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Bucking a bank, and the court

Estero woman fights foreclosure

Apr. 8, 2011


2003: Linda Bassett buys her Estero home for $132,000.

2004: Diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome.

2006: Quicken Loans Inc. calls Bassett to solicit refinancing her loan.

June 20, 2006: Bassett signs refinancing papers.

August 2006: IndyMac Bank FSB takes over servicing of Bassett loan from Quicken.

July 2008: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation closes IndyMac Bank FSB; assets transferred to IndyMac Federal Bank FSB, with FDIC as conservator.

Early 2009: Bassett runs out of savings and retirement money; starts borrowing off credit cards to pay mortgage.

March 19, 2009: The FDIC sells IndyMac Federal Bank FSB to OneWest Bank FSB.

June 1, 2009: Basset makes last full mortgage payment, then sends additional partial payments of $500 in June, July and August. Payments are accepted by IndyMac Mortgage Services, a new subsidiary of OneWest Bank; payments are not credited.

Mid-August 2009: She stops paying on mortgage and applies for HAMP loan modification through IndyMac Mortgage Services website. Application, paperwork are lost. She re-applies through OneWest website.

Early December 2009: Bassett finds envelope from IndyMac Mortgage Services on her doorstep with no postage or dates. Inside is a loan modification letter backdated to within the 30 days regulations say lender has to respond. She doesn't sign.

Dec. 7 2009: Notice of foreclosure on Bassett's home is filed in Lee County by OneWest Bank.

Monday: Foreclosure trial scheduled for 1 p.m.

Sources: Linda Bassett, court documents, FDIC website


Linda Bassett will defend herself Monday in her foreclosure trial in Lee Circuit Court.

The Estero resident believes she has two opponents: the bank and the judicial system.

She makes two claims:

That OneWest Bank of Pasadena, Calif., is using fraudulent documents, including a promissory note and affidavit, in its attempt to foreclose.

That she was denied due process because of the Lee County "rocket docket" and shortcuts it takes to bulldoze through backlogged foreclosures as fast as possible.

"If the rule of law actually followed in this case they'd have to give me my house (and) write off the loan," she said.

Her plight mirrors that of 13,155 Lee County residents facing foreclosure. At the height of the backlog in December 2008, there were 24,372 cases in the pipeline.

Bassett's case will be heard against a backdrop in which complaints against banks are soaring nationwide; Southwest Florida foreclosure suits have been dropped because cases are flawed; and law firm foreclosure mills and banks are being investigated by the states' attorneys general across the country.

The trial could result in her either losing her house or keeping it. She also hopes her case will shed light on questionable practices some homeowners in foreclosure are victims of.

"The more I dug, the nastier it got," she said. "If I give enough people some energy to fight back, it's so blatantly fraudulent to see all the sleazy things they tried and pulled off for years."

Bassett is not a lawyer. She is unemployed and has an autoimmune disease called Sjogren's syndrome. Because of it, the immune system attacks glands that make tears and saliva and may affect joints, lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, digestive organs and nerves.

She survives on less than $800 per month in disability and the few freelance commissions she lands as a stained-glass artist.

Bassett said she has studied almost every waking moment for a year to prepare for this day, amassing enough research to fill eight gigabytes of memory on her computer, equal to thousands of pages of text.

(Page 2 of 5)

Her court motion filed to answer the foreclosure complaint and list her defenses, and another objecting to a court order sending her case to a magistrate instead of a judge, look and read as if an attorney had prepared them.

Her trial comes on the heels of the hubbub over a request by the 4th District appeals court to the Florida Supreme Court to review an alleged foreclosure fraud case brought by attorneys for a Palm Beach County homeowner. The appeals court wrote in its Feb. 2 decision: "We conclude that this is a question of great public importance, as many, many mortgage foreclosures appear tainted with suspect documents."

'Colder than ice'

While he has no direct knowledge of Bassett's case, G. Keith Cary, chief judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit, said if the case has been set for trial, it means a legitimate factual issue was found at Bassett's earlier summary judgment hearing.

"This is her day in court, so she should be relieved she will get to tell her side of it," Cary said. "I would think instead of being upset, she should be pleased her case is being set for trial."

Lee County Clerk of Court Charlie Green said he sympathizes with Bassett and other homeowners being foreclosed on.

"Foreclosure is such a brutal part of people's lives, he said. "The root problem that she has is she has not made her mortgage payments. Her mortgage is in default and that is the rock-bottom spot that it ended up on."

Federal intervention like the Home Affordable Modification Program has been ineffective, Green said.

Critics say it's too hard for many homeowners to qualify and regulators are reluctant to rein in mortgage providers with bad records.

Meanwhile, "banks are colder than ice," Green said. "It's just a tragedy."

