Consumer advocates are praising California Attorney General Kamala Harris' creation of a task force to attack mortgage fraud.
The Mortgage Fraud Strike Force will bring together attorneys and investigators with both civil and criminal experience to work on the problem, according to Harris' office.
"Californians in search of the American dream all too often found a protracted personal and legal nightmare," said Harris. "Families are losing their homes, while those who perpetrated crimes and frauds against them walk free."
At her announcement of the new mortgage fraud unit, Harris was joined by Los Angles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Center for Responsible Lending, as well as homeowners harmed by unlawful lending, servicing and foreclosure practices.
"We will work to safeguard the homeowner at every step of the process–from origination of a loan to its securitization–and we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who take advantage of trusting California families," said Harris. "We are setting a high bar for other states and we insist that homeowners be protected, respected, and informed."
Harris explained that the task force will work out of offices in Los Angeles, Fresno, San Francisco and Sacramento and that it will be formed into three teams. The consumer enforcement team will target scams in the consumer arena, including predatory lending, unfair business practices in originating loans, deceptive marketing, and loan modification and foreclosure consultant scams. The criminal enforcement team will prosecute criminal frauds associated with the epidemic of mortgage scams, including fraudulent investment and money laundering schemes related to mortgage lending or foreclosure relief. The corporate fraud team will target misconduct involving investments and securities tied to subprime mortgages, as well as false or fraudulent claims made to the state with respect to these securities.
Mayor Villaraigosa offered his support of the new strike force. "With nearly 10,000 foreclosures in the City of Los Angeles last year," he said, "this strike force is certain to help countless residents and families from becoming victimized."
"The attorney general's authority and attention to this issue brings a critical law enforcement component to the table that will help stop the practice of predatory lending once and for all," said Villaraigosa.
The Attorney General's office reported that in 2010 there were foreclosure filings against 546,669 California homes, and quoted projections that between 2009 and 2012, a total of 2 million California homes will enter the foreclosure process. In the last year, the California Department of Justice has received thousands of complaints related to foreclosure scams, mortgage fraud and mortgage servicing practices, the office added.
"The fingerprints of illegal activity are all over the foreclosure crisis," said Paul Leonard, director of the California office of Center for Responsible Lending. "The Attorney General's effort marries the need to punish bad actors for the practices that brought our economy to the brink with the need to eliminate the scam artists who have since attempted to profit from it."