Action 9 investigates notary errors

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ORLANDO, Fla. - An Orange County woman blames a notary for a phony will that helped someone steal her father's estate.

It's one of hundreds of complaints Action 9's Todd Ulrich uncovered against a notary system that many consumers claim fails to protect them from identity and property fraud.

Sally Baptiste claims her father's caregivers created a phony will and other documents to steal his Orange County home after his death.

Baptiste blames a notary for helping -- or at least failing to do her job.

"She is apparently notarizing stuff without even looking at it," Baptiste said.

Baptiste said the signature on the will was fraudulent because the day it was notarized -- meaning the notary claimed to witness a legal signature -- her father couldn't sign anything.

"The fact is he was in the hospital in intensive care, so there was no way she did this," Baptiste said.

Notary public Rachel Harvey signed the document, but she wouldn't answer Action 9's questions.

The caregivers, Timothy and Sherry Griffin, were charged with fraud and grand theft for trying to steal the Baptiste mobile home with fraudulent documents, but Baptiste claims no one cared that a notary made it possible.

"You can't be this reckless being a notary people," said Baptiste.

Action 9 checked the state's latest count and found there are nearly 400,000 notaries in Florida, but there is just one full-time worker in the governor's executive office who handles complaints.

According to the state, there are about 50 notary complaints a month.

One of those complaints involved a Lake County family that told Action 9 a car dealer's notary helped create a fake document that stuck them with a flood-damaged car.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, wants to reverse cuts in notary oversight.

"We need more support staff to regulate over 400,000 notaries, and now, a better economy will allow us to do that," he said.

After Action 9's investigation began, the state found Harvey failed to properly notarize the will, and she was suspended.

Baptiste claims that only happened after months of her calls and complaints to the state.

"There's a will and lease that are fraudulent, and you don't care," she said.

The governor's office told Action 9 it handled Baptiste's complaint right away, but any investigation takes time. It also said the one full-time notary employee is backed up by other legal staff, if needed.