June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards Were Fired After Revealing Widespread Foreclosure Fraud

June Clarkson and Theresa Edwards Were Fired After Revealing Widespread Foreclosure Fraud

June Clarkson went to Ernie's Bar-B-Q in Fort Lauderdale to have lunch with her supervisor, Bob Julian; and some coworkers. It was a Friday in May 2011, the end of a hectic workweek at the local economic crimes unit of the Office of the Attorney General.

Clarkson, a small, lively woman with glasses and blond hair, had left a private law firm to accept the sub-$60,000-a-year job. She relished the idea of being a public watchdog, of digging into the records of companies to catch them trying to cheat customers.

"It was just right up my alley: people defrauding other people, companies defrauding the public. I thought it was the best thing that had ever fallen into my lap," Clarkson recalls.

She worked closely with colleague Theresa Edwards. Their typical assignments involved consumer fraud, but in 2010, they started getting calls from hard-up homeowners. Millions of families had faced foreclosure in the wake of the housing collapse; most had capitulated under the power of giant banks and simply surrendered their homes. But more and more, Clarkson was hearing from individuals who were fighting back.

These homeowners noticed mistakes in the documents that the banks were using as the basis to seize people's homes: strange signatures, missing information, notary seals with no signature, dates in the future. Skeptics began wondering whether these were in fact not innocent mistakes but symptoms of intentional and possibly systemic fraud. Clarkson and Edwards were some of the first public officials willing to listen to these accusations.

Clarkson noticed Julian's phone ringing during lunch but didn't pay much attention. They drove back to the downtown Fort Lauderdale office building they shared with several of the area's most powerful law firms.

Clarkson returned to her desk, reading through piles of documents. Recently she had been investigating Lender Processing Services (LPS), a company that, by some estimates, helped prepare paperwork for half the foreclosures in the country. Every time she found a red flag — a suspect signature, perhaps, or an intriguing memo — she went next door to Julian's office and showed him. But since lunch, he hadn't been acting normally, she thought. Clarkson came back a couple of times, and each time she announced a discovery, it seemed to pain Julian. Eventually he closed his door, but Clarkson knocked again. Julian just looked up at her. She thought he might be sick. "What's the matter?" she asked. "I'm doing a good job!"

"I know," she remembers him saying. She left and closed the door.

Edwards came back from a morning of depositions and stopped by Julian's office. She was tall and calm-voiced with reddish-brown hair, more experienced at the AG's office than Clarkson.

"Get June and come in here," he told her.

He cut straight to the chase: "You're both done at the end of the day. It's a done deal, all the way up to Tallahassee. You can either quit or be terminated," they remembered him saying.

Clarkson and Edwards left the office, stunned. Edwards had known Julian since law school, and the three of them had worked closely together. The two investigators considered themselves the hardest-working people in the office and had recently received a commendation for their work. Julian had encouraged them to go after the foreclosure-fraud cases with all they had, and they even helped win a $2 million settlement with the foreclosure law firm of Marshall Watson, which had been accused of fudging its documents. So what happened?

The women say that, at the time, they had no idea. But over the past year, as supporters have rallied to their side, they've started to believe they were ousted for political reasons. Going after powerful law firms and banks didn't sit too well with the state's new, business-friendly Republican administration, including Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Since their ouster, the women have moved on to private practice and become heroes to some, though their power in court is a shadow of their former influence. Meanwhile, the mortgage industry has not exactly gotten its papers in order.

The complicated system of investments that underlies the industry — mortgage-backed securities, government-sponsored enterprises — may seem distant and fanciful to buyers when they sign on the dotted line and buy into the American dream of home ownership. But the demanding letters that can suddenly show up in the mail — pay now or lose your home — are undeniably real.

What if the documentation to back up the bank's claim to your house were missing or incomplete, if the bank was deriving its power from a few pieces of paper slapped together at a document mill? How would you know?

One Saturday afternoon in May 2010, Clarkson was manning the attorney general's table at a mortgage-fraud seminar at Florida International University in Miami. Much of the discussion was about two-bit scams, like companies offering too-good-to-be-true loan modifications. A woman came up to the table. "I've been trying to get in touch with you," said Lisa Epstein, a sharp-eyed brunet in her 40s.


Epstein, a registered nurse, was going through a divorce and had started to worry about money. She asked her lender, Chase Bank, to help work out a solution that would lower her monthly payments. "I had excellent credit and had never paid a bill late," she says. That inquiry led to two surprises: First, Chase told her that another bank, Wells Fargo, was involved and would not allow any sort of loan modification. Second, after weeks of persistence, Chase suggested that no modification would ever happen unless she stopped paying her mortgage for three months.

