In 2002, an accountant in Boca Raton, Florida, named Joseph Lents was accused of securities-law violations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Lents, who was chief executive officer of a now-defunct voice- recognition software company, had sold shares in the public company without filing the proper forms. Facing a little over $100,000 in fines and fees, and with his assets frozen by the SEC, Lents stopped making payments on his $1.5 million mortgage.
The loan servicer, Washington Mutual Inc., tried to foreclose on his home in 2003 but was never able to produce Lents’s promissory note, so the state circuit court for Palm Beach County dismissed the case. Next, the buyer of the loan, DLJ Mortgage Capital, stepped in with another foreclosure proceeding. DLJ claimed to have lost the promissory note in interoffice mail. Lents was dubious.
“When you say you lose a $1.5 million negotiable instrument — that doesn’t happen,” he said in an interview in Bloomberg Businessweek’s Oct. 25 issue.
DLJ claimed that its word was as good as paper. But at least in Palm Beach County, paper still rules. If his mortgage holder couldn’t prove it held his mortgage, it couldn’t foreclose.
Eight years after defaulting, Lents still hasn’t made a payment or been forced out of his house. DLJ, whose parent, Credit Suisse Group AG, declined to comment for this story, still hasn’t proved its ownership to the satisfaction of the court. Lents’s debt has grown to about $2.5 million, including unpaid taxes, interest and penalties.