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Ingham County, Mich. will hire attorney to defend homeowners from fraudulent foreclosures

A committee of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to fund an attorney that will be dedicated to helping homeowners battle the growing number of foreclosures based on faulty documents.

In a meeting Tuesday night, the General Services Committee of the Board approved a contract worth up to $60,000 for Legal Services of South Central Michigan. That money will be used to pay an attorney full time to work with county residents caught up in the burgeoning cases of foreclosures based on bad documents.

Those documents have been identified as robo-signed documents from the now defunct company Docx in Georgia. Curtis Hertel, Jr, the county’s register of deeds, discovered the documents after seeing a 60 Minutes report on the company. Those documents, which Hertel says number more than 100, have been referred to both the Michigan Attorney General’s Office and the FBI. In addition, other questionable documents have been found, and Hertel says investigations into the documents are ongoing.

In related news a judge in Washtenaw County ruled on Tuesday that foreclosures involving any title exchanges controlled by Michigan Electronic Recording Systems, Inc. (MERS) were improper. That ruling could void thousands and thousands of foreclosures in the state because it is likely the bank or mortgage company had no legal right to foreclose on the property.

Michigan law requires each mortgage assignment — which means company A sells the mortgage to company B — to be registered with the country register of deeds office. MERS marketed itself as a company that would keep track of the transfers, without all the fees associated with filing assignments. Many of the mortgages were sold over and over again, but the judge ruled that MERS had failed to keep an accurate accounting of the assignments.

In short, no one knew who exactly owned the mortgage, and thus had the right to foreclose. Hertel said his office was contacting those homeowners who were affected by the fraudulent foreclosures.

“In all honesty, this is not just right for the people, it is right for the taxpayers,” Hertel said.

The ultimate goal, Hertel said of the proposal, was to force banks and lenders to the table to work out a new deal on the mortgage to keep the home owner in their home.

Hertel also announced he would be holding public meetings about the foreclosure crisis and the new program through the non-profit legal group in various Ingham county locations.

General Services Committee Chair Debbie DeLeon praised the move by Hertel.

“I am very proud of the fact that we have a register of deeds that is taking such a leading role where no one has led before,” DeLeon said after the meeting. “This is going to save people’s homes. It will be like a miracle.”

The entire County Commission will take up the resolution on Tuesday and is expected to approve it.

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