Epstein was aghast at losing her pristine credit score, but she complied and stopped paying. After 90 days, she heard nothing. Around day 117 or so, by her count, she got a knock on the door and was served with foreclosure papers. Epstein was confused when she examined the documents and saw that the company attempting to seize her home was not Chase or Wells Fargo but U.S. Bank.

Epstein began spending her days off at the courthouse, sitting in on foreclosure-court proceedings to acquaint herself with the baffling intricacies of the system. She also looked up other people's documents in the public record. She noticed a pattern in documents that, like hers, had been signed by two women with the same last name: Erin and Lisa Cullaro. In many instances, both the signature and notary lines had the same handwriting; it seemed like one or the other would just sign both of the names. After a little digging, she learned that they were sisters-in-law who both worked at a law firm called Florida Default Law Group in Tampa.

Epstein brought her documents when she finally met with Clarkson and Edwards in the conference room at their downtown office. Epstein slid a piece of paper across the table. Clarkson and Edwards realized, to their horror, that one of the signers, Erin Cullaro, was a colleague of theirs — a fellow fraud investigator at the attorney general's Tampa office.

Clarkson and Edwards had no choice but to report the discovery to Julian, who dutifully sent the news up the line. A resulting investigation revealed that Cullaro had been moonlighting as a document signer for the law firm without telling anyone at her government job. Cullaro was reprimanded and later dismissed from the Attorney General's Office.

"It wasn't fun" turning in a coworker, Clarkson recalls. "It was one of the most horrible experiences I've ever had to go through, besides being fired."

But amid this tempest, Clarkson and Edwards were discovering more and more suspicious documents. With the blessing of Julian and a hunch that something strange was going on, Clarkson and Edwards dug into the ever-deepening piles of papers on their desks.

Before she went on 60 Minutes with revelations of paste-up documents, before she sued her bank, and before she won that suit with an $18 million payout, Lynn Szymoniak could easily have been mistaken for an obsessive nutjob. The living room of her Palm Beach Gardens house contained a wall of binders filled with copies of other people's court records. She burned out one copy machine, and a neighbor donated another. She showed up to meetings with fellow foreclosure activists carrying reams of paper and giant, blown-up copies of documents with obvious mistakes.

If Epstein played the role of the naive newcomer who was surprised at the mistakes she was finding, Szymoniak was the wonkish cynic who figured there must be more. A lawyer with experience investigating white-collar crimes, she had bought a home in 1998 and successfully refinanced in 2006. She says that in early 2008, her bank had raised her interest rate in a technical violation of the terms of her mortgage agreement, so she stopped paying until it could be sorted out. The bank sued for foreclosure that July.

She looked at the assignment of mortgage — a document that proves which bank owns a mortgage, much like a title proves who owns a car — that the bank was using as a basis to seize her home. It was dated September 2008: two months into the future.

Szymoniak asked for more documentation. At first, the servicing company that handled the foreclosure told her it couldn't find the promissory note — an essential document that she signed when she bought the house. By signing a promissory note, the homeowner promises to pay back the bank for a loan to buy a house. Szymoniak says she never received a copy of the promissory note when she initially bought her house.


"A year and a half after my foreclosure was started, they said, 'Eureka! We found the note!' " Szymoniak recalls. She says she was given copies of it, along with two different versions of the "allonge," a page on which the bank endorsed it with an official stamp.

"One of them had a filing strip across the top with a book and page number" indicating where the original version was filed in the courthouse. Ever the skeptic, Szymoniak says she "trooped on down to the courthouse to find what was actually at that book and page number." A clerk helped her pull up the digital file, and Szymoniak was shocked. In the specified place was a different document altogether — although the header and footer matched the copy of the note that the bank had provided.

"Somebody had cut the top strip off my mortgage and the bottom strip and pasted it to the allonge [and then gave me a photocopy]. If you held it up and put it on tracing paper and interposed it, you could tell it was the exact thing."

The bank later blamed a broken copier, but Szymoniak is more blunt: "Documents were being fabricated."

Szymoniak's experience as an investigator had taught her to look for repeat examples of a problem, so she logged onto the court clerk's website and looked at other people's mortgage assignments that had been filed in a six-month period by her servicer. And that's where she found Linda Green.

