(Updates with police comment, details)
By Scot J. Paltrow
Nov 29 A notary who was to be a lead witness in
a major foreclosure fraud criminal case was found dead on
Monday in her Las Vegas apartment, according to police.
Police said there was no sign of foul play and that the
cause of death was unknown.
The notary, Tracy Lawrence, 43, had worked in Nevada for
for Florida-based Lender Processing Services, the largest U.S.
provider of mortgage services, including preparing foreclosure
On Nov. 16, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Masto
announced a 606-count indictment against two California-based
LPS employees, Gary Trafford and Gerri Sheppard, accusing them
of directing the filing of tens of thousands of "fraudulent
documents" in Nevada foreclosure cases.
Lawrence had pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count
in the case and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. In a
telephone interview with Reuters, John Kelleher, Nevada's chief
deputy attorney general, said that Lawrence "was one of our key
witnesses." He said it was too early to tell what impact her
death may have on the case but that it would go forward.
She had pleaded guilty to falsely notarizing Trafford's
signature, affixing her official stamp to his signature even
though he wasn't present.
Lawrence was due to be sentenced Monday on the single
count, and the attorney general's office had agreed to support
her lawyer's request for probation. But Lawrence failed to
appear in court for the sentencing. The attorney general's
office called the police, who went to Lawrence's apartment and
discovered the body, Las Vegas Police Sergeant Matthew Sanford
Sanford said in a phone interview that the death "currently
is not being investigated as a homicide." He said the cause of
death likely won't be known until completion of toxicology
tests by the country coroner, which would take several weeks.
LPS, which wasn't named in the indictment, has said that it
has provided lawyers for Trafford and Sheppard to defend them
against the charges. In a statement issued Nov. 17, LPS said
that after an internal review the company "acknowledges the
signing procedures on some of these documents were flawed;
however, the company also believes these documents were
properly authorized and their recording did not result in a
Kelleher said the investigation is continuing and that
additional indictments relating to false foreclosure documents
may be forthcoming. Nevada has been among the states hardest
hit by the collapse of the housing boom, with large numbers of
homeowners in the Las Vegas area defaulting on mortgages.
(Reporting by Scot J. Paltrow in New York; Editing by Claudia
Parsons and Steve Orlofsky)