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320 pages, Kindle Edition
First published April 5, 2016
America is a punitive nation, the most incarcerated nation on earth. If you’re caught stealing a soda or smoking a joint, we’ll put you away for way too long. But if you commit systemic crimes—if you hand out millions of fraudulent mortgages, package them into fraudulent securities, fail to complete fraudulent securitizations, engage in fraudulent servicing, and evict homeowners with fraudulent foreclosure papers—you can get away with it. Many have theorized why the banks would be so cavalier as to break the housing market just to make a few extra dollars. And the answer is proven by the outcome: because they knew they could, without serious consequences. We don’t have a justice system with the will to convict everyone, regardless of wealth and power. And that ensures that the wealthy and powerful will keep committing crimes.
Cheryl Samons worked for the David J. Stern law firm, a foreclosure mill that ballooned to nine hundred employees during the crisis, filing more than seventy thousand cases in 2009 alone, diligently forcing people out of their homes all week long and sometimes on weekends. The company also owned several ancillary services, making money at every stage of the foreclosure process. Stern lived like a captain of industry, with a $15 million mansion on the Intracoastal and a 130-foot yacht named Misunderstood. According to rumor, he initially considered calling it Su Casa Es Mi Casa.
The activists who helped expose foreclosure fraud did everything civics classes teach us will create effective change. They found patterns of systematic criminality. They coordinated and gathered evidence. They organized, using old-fashioned protests and new media tools, paralleling the pamphleteers of the American Revolution and the muckrakers of the Progressive Era. They built a movement of similarly situated followers, and publicized their cause through the media. With persistence, they enlisted support from figures of authority. They helped file lawsuits against the perpetrators. They ensured that the whole nation, from a circuit court judge to the man seated in the Oval Office, would know what happened. They did all this while simultaneously fighting their own foreclosures.