That name had been signed on thousands of documents, attached to various high-ranking job titles like "vice president," for "at least ten different companies," Szymoniak says. Many of the signatures looked nothing alike. This practice — which involved people mass-signing documents that weren't always properly filled out or notarized, sometimes even signing another person's name — eventually came to be known as "robo-signing." One detail tied together the papers with Linda Green's name: They bore the stamp of DocX, a document-processing firm in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Convinced that major fraud was occurring, Szymoniak soon contacted a range of authorities who she thought would share her concern: the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Palm Beach state attorney, the clerk of courts, and state legislators. She says she attached "at least 100 examples" of suspicious-looking documents to each piece of correspondence. Yet few officials seemed interested in hearing more. Finally, she was referred to the Attorney General's Office. Clarkson asked her to come in.

"I brought my binders of documents, all the evidence I had managed to put together," says Szymoniak. Clarkson and Edwards heard her out, but initially, they were skeptical. Szymoniak suspected that more than a dozen banks and servicers, not just one company, were engaging in the same kind of document fudging.

Szymoniak concedes that she must have seemed crazy. "As soon as you start promoting any kind of huge, vast conspiracy by large institutions, I think there's a real reason for everybody to take three steps back."

Still, her information seemed to check out. "She just brought in everything wrapped up with a bow," says Clarkson.

Clarkson and Edwards opened an investigation into the law firm that had prepared Szymoniak's documents, Marshall Watson. Each time an investigation was opened on a new company, it was publicized through the attorney general's media office. That would in turn prompt new complaints against the company, and Clarkson's and Edwards' investigations spread to more law firms and banks.

Eventually, the trail led them to Lender Processing Services. The nationwide company, which is publicly traded and boasts more than 8,000 employees, had been bought up and spun off from Fidelity National Financial along with DocX, the Georgia business associated with Linda Green. Because LPS was the intermediary company handling documents for foreclosures all around the country, Clarkson recalls, "I really started to say, 'This is LPS. They're behind it all.' " Clarkson subpoenaed LPS' internal records.

Clarkson and Edwards had received complaints about the Plantation firm of David Stern and took statements from its employees in the fall of 2010. Staff said that at the height of the foreclosure crisis, they were hired to help banks foreclose on thousands of struggling homeowners. They had spent entire days scrawling their names in ink on thousands of mortgage documents they hadn't read, notarizing them with whatever notary stamps were lying around. These unread, sloppy documents went straight into court records. When these statements became public, robo-signing became national news.

Court clerks — the custodians responsible for filing all of these documents — were suddenly at the center of the nation's hottest financial story. If so many suspicious documents were passing through their hands, how were they supposed to know which were legit and which weren't? They turned to the Florida Attorney General's Office for guidance.

In November 2010, Republican Rick Scott was elected governor of Florida, and a Fox News-friendly former prosecutor named Pam Bondi won the office of state attorney general. Before the two were inaugurated, the state Association of Court Clerks asked the departing attorney general, Bill McCollum, to have someone speak about foreclosures at its annual meeting. Clarkson was told to put together a presentation and report to the conference on December 8. By now, she had seen plenty of sketchy documents that would intrigue the clerks but didn't have much time to build a presentation. She asked Szymoniak for help.


Szymoniak already had a PowerPoint slideshow that she used to teach a continuing-ed course on document fraud. About half the slides that Clarkson eventually used were repurposed from Szymoniak's show. The end product was pretty exciting stuff in the court clerks' world. It included pictures of half a dozen different signatures purported to be from the mysterious Linda Green, with the title, "Who is the real Linda Green?" In the slideshow, Clarkson called Green's signatures "forgeries."

But the "forgery" that Clarkson was publicizing went far beyond the national story of overworked employees who were simply signing too fast because there were so many foreclosures to process. This stuff was wackier than that. Slides depicted blown-up copies of documents made out to "bogus assignee" or "bad bene[ficiary]," placeholders that LPS sometimes used internally in place of a bank name; these should never have been on official documents. There were banks assigning mortgages to themselves, signing on behalf of banks that had gone out of business years earlier. There was an assignment dated 9/9/9999. There was Szymoniak's cut-and-paste endorsement page.

One slide, explaining "the travels of a [mortgage-backed security] bundle," used a picture of a Candy Land game board to illustrate the convoluted path that many mortgages had taken in recent years: During the housing bubble, banks discovered they could increase short-term capital by selling mortgages to other banks, which in turn collected thousands of mortgages from all over the country and bundled them into "trusts," which were then "securitized," or sold in fractional shares to investors as mortgage-backed securities. Investors expected to get a steady return on their investment as many individuals would make regular mortgage payments over the years.

