The California state Assembly and Senate passed a package of bills giving Attorney General Kamala Harris new powers to pursue financial crimes. The legislation is moving to the governor for signature.
The twin bills (AB 1763 and SB 1474) allow Harris to convene a special grand jury in order to prosecute alleged crimes in different jurisdictions, which would aid the Attorney General as part of the national mortgage fraud task force formed in January.
Under current law, separate grand juries are required to cover fraud victims located all over the state. Charges must be filed in each county where a single defendant may have committed a crime.
"The Attorney General is currently engaged in the investigation of significant crimes," said state Sen. Loni Hancock, D- Berkeley. "Unfortunately, county-by-county grand juries do not work well in dealing with large-scale wrongdoing in multiple jurisdictions. With this bill, the Attorney General can investigate multijurisdictional crimes - it will provide protection when Californians need it the most."
Another bill passed by California lawmakers extends the statute of limitations on crimes related to mortgage lending to three years from one. Harris' office said it was difficult to prosecute crimes such as charging upfront fees for loan modifications because of the shortened foreclosure timelines in the state.
A slew of other legislation known as the Homeowner Bill of Rights is being considered in different state committees. These would provide more relief to troubled homeowners and more severe penalties for mortgage servicers. The Federal Housing Finance Agency criticized some of the proposals and received a rebuff from the California lawmakers supporting them.
"California was the epicenter of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis and scammers have been preying on vulnerable citizens who simply want to keep their homes," Harris said in a statement. "These bills will aid our efforts to prosecute and convict these criminals."
A spokesperson for Gov. Jerry Brown could not immediately comment on his intention to sign the bills.