A lawyer for a homeowner who went to Florida’s attorney general about a law firm’s conduct in a foreclosure case claims the firm sent his client a “discriminatory and racially degrading” letter to frighten him into dropping the complaint.
The letter, which the homeowner asserts emanated from the Law Offices of David J. Stern in Plantation, was filed with a counterclaim to a foreclosure action brought by CitiMortgage in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Stern’s attorney questioned the authenticity of the letter and said it was not authorized if it was generated by the law firm or by its back-office foreclosure processing business, DJSP Enterprises.
Jorge Porter and his attorney, John Herrera, said the letter arrived in the mail after Porter took complaints about his foreclosure to the state attorney general’s office. Twelve homeowners are named in the attorney general’s subpoena for Stern’s records, and Porter is one of them.
The counterclaim filed on Porter’s behalf characterizes the letter as “threatening, discriminatory and racially degrading” and also says it “threatened Porter with criminal action if he did not pay the total amount due to their client, CitiMortgage.”
“This particular letter is a direct response to my client’s allegations of fraud,” Herrera said in an interview. “You can almost categorize that letter as extortion.”
Some of the country’s largest lenders stopped doing business with the law firm since early this month.
The letter to Porter dated Aug. 18 instructs him to vacate his home within 30 days or face eviction on an April foreclosure filing in the circuit court. But in a counterclaim filed with the court, Herrera raises 25 affirmative defenses to the foreclosure. One asserts CitiMortgage did not own or hold the mortgage when the action was filed. Herrera, who filed the letter Oct. 19 as a court exhibit accompanying Porter’s counterclaim, sees the letter as an effort to frighten his client into withdrawing the complaint he filed with the attorney general.
Under a label “publication or dissemination is prohibited,” the unsigned letter on Stern law firm stationery states, “You should be relieved to be able to live in a civilized society and not take for granted the many opportunities available to people like you here, instead of taking advantage of the system by continuing to occupy a property you don’t legally owned [sic].”
“Frankly speaking, you seem to ignore how ‘The Rule of Law’ works in this Country,” the letter states. “We therefore encourage you to educate yourself, as to what is ‘legally’ acceptable in the United States. The fact that you are a foreign national from a third world country doesn’t excuse you from such ignorance.”
The letter leaves a white gap for a signature above the typed words “Law Offices of David J. Stern.”
Stern’s attorney, Jeffrey Tew of Miami’s Tew Cardenas, said a security officer at Stern’s firm couldn’t find the letter in the firm’s database. Tew noted the foreclosure case number listed in the letter did not adhere to the firm’s style.
“We have examined the letter. There appears to be some things about the letter that bring its authenticity into question, and, in any event, it wouldn’t be an authorized letter from the law firm,” Tew said.
A Pitney Bowes postage-meter number on the envelope traces back to Stern’s offices, according to Herrera. He said Stern’s representatives can examine the original, and he would make his computer databases available for inspection.
Herrera, a Coral Gables solo practitioner, contends CitiMortgage lacked standing to sue because Porter’s mortgage was sold in 2005 by Mortgage Warehouse to ABN Amro Mortgage Group. He asserts CitiMortgage did not “own, hold or possess” the mortgage when the foreclosure was filed.
The counterclaim alleges slander of title, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, abuse of process, civil conspiracy, violation of Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act and violation of the Fair Debt Collection Act.
Court papers initially listed CitiMortgage as the mortgage servicer. A mortgage assignment from Mortgage Warehouse to CitiMortgage was executed Aug. 18, four months after the original foreclosure filing. Herrera called that “a legal impossibility.”
Herrera said Porter complained to the attorney general’s office about the foreclosure earlier that month. On Aug. 10, Attorney General Bill McCollum announced the filing of subpoenas against Stern’s firm and three others, claiming “fabricated documents” have been filed in foreclosure cases to oust homeowners.
The law firms say they committed no systemic wrongdoing.
The Aug. 18 date on the letter with the offensive language is the same date as the mortgage assignment.
“This ‘sore losing’ demeanor will not be tolerated any longer,” the letter states. “You know the charges you have filed against our Law Firm are totally false, defamatory, unfounded as are also both embarrassing and shocking.”
Porter said the letter came as a shock.
“He makes a major insult against me, my nationality, my ethnic background,” Porter said. “Add this to all the humiliation of the foreclosure and everything I had been going through with the bank, it’s just not right.”
Porter moved to United States with his family when he was a child, settling first in New England before coming to Miami. He said the letter reminded him of something his grandmother used to say: “I’m too American to be Colombian and too Colombian to be American.”
Porter, a real estate agent, said he was not going to let his home of 20 years go without a fight. But he said he could never get through to a lawyer at Stern’s firm and was belittled by the staff when he called. He said they would purposely pronounce his first name Jorge as “whore.”
“I would say, ‘Ma’am, you are not being funny,” Porter said. “They hung up on me so many times.”
He asserted he tried to work with CitiMortgage from the start. He worked on a loan modification and continued to make mortgage payments though he was in arrears on the $200,000 loan. He said CitiMortgage kept losing his paperwork and eventually his whole file. He said he rejected a modification packet that was mailed to him with different terms than were discussed. The foreclosure suit was filed a few weeks later.
Porter said he went to the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission and finally the state attorney general’s office.
“This is the poster child case for the mess that we are in,” Herrera said.