Szymoniak had found the trust containing her own mortgage. She says that, according to the rules governing the trust, original documents for all the mortgages in the trust were supposed to be kept in one location, in a stainless-steel vault. If any of them went into foreclosure, this repository would provide the necessary hard-copy documentation to be filed with the court.

But during the housing bubble around 2005, when millions of homeowners were taking low-rate loans and banks were wheeling and dealing their debt, there was no time for all this paperwork. So the banks hired "servicers," often other banks, to handle interactions with individual homeowners and keep track of all the individual payments. Servicers hired companies like LPS to manage foreclosures on delinquent homeowners and used a computerized system to keep track of mortgages they bought and sold, often totally losing track of important hard copies and original documents.

LPS isn't the only firm that has tested the extent of the law by producing questionable paperwork and shuttling it through court. But it's certainly one of the most influential. The company advertises itself to banks as a complete solution for handling mortgages, processing and analyzing data, and providing "default solutions": a euphemism for the nitty-gritty of kicking people out of their homes.

"The law firms would start looking through the files and realize there were documents missing," Szymoniak explains. "Anytime any firm [that worked with LPS] needed documents, LPS would either provide them with the document they needed or tell them, 'You go ahead and make it.' "

LPS disputes this explanation, saying in a statement that "LPS does not... determine what files or work are sent to a law firm" and that "DocX signed documents pursuant to corporate resolutions, adopted by the financial institution's Board of Directors, which designated DocX employees as officers of that institution for the limited purpose of executing documents on their behalf."

Still, LPS says it "discovered potential issues related to some of the past document execution practices" at DocX in 2009 and fired the manager and later shut down the subsidiary. But the problems were a symptom of a larger trend.

Servicers and law firms were often paid a set fee by the banks every time a payment was late and again when they moved forward with a foreclosure. That gave them a perverse incentive to foreclose on homeowners — even ones who were willing to pay but wanted help modifying their loans, or whose mortgages had been transferred so many times that they didn't know where to send payments.


The presentation was unusually candid for something coming out of the AG's Office, and it became the talk of clerks' offices across the state. Behind the scenes, Clarkson's investigation into LPS was reaching much further. She filed a subpoena of the company's internal records.

"They responded by trying to flood me and Theresa with about two external hard drives, notebooks that would fill a table, CDs and electronics, online files. I went through every page. Unfortunately for them, there were some things that shouldn't have been in there," Clarkson says. She won't go into details about what she found incriminating, because she hopes that the AG's Office is still proceeding with the investigation today.

But she drops a few hints: "It really shows how bad they are and what they had the ability to do. Messing with people's mortgages, messing with their loans, messing with their payments."

But LPS tells New Times that these statements are false, and it didn't let Clarkson's public accusations slide by. A month after the clerks' meeting, on January 6, Joan Meyer, a lawyer for LPS, sent a harsh letter to Clarkson and Edwards. Meyer castigated the investigators for calling the signatures "forgeries." Meyer contended that employees had officially delegated "signing authority" to other people, which was approved by banks and under some circumstances is legal, and that the "bogus assignee" placeholders had "made it out of the... facility by mistake."

She added: "We object to the Florida Attorney General's characterization of the mortgage industry and the securitization process as a game of 'Candy Land.' This is an extremely complicated subject involving the operations of a host of financial institutions and affiliated entities. Some effort should be given to mastering these complexities rather than simplistically labeling the industry as some juvenile board game."

As advocates for the public who often took on big corporations, Clarkson and Edwards were used to getting angry letters. "Ordinarily, that wouldn't bother us, because it's not unusual for the lawyers for the targets to get nasty," says Edwards.

But Meyer's complaints would soon make it up to Attorney General Bondi's office in Tallahassee. "We started seeing that [the target firms] were having contact with Tallahassee, not with us, and that's sort of unusual," Edwards continues. "Once the new [administration] came in, they were handling those cases that were more politically sensitive."

In February 2011, Tallahassee-based Economic Crimes Director Richard Lawson stopped by the office to chew them out for being too aggressive with target attorneys and businesses and stepping over the bounds of professionalism. "You're all I've heard about since I took office," they recall him saying. "I came down here expecting a couple of hyenas."

They claim that, after a discussion, he conceded, "What I've found are two dedicated state employees, so I'll take care of it. Just don't let me hear anything else about you for the next six months."

Three months later, they were out on their asses.

