Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West
Discusses Mortgage and Financial Fruad
Today, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, who oversees the Civil Division at the Department of Justice, was in Nevada to talk about combating mortgage fraud. With the highest foreclosure rate in the country, many Nevada families are feeling the pain of the housing crisis. When foreclosure is the result of mortgage fraud, that pain is not just personal, it is criminal. Assistant Attorney General West talked about the way the Obama Administration and the Department of Justice are tackling these problem, discussing the newly created Financial Fraud Task Force:
Just last week, Attorney General Holder, along with officials from Treasury, HUD and the SEC announced that President Obama has signed an Executive Order establishing the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. This task force has a straightforward mission: To protect families against financial fraud and restore the confidence of consumers in our markets. Through this multi-agency, federal and state task force, we will seek to hold accountable not just those responsible for the corporate fraud that created our current financial crisis, but those responsible for the financial fraud that affects everyday, working families, like mortgage fraud and lending discrimination.
By creating this task force, the President has elevated the fight against mortgage fraud, securities fraud and other forms of financial fraud to a cabinet-level priority. Led by the Attorney General, this Task Force will be a model of inter-agency and inter-governmental cooperation, bringing together senior-level officials from no fewer than 20 federal agencies and regulatory bodies, as well as our partners in state and local government—from state Attorneys General to local District Attorneys—to bring a singular focus to this anti-fraud effort.
Because we recognize that no one agency or state can do this job alone, tackling the current financial crisis—and holding those accountable who are profiting from the suffering that this crisis has caused—requires a coordinated, aggressive response that draws upon the full panoply of resources and talent available at all levels of government.
Together through this Task Force, we will marshal the government’s civil and criminal capabilities at all levels to hold perpetrators of financial fraud responsible to the fullest extent of the law. We will tackle discrimination in the lending and housing markets, pursuing those who unlawfully target or discriminate against consumers when providing financial services. We will work to ensure that victims of fraud are adequately compensated. And we will look for public awareness and outreach opportunities – opportunities just like this important event today – to educate the public on fraudulent schemes, generate tips, identify potential victims, and deter future misconduct.
Assistant Attorney General West also highlighted several efforts underway by the Department in concert with our partners to tackle mortgage fraud:
We are working hard with our partners at the FTC to identify and prosecute, both civilly and criminally, fraud against American consumers and to recover funds for individuals who’ve been victimized.
We’re reaching out to our partners at the state and local levels, to Inspectors General offices throughout the country, identifying ways where we can help fill the gaps, not just in resources but in training, information-sharing and expertise so that we can better identify fraud as it occurs and respond to it more quickly and effectively.
And we’re working with our partners at HUD to tackle mortgage fraud. We’ve seen an explosion of new FHA-insured mortgages in the marketplace—nearly one out of every three new mortgages is insured by the FHA, which is a part of HUD. That means billions of taxpayer dollars are at risk to mortgage fraud, and that puts HUD front and center in this fight.
One of our most potent weapons for deterring and redressing this type of mortgage fraud is something called the False Claims Act. This law makes it illegal to submit fraudulent claims to the government, and these include false claims made to the FHA in loan documents. In fact, we rely on whistleblowers – members of the public – to help us identify this fraud. If the government intervenes and we’re successful, the whistleblowers are entitled to a share of any recovery. Last fiscal year, whistleblowers received $254,794,658 in connection with our False Claims Act enforcement efforts. By using this law, not only can we recover money lost to mortgage fraud, we can also impose treble damages and other penalties against fraud perpetrators.
The Department of Justice will continue to vigilantly pursue financial fraud. Whether on Wall Street or Main Street, these crimes threaten the security of all Americans. For more information on the newly created Financial Fraud Task Force, check out the Attorney General’s remarks from last week’s announcement, here.