CHICAGO — An Illinois sheriff who halted foreclosure evictions last month because some bank employees weren't following the proper procedures said Friday he's been forced to order his deputies to carry them out, but he will continue investigating the matter and could charge banks and their employees with crimes.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he is only ordering evictions to resume because county prosecutors told him that he was legally bound to carry out foreclosure eviction orders signed by a judge.
"For the people who have been involved with this and think now that because the (Cook County) State's Attorney's office has ordered me to go ahead with the evictions that everything's fine . . . No, we are going to be looking at you for criminal violations," Dart said. "You may have got through one storm now, the other one is coming."
Dart singled out Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and GMAC/Ally Financial last month for problems with eviction notices. He said Friday that investigators continue to find problems with bank employees signing off on foreclosure documents they haven't read, although he did not single out individual companies.
"When we asked a month ago . . . send me an affidavit to say that everything was done legally, not one organization, law firm handling these cases, not one of them sent in one document," Dart said. "Not one, and they had over a month to do it."
The sheriff said that if anything, his office's investigation has shown the problems that prompted the moratorium were even more widespread than he first thought.
"We are being overwhelmed with abundant evidence that there are irregularities," he said, adding that just a cursory investigation by his financial crimes unit has shown problems in eviction order after eviction order. "Irregularities are going on all over the place here. It's the norm."
Tom Kelly, a spokesman for Chase, said that steps have been taken to ensure that foreclosure documents don't have any problems in anticipation for the resumption of evictions later this month.
Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally Financial, said her company has been examining foreclosure documents carefully and has not found any cases of inappropriate notices being sent.
A spokesman for Bank of America did not immediately return calls for comment.
Dart said investigators found clear evidence of "robo-signing," in which lenders' employees sign scores of documents in a day that they could not have possibly have read to determine whether the foreclosures were legal. Investigators have, for example, come across documents signed by employees who have admitted in depositions in other parts of the country that they were taking part in "robo-signing," he said.
He also said that law school students have agreed to examine a total of 2,200 cases that have been submitted to his office, including the 1,800 that are ready for evictions to be carried out, to determine whether there were any irregularities. Cases where problems are spotted will be investigated further by his office to determine if criminal charges should be filed, he said.
Dart also hinted that just because he is being forced to resume evictions, the banks shouldn't expect his deputies to start carrying out the 1,800 evictions he said are ready to be executed.
"We will move ahead with those cases, but we'll do it in a thoughtful way," he said, adding that the deputies would do things like put notices on doors and suggesting to homeowners places they might go for legal help. "We're going to make sure all their rights are being looked after and we are proceeding in a lawful way where the due process people deserve is being looked after."`