Clarkson and Edwards say they were the first officials to openly take notice of LPS, but they weren't the last. Their work piqued the interest of other officials across the country.

"The AG's Office from Nevada was calling us, because they wanted to know what was going on, and we wanted to work together," says Clarkson. "Then the AG's offices from other states. We talked to Nevada the most."

The Nevada Attorney General's Office confirmed that it has opened an investigation into the business practices of LPS but declined to comment on the open case or on Clarkson and Edwards' influence.

Supervisors in Tallahassee were working with other attorneys general to draft a multistate subpoena of LPS' records similar to the one Clarkson had filed. But Meyer, the attorney for LPS, also turned to Bondi's office for sympathy when the Michigan attorney general publicized an investigation of the company. In an email obtained by Epstein, Meyer wrote to Vicki Butler, an economic crimes unit supervisor, lamenting that the Michigan story had gone public.

"Could I talk to you about this issue generally?" she wrote. "These public announcements can deeply impact LPS's business operations and stock price and seem unnecessary if the AGs who issue them have already agreed to a meeting."

In another email, she asked Butler to try to persuade the Michigan office to pursue a civil rather than criminal case against LPS.

In Florida, it's hard to tell how far the investigations into LPS and its fellow companies have progressed since Clarkson and Edwards left in May 2011. Bondi's office says that no foreclosure-mill cases have been dropped.

Once Clarkson and Edwards were fired, critics began to accuse the Attorney General's Office of becoming too cozy with the firms it should be investigating — and personnel changes in the past year have done little to assuage those fears, as powerful firms have silenced their critics and regulators by hiring them away from government jobs.


The same month that Clarkson and Edwards were fired, former Deputy Attorney General Joe Jacquot accepted a job as senior vice president of government affairs for LPS. Mary Leontakianakos, who was director of economic crimes during their tenure, took a job at the law firm of Marshall Watson, which had prepared Lynn Szymoniak's faulty paperwork.

An examination of Bondi's campaign contributions shows that before the 2010 election, she received $500 (the maximum contribution) from LPS, as well as LPS Agency Sales and Posting, an affiliate in California. Five-hundred-dollar donations were also recorded from each of five mortgage-related companies that share an address in Jacksonville with LPS' Florida office.

By firing LPS' harshest critics, says Clarkson, "Bondi was, in my opinion, protecting LPS." Bondi's office has declined to comment for this article.

"All these machinations were going on, and June and I were completely oblivious," Edwards says now. "In hindsight, we were just so blind and stupid."

On May Day of this year, Edwards was in court with Clarkson at her side.

In the court file of her clients, a Haitian-American couple named Amos and Claudine Delva, she had found what the bank called the original version of the Delvas' promissory note. But in the Delvas' related bankruptcy file, she found another document the bank claimed was the "original." Both were endorsed by the bank in separate places: one underneath the signatures, the other on a separate page. By logic, they couldn't both be originals, as the bank's lawyers claimed.

"This is not a one-time occurrence," Edwards insisted, raising her voice. "It's fraud on the court, Judge, and you can't let this go by. If you let this go by, things will continue to happen as they have from the beginning." She pleaded for the judge to penalize the bank for trying to slip shoddy documents through the court. Such a victory for the defendant would be rare in the annals of American foreclosures.

Edwards and Clarkson say that fraudulent documents are for the most part ignored or tacitly accepted by the courts, while the burden of proving the bank wrong is placed on the clueless homeowner. Even in the rare cases when a problematic document prompts a judge to dismiss a foreclosure, a bank can move on without ever getting punished. "Worst comes to worst, they just give you your house, so you never get any good case law," Edwards says.

In the private practice they opened after leaving the Attorney General's Office, Edwards and Clarkson say they continue to see patterns of shoddy paperwork provided by the banks. "We know what to look for," says Edwards. "And we look for it. And it's in every single case."

To some, Clarkson and Edwards have become martyred heroes, symbols of how far the system will go to mute its critics. Some members of Occupy Fort Lauderdale formed a "foreclosure mobilization working group" early this year, staging sit-ins at evictions and offering guidance to homeowners. They started showing up at Clarkson and Edwards' hearings as cheerleaders. Once, they even brought signs and banners.

In newspaper articles following the women's ouster, Progress Florida, a nonprofit progressive group based in St. Petersburg, suggested the banks had "leveraged their enormous political power" to oust their sharpest critics and called for an investigation, echoing a similar request by Epstein.

