The Foreclosure Sleuth: How a Sports Agent Uncovered the Greatest Financial Fraud in American History
New Republic contributor David Dayen’s book Chain of Title focuses on three individuals in South Florida—cancer nurse Lisa Epstein, car dealership worker Michael Redman, and Lynn Szymoniak, a lawyer specializing in insurance fraud—who stumbled upon the biggest consumer fraud in American history. They did so after they fell into foreclosure, and realized that all the documents they were sent by their mortgage companies—the evidence being used to kick them out of their homes—were fake. It turned out that the industry broke the chain of title—the chain of ownership, really—on millions of securitized mortgages, and were using false documents to cover it up.
As they researched this, they discovered that they were not alone. In fact, perhaps the first person to identify, fight, and broadcast his struggle against the mortgage industry and its various crimes was a guy named Nye Lavalle—nearly 20 years before the housing bubble and the financial crisis that resulted from its collapse. Lisa, Michael, and Lynn eventually sought out and worked with Lavalle as they tried to expose the epidemic they called foreclosure fraud. In 2010, Lavalle played a major role in getting JPMorgan Chase to admit that they were delivering documents with improper signatures into courtrooms across the country. But prior to any of that, Lavalle was just a guy who bought a house, and became conscripted into a fight he didn’t want over crimes he never knew possible.
Nye Lavalle’s story follows a trail that many other citizen activists walked after suffering the sting of foreclosure. The difference was that he had the perseverance to keep going—for more than a quarter-century. If people in power had listened to Lavalle, we could have had a different outcome from the crisis than millions of people losing their homes and no accountability for those who facilitated it. This excerpt tells how he uncovered the workings of the Great Foreclosure Machine—and tried to warn the world before the Great Recession hit.
It was 1989—before the housing bubble, even before the savings and loan industry blew up. Nye Lavalle was…
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