Department of Justice loses another one of its top cops on mortgage fraud

Co-chair of the Mortgage Fraud Working Group Benjamin Wagner stepping down

Less than a month after Stuart Delery, the third in command at the Department of Justice and leader of the DOJ’s investigations into the conduct of banks during the financial crisis, announced he was stepping down, the DOJ is about to lose another of its big guns in the fight against mortgage fraud.

The DOJ announced Wednesday that Benjamin Wagner, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California and spent five years as a co-chair of the Mortgage Fraud Working Group of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, is resigning at the end of April.

Wagner served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California for six and a half years, and he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Supervisory Assistant U.S. Attorney for more than 17 years before that.

During his time as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, Wagner’s office oversaw several massive mortgage-related cases and settlements with some of the nation’s largest financial institutions, including:

  • The recent $5.06 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs over claims related to toxic mortgage bonds sold to investors in the run up to the financial crisis. According to the DOJ, the settlement included a $2.385 billion payment to the DOJ as a result of efforts by attorneys in the Eastern District, which was the largest civil recovery in the history of the district
  • The $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase announced in 2013 relating to the securitization and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities. The DOJ said that the settlement included a $2 billion payment to the Department of Justice as a result of the Eastern District’s work

Wagner’s office also oversaw the conviction of nearly 300 defendants in complex mortgage fraud cases, many involving schemes that fleeced homeowner victims of many millions of dollars, the DOJ said.

“Ben Wagner has served the people of the Eastern District of California with distinction for nearly a quarter of a century, spending more than 17 years as a prosecutor in the office before becoming U.S. Attorney in 2009,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

“Throughout his career with the Department of Justice, he has accepted a wide range of responsibilities – from coordinating his district’s anti-terrorism and hate crimes efforts to representing the department overseas as our Resident Legal Advisor in Indonesia,” Lynch continued.

“He has vigorously prosecuted cases of mortgage fraud, securing record sums from banks for their role in the 2008 financial crisis,” Lynch added. “And he has provided critical insight and valuable advice as a member of my Advisory Committee, where I appointed him co-chair of the Subcommittee on White Collar Crime. I am grateful to Ben for his outstanding record of service to the Department of Justice and to the American people and I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

In the official release from the DOJ, Wagner said that his time at the DOJ has been “most fulfilling and exciting experience” of his career.

“I have the greatest respect for the women and men in this office who seek to do justice each day and I am proud of all that we have been able to accomplish together,” Wagner said.

Wagner’s post-DOJ destination is unknown, but the Sacramento Bee reports that there are “rumors” that Wagner intends to join the private sector with a Northern California law firm, which Wagner denied when questioned about it by the Sacramento Bee.

From the Sacramento Bee report:

Wagner said a rumor that has circulated for some months that he will move to San Francisco and join a firm there “is not correct.”

“I will be exploring options there, and that is something I would consider, which is perhaps how that rumor started, but I have not yet even begun to talk with any firms,” Wagner said. “It will be several months before I figure out where I land. Truthfully, I have not yet spoken to anyone in any firm about employment there.

“I had made the decision some time ago not to start looking for a job until I was done here, to avoid the distraction from the job at hand and to avoid any potential conflicts.”

Taking Wagner’s place, at least on an interim basis, will be Phillip Talbert, who will assume leadership of the office as Acting U.S. Attorney.

Talbert, who is currently the First Assistant U.S. Attorney, has had a “distinguished” career in more than 13 years in the office, according to the DOJ. Talbert previously served as Appellate Chief and as a prosecutor in the Narcotics and Violent Crime Unit and served in the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility before coming to the Eastern District of California.

3d rendering of a row of luxury townhouses along a street

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