickbacks to big banks.
“There’s a David Stern in every state, sometimes more than one,” says Jacksonville Legal Aid attorney April Charney, who has successfully stopped foreclosure for hundreds of Florida families.
Stern denied repeated requests for comment. He did not answer inquiries at his office or at his main residence in Fort Lauderdale. Stern’s lawyer, Jeffrey Tew, agreed to an interview in late December at his Miami office, then canceled it the night before without further comment.
Continue reading here…