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An Increase in Efforts to Enforce Financial Fraud Crimes

The Obama Administration's Operation Stolen Dreams targets financial wrongdoing, mortgage fraud and other white collar crimes.

August 13, 2010 ( Federal officials are not keeping secret their escalated efforts to prosecute financial fraud crimes involving U.S. government funds as well as U.S. government-backed or government-insured funds. Prior to the economic turbulence of the past few years, civil and criminal actions against firms suspected of defrauding government agencies or their proxies were mostly separate matters. But FBI investigators and Department of Justice prosecutors have announced their intention to investigate alleged wrongdoing involving federal funds, and individual criminal indictments have become more common.

In June, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which includes Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Inspector General Kenneth M. Donohue, announced results produced by Operation Stolen Dreams, a comprehensive and unprecedented mortgage fraud enforcement effort. According to the task force, the initiative has already led to the investigation of over 1,200 potential criminal defendants and resulted in hundreds of arrests across the country, based on billions of dollars in alleged losses involving federal funds. Hundreds of civil enforcement actions have been launched as well, with judgments to date approaching $150 million.

A recent prominent example involves the Florida mortgage lender Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp., which was investigated due to a $3 billion investment of Toxic Asset Recovery Program (TARP) funds in its Colonial Bancgroup subsidiary. The chairman of the firm, Lee Farkas, was charged with conspiracy to commit bank, wire and securities fraud in June against the Federal Housing Authority for allegedly using fraudulent schemes to prop up his mortgage firm prior to filing for bankruptcy in 2009.

The Wall Street Journal has identified this as the largest TARP fraud case yet. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program described it as "one of the most significant criminal cases to arise from the financial crisis thus far" in its quarterly report to Congress. Media scrutiny of this case will no doubt increase as Farkas's November trial date approaches.

Complex TARP Fraud Prosecutions May Take Years to Resolve

The increased volume of mortgage fraud cases involving TARP funds and borrower assistance measures such as the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) will occupy a great deal of federal court attention in coming years. Federal prosecutors have significant resources on their side, and the immense quantities of business records and other documentary evidence involved creates a considerable challenge for criminal defense attorneys and their clients. In the Farkas case, the investigation involved not only the FBI and DOJ, but also the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Internal Revenue Service. Unlike previous practice, the current trend seems to be to launch criminal charges first to allow civil cases to benefit from further investigation.

With the vast attention and criticism that the Obama Administration's attempts to reinvigorate the economy have received, it is not surprising that officials have moved aggressively to show voters that they are committed to protecting the public trust. But financial fraud cases involving conspiracy charges are enormously complex criminal matters, and the media rush to prejudge alleged wrongdoers should not outpace the slow wheels of due process. Justice can only be fulfilled after a clear presentation of evidence from both sides, full consideration of questions of intent and other subjective elements of the crime, and appellate review.

Other White Collar Crimes in the Wake of the Great Recession

The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force's effort comes during a decade when public consciousness of many financial crimes has risen. From forgery, credit card fraud and identity theft to insider trading, counterfeiting, qui tam actions and securities fraud, federal and state dragnets regularly make claims about the level of crime in various jurisdictions, and elected officials put resources behind aggressive enforcement. But behind every allegation is a defendant entitled to a presumption of innocence and an exhaustive examination of the evidence.

By taking the reins of a defense strategy as soon as suspicion arises, an experienced criminal defense attorney can act swiftly to head off excessive charges, clear up confusion and, if necessary, hold the prosecution to its burden of proof. Complex white-collar prosecutions demand dedicated advocacy, broad familiarity with case law and statutes, and experience with the challenges posed by federal criminal procedure.

Article provided by Rothman & Associates, P.A.
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[] An Increase in Efforts to Enforce Financial Fraud Crimes
The Obama Administration's Operation Stolen Dreams targets financial wrongdoing, mortgage fraud and other white collar crimes.