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How One Local Official in North Carolina Is Trying to Hold Wall Street Giants Accountable for Widespread Fraud

Jeff Thigpen is trying to restore the rule of law in one North Carolina county.

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What’s happened is that 13th-century property laws have now collided with the 21st-century finance and what’s gone on in the past 15 years. I call it the "steroid era" in the financial services industry. It was about securitizing these loans in a way that at every point in the process people made a whole lot of money, and while they were doing all that they lost track of basically who owned what.

As a result of that model three years coming out of the worst recession since the Great Depression and the housing crash -- it’s almost like that movie The Hangover where people go out and have a good time and then wake up the next morning and a tooth is missing, there’s a tiger in the room, and they’re trying to figure out what happened.

We have to have these accurate records. If we don’t have the accurate records and the certainty, clarity and transparency that comes through a property records system in a democracy then we have a very big problem. That’s why you’re seeing so much litigation that has come up. A lot of these counties are beginning to sue MERS and they’ve been investigated by two attorney generals.

If they would have early on started with a model that said 'we’re going to go to the 50 states and get enabling legislation; we’re going to work with county recorders to modernize our records' and do things like that it would have been one thing. They didn’t do that. They went out and created this other institution, and now we’re living with the collateral problems from it.

JH: Now I’m going to return to the context in one minute, but I first just want to get the scope of the lawsuit. You go in as the Register of Deeds in Guilford County and you dig into the records. Tell me what you found when you dig into your own records.

JT: Back in April of last year I was sitting on my couch and I was watching "60 Minutes." There was a piece called "The Mortgage Mess," and what I saw was a lot of documents that were in my office. I got this very uneasy feeling that if I looked in there I might find documents that were signed by -- in that "60 Minutes" piece it was somebody named Linda Green who was a “vice-president” for 15-20 banks making $7 an hour and who got her job from working at an auto parts store.

The reason they used her name was because it was easy to spell. They could spell it quickly. What I began to see was the way in which they had farmed out the signing of the documents that were supposed to be filed in my office was violating not only notary laws, but you had forgery and fraud and all kinds of implications when you have people signing for one another.

Lynn Szymoniak, who was an attorney who was on that piece, connected with me probably within a week after the show. We began a conversation about how I can find these documents. They weren’t easy to find. Long story short is we pulled book and page numbers of these documents and then got images. I had 10 or 11 staff sorting them out by signature. Then we looked at variations of signature. What we found was I think 4,519 documents -- "Linda Green" had 15 different signature variations in the documents. We had a bunch of others that carried a lot of signatures that were just not the same signatures throughout the document. Based on that and the admission of people on "60 Minutes" saying they were signing for each other and notarizing these documents for one another it was classic forgery and fraud here.

 
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