Yes, David Trott, former head honcho of the Michigan foreclosure law firm Trott & Trott will likely suffer serious burns now that he's the Republican pick for the Congressional race to represent Michigan's 11th District. Whether they'll be of the second or third degree variety is contingent on how cleverly his opponent spins the fact that the guy has made a fortune on the misfortune of others. Dubbed the state's "Foreclosure King" his law firm has racked up an unenviable record: completing 80,000 foreclosures in a year and through it all he's managed to avoid the kind of press that brought down his colleagues in New York and Florida, "Foreclosure Kings" in their own domains: Steven J. Baum and David Stern, respectively.
If you check out David Trott's campaign website and sneak a peek at his slickly produced video you'd think he was simply a clean-cut family man, skilled at what he does; so successful, in fact, that he calls himself a "job creator" -- noticeably leaving out the fact that the 1,800 jobs he created helped upend hundreds of thousands of ordinary folks from their homes. It reminded me of a similar effort at self-promotion by Kerry Killinger (remember him?), the one-time CEO of Mega-Bank Washington Mutual who also sat for a self-aggrandizing video which sought to give the impression that he was a consumer-oriented visionary, that is, until he pied-pipered his company into the largest bank failure in U.S. history.
Well, you'd figure that a guy like Trott who weathered incoming press assaults when he still sat at the helm of the law firm might have settled back to enjoy the spoils of his war on homeowners, but think again. He's created a hubristic launch pad and fired himself into the glare of the political spotlight with the goal of spreading his conservative gospel. The candidate bares it all on the website:
I am a conservative who truly believes in cutting spending, lowering taxes and creating jobs. I am an outsider who is not beholden to any special interest. What you see is what you get. I will not tell you one thing and do another. There is too much debt, too much spending and too few jobs because of those types of politicians.
It's the usual template; all form, no content political blathering looking to snare the gullible voting rubes, a formula honed to perfection by another Republican job-seeking candidate by the name of Sarah Palin. Mr. Trott wants to go to Washington no matter what the cost and he's got the deep pockets to pay for the effort (the Detroit Free Press put his worth, along with his wife, at between 60 and 200 million). Shelling out two million of his own money he soundly trounced Republican incumbent, Kerry Bentivolio, in an August 5th primary. Trott is now set to square off against the Democratic challenger Bobby McKenzie in November and the race has caught the eye of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which vows to fight the good fight to keep this perpetrator of foreclosures from taking a seat in the hallowed House of Representatives.
Dickensian tales are rife when speaking of the handiwork of foreclosure lawyers and Trott's opponent will have plenty of horror stories to draw on: the 2008 attempted eviction of 72-year-old Rubie Curl-Pinkins -- physically disabled -- who lives with her 45-year-old daughter (suffering from congestive heart failure); Jeffrey Reed, an ex-Green Beret and combat veteran who thought he was dealing fairly with Trott & Trott on a loan modification, then discovering JP Morgan Chase had already begun a foreclosure (known in the vernacular as "dual tracking"). And there's "GrannyGate," a political consultant's worst nightmare and it's a doozie. Texana Hollis -- 101 years old -- was evicted from her home of 50 years via Trott & Trott's foreclosure paperwork and while Dave Trott protested in the court of public opinion that the firm was only following orders (HUD ordered the foreclosure) the damage was already done. The story made national headlines and underscored the smarmy nature of the work pursued by lawyers who wallow in this smelly snake pit of a legal specialty. Trott himself acknowledged he's no Mother Theresa admitting to Crains Detroit Business that, "you're not always feeling as if you're improving humanity on a day-to-day basis."
While foreclosures alone don't fill pots of gold for firms like Trott & Trott, controlling all aspects of the eviction process can be revenue enhancers and multipliers. It's a business formula pursued by other law firms and in the case of Trott & Trott it goes like this: buy a stake in Detroit Legal News, which publishes most of Michigan's required legal notices; control a company, NDeX, that churns out foreclosure-related legal documentation; own Attorney's Title along with five other title search operations and start your own real estate firm, Weir Manuel, to help facilitate the sale of foreclosed properties. Oh yes, let's not forget Trott Recovery Services, a debt collection firm.
The 2010 revelations of widespread fraud in the foreclosure process -- so-called "robo-signing" -- focused a lens on how law firms cut corners in order to evict families from hearth and home, and the Trott firm has had its share of criticism. Just ask Muskegon resident KathyJo Enders Torrenga. I mentioned a bit of Kathy's travails in a previous HuffPost blog and she certainly wasn't one to curl up in a fetal position when first hit with Trott & Trott's legal invitation to leave. Like many in her situation she became an activist and a fighter. Going Sherlock she discovered major indiscretions in the way Trott and company pursued the foreclosure process and recently found evidence to corroborate her allegations. Poring over Trott's financials -- released as part of his bid for political office -- Kathy found a fabricated assignment of mortgage recorded in the Register of Deeds office. The trust that held her mortgage, she claims, was closed two years prior to the assignment.
Ingham County Register of Deeds, Curtis Hertel, has seen Trott's foreclosure shenanigans before, in fact, he filed suit against Trott & Trott in 2011, claiming the firm went beyond simply representing mortgage companies in foreclosures and that the firm played an active role in creating beneficial financial arrangements. Dave Trott also spent big bucks lobbying the State Legislature for ways to make the foreclosure process easier. In an article written by anti-foreclosure activist, Senka Huskic, Hertel took pains to point out that the money spent was to "assure there is no due process for our citizens in the foreclosure process," adding that the firm definitely "filed fraudulent documents in my office." Trott's efforts in the case of KathyJo Enders Torrenga unfortunately did pay off. Last September she was, along with her family, shown the front door.
Let's face it, in most people's minds foreclosure mill lawyers compete with ambulance chasers for the lowest rung on the bottom-feeding ladder but even as ambulance chasers fill their own pockets with cash they occasionally do right by their aggrieved clients. Foreclosure lawyers, on the other hand, are committed to a process that benefits the banking industry -- the one-percenters -- at the expense of the ordinary homeowner.
It's a sad truth that people will often succumb to twisted campaign rhetoric and not vote their real interests or core values and for that reason this Congressional race should be of significance to a nationwide audience.
HL Mencken once pointed out that, "nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the America public." It seems that David Trott is dead set on proving him right.
Joel Sucher is a filmmaker/writer with Pacific Street Films.