Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraudby David Dayen
In the depths of the Great Recession, a cancer nurse, a car dealership worker, and an insurance fraud specialist helped uncover the largest consumer crime in American historya scandal that implicated dozens of major executives on Wall Street. They called it foreclosure fraud: millions of families were kicked out of their homes based on false evidence by
In the depths of the Great Recession, a cancer nurse, a car dealership worker, and an insurance fraud specialist helped uncover the largest consumer crime in American historya scandal that implicated dozens of major executives on Wall Street. They called it foreclosure fraud: millions of families were kicked out of their homes based on false evidence by mortgage companies that had no legal right to foreclose.
Lisa Epstein, Michael Redman, and Lynn Szymoniak did not work in government or law enforcement. They had no history of anticorporate activism. Instead they were all foreclosure victims, and while struggling with their shame and isolation they committed a revolutionary act: closely reading their mortgage documents, discovering the deceit behind them, and building a movement to expose it.
Fiscal Times columnist David Dayen recounts how these ordinary Floridians challenged the most powerful institutions in America armed only with the truthand for a brief moment they brought the corrupt financial industry to its knees.
Dayen, a contributing writer for Salon and the Intercept, elevates a muckraking exposé of fraudulent foreclosures to Hitchcockian levels of suspense. His absorbing account grabs the reader early on and doesn’t let go as he describes how oncology nurse Lisa Epstein, car dealership sales manager Michael Redman, and insurance lawyer Lynn Szymoniak challenged the big banks. The story’s principals sacrifice marriages and careers—Szymoniak even reports receiving a death threat—to spread the truth about Wall Street’s illegal foreclosure practices. Dayen has a novelist’s eye, and he captures not only the quotidian existences of his subjects but the magnitude of their obsession. At one point, Epstein, a single mother who has quit her full-time job, threatens to run for office against the incumbent clerk of courts of Palm Beach County in order to personally combat fraudulent foreclosure filings. Dayen sympathizes with his characters’ passions but maintains a professional distance from their quixoticism. His epilogue chronicles, sadly, the Lilliputian dimensions of their hard-fought victories. Meticulously researched, enthralling, and educational, this addition to the literature of the Great Recession calls out for its own big-screen adaptation. Agent: Andy Ross, Andy Ross Agency. (May)
A Kirkus Best Book of 2016
“Chain of Title is a careful documentation of the mortgage fraud at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis. . . If you’re looking for a book to read over Labor Day weekend one that will that will get your heart pumping and your blood boiling and that will remind you why we’re in these fights add this one to your list.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren
“Prepare to be surprised, and angry
the homeowners' stories are emotional roller coasters. Dayen skillfully narrates a slow reveal and sprinkles in some lively metaphors.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Enraging and enlightening.”
“An inspiring, well-rendered, deeply reported, and often infuriating account.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Hitchcockian... Meticulously researched, enthralling, and educational, this addition to the literature of the Great Recession calls out for its own big-screen adaptation.”
"Note: Dave Dayen's magnificent Chain of Title is essential to understanding how people became victims of the kind of rigged casino that made the Steve Mnuchins rich…”
"This is the story, one of its characters tells us, of an unlikely ‘crime scene’: the real estate courts of Florida, where professional fraudsters greased the skids to kick people out of their houses in order to prop up Wall Street’s profits, while judges looked the other way. And, it is the story of a prairie firebegan by ordinary Americans who brilliantly and courageously fought back when our leaders refused to do so. All in all, it is one of the best books about the law and American life that I ever have read."
Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge
"In the wake of the devastating 2008 financial crisis, David Dayen has become one of the nation’s most knowledgeable, astute and important voices in identifying the culprits and documenting the efforts to protect them. His new book is one of the most important yet written on the causes of that crisis, the abject failures of the political class to punish the wrongdoers, and the dangerous refusal on the part of the nation’s elite to safeguard against future and even worse meltdowns."
"Chain of Title is a sweeping work of investigative journalism that traces the arc of a criminally underreported story in America, the collapse of the rule of law in the home mortgage industry. By following three victims of illegal foreclosure practices, Dayen humanizes and brilliantly illuminates a vast scam unseen by the public because it’s been indecipherable to everyone but a few industrious housing lawyersas he shows, even judges don’t understand it. The nightmare scavenger-hunt pursued by homeowners like Lisa Epstein leads to a horror-ending: behind the dream of home ownership lies a lawless jungle, owned and operated by banks, where there are no rules to protect families and their property."
Matt Taibbi, author of The Divide
"David Dayen first wrote about foreclosures as a scruffy blogger and consistently beat almost every established financial reporter to the story. Now he has written the best history of that shameful period. The mortgage industry spent untold millions to spread the story they created from whole cloth after the crisis hit: families who lost their homes were mostly undeserving spendthrifts trying to shirk just debts. Chain of Title tells the real story and the real story should offend the sense of justice of every American with a conscience."
Former congressman Brad Miller (D-NC), original co-author of the section of the Dodd-Frank Act that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Salon contributing writer Dayen illuminates how, during the past 10 years, home buyers ended up illegally evicted from their residences as the result of dishonesty, greed, and heartlessness involving mortgage lenders, mortgage servicers, investment bankers, and unscrupulous lawyers. Because the painstakingly documented scheme consists of highly technical maneuvering related to mortgage documents and land records, the author tells the saga mainly through the individual cases of three home buyers—originally strangers to each other—who educated themselves to fight back: Lisa Epstein, a cancer nurse; Michael Redman, an auto dealership employee; and Lynn Szymoniak, a lawyer who investigates insurance fraud. Dayen chronicles their financially and physically draining campaigns to save their homes from illegal foreclosures and battle on behalf of millions of additional individuals. The author begins with Epstein's case, followed by Redman's; one-third of the way into the narrative, the two of them meet Szymoniak, and Dayen describes how they pooled their meager resources to raise public consciousness at huge personal sacrifice. The author populates the book with hundreds of other individuals, many of them villains, cowards, or clueless men and women, many of whom had the authority to halt the fraudulent behaviors. In addition, the author occasionally addresses readers directly about the mechanics of the foreclosures, which have affected all 50 states but have been concentrated in Florida, California, Nevada, and Arizona. Wisely, though, Dayen rarely shifts the focus from the instructive, compelling sagas of his principals. Although the efforts of the whistle-blowers have educated countless citizens facing foreclosure—including the massive reach of a 60 Minutes episode—hundreds of thousands of houses remain empty as the former residents scrape by in what they hope are temporary quarters. Dayen relates how prosecutors, judges, and the Department of Justice have caved to powerful mortgage industry donors while illegal foreclosures continue. An inspiring, well-rendered, deeply reported, and often infuriating account.
- New Press, The
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Meet the Author
David Dayen is a contributing writer to Salon and a weekly columnist for the Fiscal Times, and he writes for publications including the New Republic, the American Prospect, The Guardian, Vice, The Intercept, and the the Huffington Post. He lives in Los Angeles. This is his first book.
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