PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Lynn Szymoniak's four-year foreclosure nightmare is finally over -- but the high-profile activist and attorney said she couldn't finalize her exit without one final problem.
Namely, her bank couldn't tell her how much she owed on her Palm Beach County, Fla. home.
Szymoniak began fighting with her bank in June 2008, when she says it improperly sought to raise the interest rate on her loan, increasing her monthly payments by roughly $1,000. She refused to pay, and has been embroiled in legal drama ever since.
But while defending her own home, Szymoniak, a white-collar crime attorney, uncovered startling irregularities, with key bank paperwork appearing to have been fabricated and critical signatures forged. She began documenting her findings, which ultimately led to allegations of massive, systemic errors in the foreclosure process as banks cut corners to save money, at times appearing to foreclose on borrowers who had not even missed payments.
The wrongdoing extended to loans backed by the federal government, and Szymoniak's findings became the basis for a $95 million settlement between the government and several banks. The government rewarded Szymoniak for her role as an expert whistleblower in the case by directing $18 million from the total to her.
The settlement check left Szymoniak with enough money to aid housing nonprofit groups and pay off her own mortgage. But lawyers for the banks seeking to foreclose on Szymoniak, American Home Mortgage Servicing and Deutsche Bank, couldn't tell her what she owed on the loan.
"For two months I've been trying to get a payoff figure on my loan," Szymoniak told an audience Friday at this year's Netroots Nation conference in Providence, R.I. "I could not get a figure from either the mortgage servicer or the attorneys for the bank. Last week ... I actually had to go into court and file a pleading to order a payoff figure. The judge was incensed and said they had seven days to get me a payoff figure. On the seventh day, they filed and asked for a five-day extension."
Eventually the lawyers came back with a figure: $1.4 million, which Szymoniak says is roughly $250,000 higher than the figure the bank's lawyers cited in February of this year. She initially took out her mortgage at $1 million, and believes the house to be worth about $500,000 at present.
"The payoff figure from February when I was a 'deadbeat' who had no money, until May when I was a 'whistleblower' who had a lot of money, increased by $250k," Szymoniak said.
Akerman Senterfitt, the lawyers for American Home Mortgage Servicing, declined to comment for this story.
CORRECTION:Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article stated that a court decision determined Szymoniak owed $1.4 million on her home, while that figure was in fact determined by lawyers for her bank.