Bondi responded, saying that "the decision... to end the employment of these two employees, like every decision made in my office, was made based on sound policy and responsible management." She added that the office was still "aggressively pursuing foreclosure law firm investigations."

Still, perhaps to calm her critics, Bondi asked Florida's chief financial officer to prepare an inspector general's report on the firing. The final report, released in January of this year, is 85 pages long and based heavily on interviews with the women's supervisors.

According to the report, when Bob Julian fired Edwards and Clarkson, he was following the orders of Richard Lawson, the newly appointed official in Tallahassee who had come to chew them out in February. The report's supposedly independent "findings" include large sections that are copied word for word from the interviews with Lawson.

His criticisms included Edwards and Clarkson keeping sloppy case files (which they admit, saying there was no document-management system in the office for most of their tenure); putting forth Szymoniak's slides and third-party opinions in the slideshow and favoring her research over independent investigations; improperly claiming "forgery" in the slideshow (much of it may not have technically been forgery, since employees had authorized others to sign for them); and releasing department records too liberally to Epstein and others without going through the usual records-request channels.

Epstein has since launched a run for Palm Beach County clerk, with the backing of progressive former congressman Alan Grayson. She acknowledges that state funding to the clerks is too low to closely screen all documents but says she wants to institute cultural changes in the office and perhaps get law enforcement involved. "At the very least, we should say [we do] not buy into the fact that a notarized, witnessed document can be signed by anyone," she says.


Before Szymoniak took the story of Linda Green nationwide on 60 Minutes, she sued Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, GMAC, and other banks for defrauding homeowners. The federal Department of Justice joined her case. The details of the cases are under seal, but in March, the government reached a partial settlement for $95 million. Considered a whistle blower under federal law, Szymoniak is entitled to $18 million. Nearly penniless from three years of full-time research, she's looking forward to getting the money, although half will go to her lawyers and a portion will go to funding a summer camp for kids made homeless by foreclosure.

The real Linda Green was eventually found by 60 Minutes and admitted to robo-signing but said she was just doing her job.

A landmark case now being considered by the Florida Supreme Court could prevent banks from simply dropping a foreclosure suit once a defendant claims he's used fraudulent documents — something that has allowed banks to escape scot-free on the rare occasions when fraud is taken seriously in court.

And attorneys general from 49 states (all except Oklahoma) filed suit against most of the major mortgage lenders and servicers. Those big firms were accused of submitting improper documentation to courts, making use of robo-signing, and failing to follow laws that required notaries public to witness signatures. The states announced that they won a $25 billion settlement this year, and the companies agreed to some reforms. Part of the payout will be divided among affected homeowners, although foreclosure-defense attorneys doubt that homeowners will receive as much as the banks and states have announced and say that banks are actually freer to pursue foreclosures now that the prosecution has balanced its books.

The inspector general's report on the firings noted that "the LPS case was reassigned to Julian, one of Lawson's most experienced attorneys."

LPS says in a statement provided to New Times that "LPS has fully cooperated with Attorneys General, and continues to engage in meaningful discussions in an effort to resolve all inquiries and legal matters related to past business practices in the best interests of all concerned... LPS is not aware of any person who was wrongfully foreclosed upon as a result of a potential error in the processes used by its employees."

Clarkson and Edwards decided not to sue for wrongful termination.

Edwards says that she was unprepared to lose her salary, especially with two kids in college, but she is happy with the way things turned out. Even though they make just enough money to live and keep the lights on, she sees the change as a blessing in disguise.

Clarkson seems a little more restless.

"It's not fun to see people losing their homes," she says. "It's kind of depressing."

Back in the courtroom on May 1, the lawyer for the bank — working for a law firm that Clarkson and Edwards had once started investigating — presented her counterargument. She said that it was legally too late in the game for Edwards to raise the issue of fraud on the court, since the Delvas had first challenged the foreclosure years earlier. "They had their day in court," she told the judge. "They cannot get another bite of the apple."

The Delvas' mortgage had been passed among banks, doled out to a servicer, and bundled into a trust, but only one assignment of mortgage had been filed with the court in the bankruptcy case. Upon closer inspection, that assignment had nothing to do with Amos and Claudine Delva. It was for the home of an unrelated homeowner, 150 miles away in Charlotte County.

Not that this was immediately apparent in court that day: The case file had been misplaced somewhere in the courthouse and was nowhere to be found.

After getting booted from the Attorney General's Office a year ago, June Clarkson (left) and Theresa Edwards started a private law partnership in Fort Lauderdale.

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