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Notary Bulletin

Journal Thumbprint Helps Lead To Murder Conviction

Law enforcement officials nationwide rely upon Notary journal records when investigating mortgage fraud, as they often provide key evidence. The value of that evidence was underscored last month when two California men were sentenced to life in prison for running an elaborate murder and real estate fraud scheme — a scheme that unraveled due to a thumbprint recorded in a Notary’s journal.

Prominent San Francisco attorney David Replogle and co-conspirator Miguel Bustamante were sentenced this May for the 2008 murder of Cliff Lambert, a wealthy Palm Springs resident whom they killed as part of a plot to steal and resell his home and other assets. Two other accused co-conspirators still await trial in the case.

As part of the fraudulent real estate transaction, Replogle allegedly signed a Notary’s journal posing as Lambert and providing a thumbprint, as required by California law. According to police, Replogle later returned to the Notary’s office to steal the journal in a failed attempt to cover his tracks. The journal entry became the key evidence that led police to Replogle and his co-conspirators.

California and Illinois are the only states that require Notaries to record signers’ thumbprints for real estate-related transactions — a practice that helps prevent imposture. However, as noted in the NNA’s Recommended Notary Practices, every Notary should ask their signers to provide a thumbprint for the official journal record, even if it’s not required by state law.

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