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Michigan’s Ingham County Register of Deeds meets with residents about foreclosure crisis

Ingham County Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel, Jr. spent Tuesday evening at the African American Health Initiative in Lansing explaining the roots and complications of the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

About 35 people joined Hertel, a leading voice in the battle to expose and challenge illegal foreclosure activities in the state, as he explained the ins and out of the crisis.

In explaining the crisis, Hertel shared a graph showing foreclosures in the county from 2000 to present. The graph starts at about 400 foreclosures a year, but by 2010, that number was about 1,800 foreclosures a year — a 450 percent increase. Hertel showed how the foreclosures are aiding in the destruction of property values. The taxable value of all the property in the county has lost nine percent of its value in the last two years, or $700 million.

These two issues combined, Hertel said, are leaving the county struggling to make budgetary requirements. In fact, because of declining property values, the county eliminated most out-county sheriff patrols earlier this year. In Lansing, voters are being asked for the second time this year to approve a four mill increase in property taxes to fund the city’s public safety infrastructure. The city was forced to lay off firefighters and police officers earlier this year when voters rejected the public safety millage.

“This impacts us all,” says Hertel.

While that information shocked the assembled group, it was when Hertel began showing evidence his office had collected of alleged robo-signing examples filed in his office that audible gasps and expressions of anger could be heard.

At one point, Hertel put up a projection of signatures from Orlans Associates foreclosure attorney Marshall Isaacs. There were four very different signatures, each above Isaacs type written name.

“Representatives from Orlans came to our offices and looked at these,” Hertel told the group, “and they said all of these are Isaacs’ signatures. They were so different, they said, because it would depend on what mood Mr. Isaacs was in or where he was signing his signature.”

Hertel referred Isaacs to Attorney General Bill Schuette for criminal investigation earlier this year after Michigan Messenger reported Isaacs had been placed on a list of suspected or known robo-signers in a Massachusetts county.

In addition to the above, Hertel also laid out the operations of Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) and its role in the foreclosure crisis. Hertel is currently suing MERS as well as lenders and foreclosure firms for back taxes. Under Michigan law, when title of property is transferred $1.10 per $1000 of value on the property goes to the county, while $7.50 per $1000 of value goes to the state. That means a property worth $100,000 upon transfer should pay the county $110 and the state $750. Hertel has argued that the banks, foreclosure firms and MERS owe “tens of millions of dollars” in back taxes to the state and counties.

Also in attendance at the meeting Tuesday night was Perry Thompson. Thompson works for Legal Services of South Central Michigan, which has a contract with Ingham County to offer low cost foreclosure legal assistance for county residents. He says since the program began this summer, he is representing 40 individuals in litigation and many more in the early process of litigation. At the meeting on Tuesday night, Thompson picked up two more clients struggling with the threat of foreclosure.

In spite of the overwhelming number of cases, Thompson says he prefers being at the meetings and getting new clients.

“I guess I am a bit of a realist,” says Thompson. “I know when I deal with people, they say I wish I had known about you last year. Well being here, I can let them know we are here.”

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