Feds Turn Attention to Mortgage Fraud
Mounting pressure to investigate mortgage fraud has led federal prosecutors and investigators to open 151 criminal mortgage fraud cases through October, according to data released Wednesday by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. TRAC researchers said that the DOJ has only recently created a category for tracking such cases; and court delays meant that only 37 of the 151 cases brought by U.S. attorney's offices nationwide have yet been resolved. The relative recency of the category makes it impossible to say if the 151 cases being brought this year is a lot or a little; the fact that the category was created at all, however, speaks volumes about where federal investigators are now turning their attention. Read the full TRAC report. That said, TRAC researchers were surprised to see comparatively little attention given to mortgage fraud, given its central role in creating the nation's worst financial mess since the Great Depression. "Given the broad troubles now confronting the economy of the United States, and the role that mortgage fraud may have played in these problems, the relatively small number of cases in this area is somewhat surprising," the researchers wrote. "For example, during the same period U.S. attorney offices criminally prosecuted 554 individuals for simple drug possession, 399 cases for environmental wildlife protection and 405 for child pornography." A look at the data shows that DOJ investigations are centering on Florida in particular -- 73 of the 151 mortgage fraud cases identified in the study are in that state's courts. Surprisingly, only 19 cases are in California, another hotbed of the nation's housing bubble and, ostensibly, home to a large chunk of mortgage fraud activity. Even Western Pennsylvania has seen more attention from the DOJ, with 24 cases filed so far this year. An August report by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute, or MARI, found that Florida accounted for 24 percent of all properties with material misrepresentation submitted by MARI subscribers for loans originated nationwide during the first quarter of 2008. California was second, followed by a three-way tie for third place among Illinois, Maryland and Michigan. Yet California seems to be generating very little attention from the DOJ as it looks to investigate mortgage fraud. The Justice Department reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead investigative agency for 71 of the mortgage-related prosecutions -- almost half of the total. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was second with 32 cases, or 21 percent of the total. In an April report, the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network -- FINCEN, for short -- said it had received 52,868 SAR reports in FY 2007. This total was more than five times the 9,539 such reports the agency said it had received in FY 2003.