LOS ANGELES - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the creation of the California Attorney General's Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, staffed by Department of Justice attorneys and investigators charged with protecting innocent homeowners and bringing to justice those who defraud them.
Composed of both civil and criminal enforcement teams, the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force will monitor and prosecute violations at every step of the mortgage process, from the origination of mortgage loans to the marketing of mortgage-backed securities to the investing public.
"Californians in search of the American dream all too often found a protracted personal and legal nightmare," said Attorney General 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, Attorney General Harris was joined by Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, representatives from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) 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 Attorney General Harris. "We are setting a high bar for other states and we insist that homeowners be protected, respected, and informed."
The Mortgage Fraud Strike Force will operate out of Department of Justice offices in Los Angeles, Fresno, San Francisco and Sacramento. Twenty-five attorneys and investigators will work together in 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.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. 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 Mayor Villaraigosa. "I applaud Attorney General Harris for her dedication to employing swift justice to the scam artists who prey on the residents of some of our most economically vulnerable neighborhoods."
California has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis, and by predators who seek to profit from the millions of Californians who are underwater in their mortgages, in foreclosure, or at risk of entering foreclosure.
Last year alone, there were foreclosure filings against 546,669 California homes. It is projected 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 fingerprints of illegal activity are all over the foreclosure crisis," said Paul Leonard, director of the California Office, 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. Given the economic damage wreaked by foreclosures in California, this initiative is very welcome news."
Attorney General Harris has long been dedicated to prosecuting mortgage fraud. In 2009, as District Attorney of San Francisco, she launched the first stand-alone district attorney's mortgage fraud unit in California with $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Justice.
If you are a homeowner who has been scammed, you can learn more or file a complaint online with the Attorney General's office at: http://oag.ca.gov/consumers.