However, as problems mount with mortgage foreclosure mills, "there is a theme that many must have been abused by the system," Green said.

"They may have been roughed up by the system," he said, but that doesn't relieve the fact the mortgage hasn't been paid.

Retired judges

Bassett also criticized the move last July to bring back retired judges to hear foreclosure cases.

(Page 3 of 5)

"A bunch of judges come in," she said. "They are not elected officials anymore. They're not responsible to the people who elected them. They can do what they want with no recourse and get away with it."

At four preliminary hearings, she had four judges, Bassett said.

The judges rush foreclosure cases for docket sounding and offer the possibility a summary judgment also can be heard at the same time, she said. A summary judgment allows parties to have a judge determine a case without a trial, and is usually requested by a plaintiff.

"We are not rushing things," Cary said. The process is controlled by the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure.

Senior judges are a valuable resource, and they hear foreclosure cases according to a law passed by the Legislature, Cary said.

For the existing judges on staff to handle the overwhelming number of open cases would have taken years, he said.

Since the program began July 1, senior judges have processed an estimated 10,000 foreclosure cases, Cary said.

"So really her argument doesn't hold water," he said, "because we're just doing our job."

Bassett is divorced. She bought the three-bedroom, two-bath home 10 years ago for $132,000. She refinanced the mortgage in June 2006, and began struggling financially as her health worsened, using up her savings and retirement money.

Her last full mortgage payment was June 1, 2009.

Bassett made three partial payments of $500, which the bank accepted but never credited to her account, she said. Then she stopped paying. Instead, she applied for a loan modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program. She was told her first application and paperwork were lost, so she applied again.

Regulations say a response should come in 30 days, she said. Instead, about 90 days later, in early December, Bassett said she found an overnight envelope on her doorstep, without postage or dates, containing a loan modification backdated to fall within the 30-day time frame.

By the time she received the offer, her first payment would have been late.

(Page 4 of 5)

"You have to waive your rights - that's what I got out of reading the fine print on the loan modification agreement," Bassett said. She didn't sign it.

"It just disgusted me. I couldn't take any more," she said. "And I thought, 'You know what? The heck with them. I am going to try and do this through the court system."

Meanwhile, OneWest Bank sent her a notification it was seeking to foreclose. The document was filed in Lee County on Dec. 7, 2009; Bassett received it on Dec. 15.

The Marshall C. Watson firm is representing OneWest Bank in Bassett's foreclosure case. Her paperwork shows conflicting versions of the amount owed, but the range is $130,000-$140,000, plus late fees and attorneys fees, she said.

The firm, which did not comment for this story, is one of four being investigated as a foreclosure mill, the state attorney general's office confirmed this week.

The other three are the law firm of David J. Stern in Plantation, the Florida Default Law Group, and Shapiro & Fishman LLP. All deny wrongdoing.

Bassett said she found inconsistencies in the paperwork.

"The bank comes in with forged documents, lies - affidavits signed by people who don't have a clue," she said. "They swear personal knowledge of this account - but don't know what they're signing."

The complaint says Fannie Mae is owner of the note, but there is no documentation of a note assigning the mortgage to Fannie Mae, Bassett said.

The bank also could not provide the original promissory note, she said.

One copy of the note filed with the court Dec. 7, 2009, has three signatures, including Bassett's.

"You can see on the bottom of the page where something was scanned on it, and they didn't erase the duplicate page numbers and phone numbers," Bassett said. "So I don't know if they took the CEO's signatures off another paper and scanned it on my promissory note."

Another copy of the promissory note she requested from the bank and received nearly a year later, Nov. 13, 2010, has only Bassett's signature. There are no notarizations on either copy of the note.

(Page 5 of 5)

Also, she points to an inconsistency in the assignment of her mortgage to OneWest bank on Oct. 22, 2009, from Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. MERS was acting as representative for Quicken Loans which handled Bassett's earlier refinancing.

The person signing for MERS also is assistant vice president of foreclosure at OneWest Bank, so in effect he is assigning the mortgage to himself, she said. The same person was formerly a lawyer with Marshall C. Watson, the firm representing OneWest Bank. "It's really sloppy and pathetic," Bassett said. "So I'm thinking, 'I just can't believe these guys are pulling this crap.'"

Diane Henry, spokeswoman for OneWest Bank, wrote: "Thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond, but OneWest Bank is going to decline to comment for your story."

Bassett worries that despite contradictions in paperwork, the judge won't require the bank to prove it can foreclose, she said. "The case is won in my head. The big thing is getting out there. Speaking in public is my worst nightmare," Bassett said. "I don't have anywhere to go. If I did, I'd be long gone. This is no way to live."

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