Since shortly after the onset of the financial meltdown and housing market collapse in 2008, a populist narrative has been that mortgage lenders and servicers have deprived defaulting borrowers of their rights by "robo-signing" documents and outright fraudulent manufacturing of note and mortgage assignments and similar practices in foreclosure actions. The narrative has a factual basis.
However, not all of the fraud may have been perpetrated by lenders. Recently, allegations have been made that at least one Florida lawyer falsified note assignments to make it appear that the notes had been assigned to a bank other than the one that initiated the foreclosure proceedings.
The allegations against Kalogianis center on promissory notes, the document in which a borrower promises to repay the lender. Promissory notes often change hands as mortgages are sold and resold. Many lenders went out of business after the housing crash. Because it was not always clear whom a borrower owed, promissory notes often were stamped with a "blank endorsement'' — whoever the promissory note was endorsed to would be legally entitled to foreclose and collect any money due.
"It's like a blank check,'' Weidner said.
In cases defended by Kalogianis, the companies seeking to foreclose said they filed promissory notes with blank endorsements. But at some point, the motion says, the notes in four of the cases were altered to show they had been endorsed by "Bank of New York, as trustee.''
In the fifth case, a blank endorsement was altered to show Wells Fargo had signed it, the motion says.
One company, BAC, lost its case against a Kalogianis client in 2014 when Kalogianis argued at trial that only Bank of New York could foreclose because it was the one that had endorsed the promissory note. (The case has since been reopened.)
Kalogianis denies the allegations and asserts that the lender falsified documentation and "was trying to 'turn the tables'' on him rather than lose the case."
"It is the plaintiff's own improper conduct … that should be reviewed,'' he said.
Another impediment for the lender is that there is no eyewitness who saw the alteration of the assignments, and there exists no clerk's office video which would reveal the alteration. The lender asserts that it must have been Kalogianis who altered the assignments because no other person who might have had access to the documents had a motive to falsify it. I'm not sure that's a winner. Remember, just like on "Cops," all suspects are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law. Moreover, if Kalogianis can prove his allegations that the lender engaged in other document fraud, then a judge could determine that any falsification of the assignments to show the Bank of New York as the assignee may just as well have been made by the lender rather than Kalogianis, perhaps as a desperate "Hail Mary" maneuver.
The Tampa Bay Times reporter does devote considerable space to recounting the colorful history of Mr. Kalogianis, including a couple of previous ethical complaints, his unsuccessful run for US Congress, and the fact that he worked his way through law school as a male stripper. So many of us worked our way through law school as strippers that I fail to see what bearing that might have on the lender's allegations.
Other than the allegations of a couple of clients of Kalogianis, both of whom alleged that the lender in their cases had "committed fraud," there is no similar recounting of the colorful past of the lender or any of its legal counsel. Perhaps they are all Carmelite nuns and monks who spent their law school years and beyond grappling with the dark night of the soul and had no time or inclination for strip bars or the US Congress, nearly identical fora in the popular imagination.
Certainly, the lender's motion in this case might be more persuasive if, as was the case with a motion brought by another foreclosing lender against Kalogianis, he was allegedly caught on camera.
This week, Bayview Loan Servicing, which is foreclosing on a Kalogianis' client on behalf of Bank of America, obtained a video of a man it says is Kalogianis looking at court files in the Pasco clerk's office. The video appears to show him removing a small object from an accordion folder, stamping a page in a court file and returning the object to the folder.
Kalogianis' attorney's defense is "nothing to see here" and "I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you."
"I can't see anything incriminating other than a lawyer doing a diligent search, going through files looking for mortgage fraud,'' Cohen said of the video. "After all, it would not be unusual to find mortgage fraud on the part of Bank of America and its legal agents in that they've already stipulated to being responsible for tampering with evidence resulting in payment of billions of dollars of fines to avoid a possible criminal prosecution.''
Cohen said that Kalogianis has won "many cases'' in which promissory notes had not been stamped or signed by any lender.
"Why in the world would he want to do something that could potentially hurt his client by putting a stamp on a note?'' Cohen asked "Simply stated, there was no need for Constantine to stamp anything to win the case.''
Forging or altering public records, including court records, can be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
As I have discussed many times in the past, the last point is important. Anyone, lender, borrower, or their respective counsel, who falsifies public records ought to get the book thrown at them from a criminal law perspective. Winning or losing a foreclosure case should be collateral damage. At this point, we have nothing to judge but allegations and press reports, but we'll be following this one to see what, if anything, shakes out.