Key Witness in Massive Mortgage Foreclosure "Robo-Signing" Fraud Case Turns Up Dead

A notary public who was to be the key witness against two Irvine title officers accused of orchestrating a massive mortgage foreclosure "robo-signing" fraud scheme was found dead in her Las Vegas home. Tracy Lawrence, 43, missed her sentencing hearing on a misdemeanor charge Monday, after which she was to testify against Geraldine Ann Sheppard, 62, of Santa Ana, and Gary Randall Trafford, 49, of Irvine, according to a Nevada state prosecutor.

Las Vegas police, who say there were no obvious signs of foul play, are not investigating Lawrence's death as a homicide, according to CBS News Money Watch, which was told by the Clark County coroner a cause of death may not be known for weeks. She's presumed to have taken her own life.

Lawrence faced up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine at her sentencing after pleading guilty Nov. 14 to a single count of notarizing the signature of a person not in her presence. She worked for Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS), which processes home repossessions for major banks across the country. It is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but has an office in Irvine.

A 439-page indictment handed down by Clark County's grand jury on Nov. 16 alleges that between 2005 and 2008, Sheppard and Trafford of the LPS Irvine office directed employees to notarize forged signatures on documents and file the fraudulent notices of default with the Clark County recorder's office to begin home foreclosures. Nevada, of course, leads the nation in bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment.

According to John Kelleher, a chief deputy Nevada attorney general, Lawrence had estimated she fraudulently notarized more than 30,000 documents between 2005 and 2008 by attesting to the validity of signatures of people not in her presence.

Sheppard and Trafford, who have not yet been arrested, could face more than 200 felony charges of offering a false instrument and false certification of an instrument, and more than 100 misdemeanor notarization charges that could make their new home Nevada prison cells with convictions.

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