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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If it Were Only Here ...

source: csmonitor 2/11/2009

The FBI is conducting more than 500 investigations of corporate fraud amid the financial meltdown, the bureau's deputy director told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Deputy Director John Pistole also said 38 of the 530 total active corporate fraud investigations involve fraud and financial institution matters directly related to the economic crisis.

Additionally, the FBI has more than 1,800 mortgage fraud investigations, more than double the number of such cases just two years ago.

There are so many mortgage fraud cases, Pistole said, that the bureau is not focusing on individual purchasers, but industry professionals generating fraud schemes that could total as much as hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It is a matter of lawyers, brokers or real estate professionals that are systematically trying to defraud the system," Pistole said.

Agents have even seen some instances of organized crime getting involved in mortgage fraud, he said.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., urged the FBI and the Justice Department to put people who have committed mortgage fraud behind bars.

"I want to see people prosecuted.... Frankly, I want to see them go to jail," he said.

Neil Barofsky, who was appointed the inspector general of the ongoing financial bailout plan, suggested the best way to clean up mortgage fraud is to pursue licensed professionals in the industry, and make examples of them.

"They have the most to lose, they're the most likely to flip, and they make the best examples," said Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor in New York.

"What we're trying to do is get out in front as much as we can," Pistole told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate held the hearing, titled "The Need for Increased Fraud Enforcement in the Wake of the Economic Downturn," a day after the Obama administration announced reforms to the $700 billion financial bailout program. The revamped program would combine up to $2 trillion in public and private money to free up credit and aid ailing banks. But bailout recipients have already come under criticism for wasting the money they've received.

Pistole said a lot of the oversight didn't come into place until much of the first $350 billion was out the door, but that law enforcement agencies would be able to prevent fraud much more efficiently with the rest of the money.

"Coordination, coordination, coordination," said Rita Glavin, acting assistant attorney general. "That's going to make the biggest impact."

Senate Democrats are urging more spending to expand the ranks of the FBI's financial fraud investigators.

After the 2001 terror attacks, about 2,000 FBI agents were moved to counterterrorism work, and Pistole said they are moving some of them back to buttress anti-fraud efforts.

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