California, Nevada AGs join forces to fight mortgage fraud
The attorneys general of California and Nevada began a joint investigation designed to assist homeowners who have been harmed by alleged misconduct and fraud in the mortgage industry. Attorneys General Kamala Harris of California and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada said Tuesday they will combine investigative resources, including litigation strategies, information and evidence gathered through ongoing investigations, assisting each other as they pursue independent prosecutions. The alliance links the offices' civil and criminal enforcement teams and is intended to speed up the investigation of wrongdoing in the two states, which have experienced similar foreclosure and mortgage fraud crises. "The mortgage crisis is a man-made disaster that has taken a heavy toll on the country, but it saved its worst for California and Nevada," Harris said. Both states share a foreclosure system in which a bank can foreclose on a borrower's home without court oversight, known as a nonjudicial foreclosure. The collective result has created a rich opportunity for predators, the attorneys general said, leading the states to make mortgage-related law enforcement action a top priority. In October, Nevada and California ranked first and second, respectively, for the percentage of housing units that entered the foreclosure process, reflecting a parallel surge in foreclosures in the two states. One in every 180 Nevada properties entered the foreclosure process in October, and one in every 243 California homes received a filing that month. In 2010, California led the nation with nearly 547,000 foreclosure filings, which is about 4% of the housing units in the state, while Nevada led the nation with 9.4% of its homes receiving a foreclosure filing, totaling 106,160 units. "This strong partnership will allow our states to make an even more concerted effort to hold fraud perpetrators accountable and ensure law-abiding homeowners receive justice," Cortez Masto said. In May, Harris formed a mortgage fraud strike force, now composed of nearly 40 attorneys and investigators, that has launched a wide series of investigations and litigation. The strike force has instigated legal actions in cases including a lawsuit against an alleged multimillion-dollar "mass joinder" lawsuit scam by the law firm Kramer and Kaslow. Earlier this month, authorities arrested three top officers of a Stockton real estate company who took thousands of dollars in up-front loan modification fees and made false promises to assist struggling Central Valley homeowners with lowering their mortgage payments. In November, a Nevada mortgage fraud strike force announced the indictments of Gerri Sheppard and Gary Trafford, who led a massive robo-signing scheme which resulted in the filing of tens of thousands of fraudulent documents. Nevada is also suing Bank of America (BAC) and its subsidiaries for alleged violations of a consent judgment for mortgage servicing and mortgage origination irregularities. Write to Justin T. Hilley. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHilley.