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There’s Already a Financial Fraud Task Force

I have some additional reporting on the financial fraud unit that will be co-chaired by Eric Schneiderman, and how he will approach it. But before I get to that, I want to pick up on something that came up when I appeared on Sam Seder’s Majority Report radio program today.

The thing is, and this is something that Seder, a fairly close observer of these matters, didn’t know, is that there’s already a financial fraud task force. In fact, this Unit on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses will be part of said Financial Fraud Task Force. That originated in November 2009, based on legislation from Congress. They have a website and everything. It’s self-described as “the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.”

The task force has had a mandate to investigate and prosecute financial fraud for well over two years. So what has been done? They’ve done some work on insider trading. And they’ve gone after a number of small fish who engaged in penny-ante mortgage fraud schemes. Has one Wall Street banker at the top been prosecuted? No. And in general terms, most of the civil fraud prosecutions have ended with these no-fault agreements, where the guilty party doesn’t have to admit “alleged” wrongdoing and can just buy their way out of the problem. This is the practice that Jed Rakoff rapped the SEC for partaking in.

But more important than that, who is on the Financial Fraud Task Force? The same people who will be co-chairing the Unit on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses with Eric Schneiderman. Take a look at the heads of the working groups on mortgage fraud and securities and commodities fraud:

The Mortgage Fraud Working Group, co-chaired by Ben Wagner, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, Michael Stephens, Acting Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Sharon Ormsby, well as representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Association of Attorneys General.

The Securities and Commodities Fraud Working Group, co-chaired by Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Robert Khuzami, Director of Enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the David Meister, Director of Enforcement for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

West, Breuer and Khuzami are all co-chairs on the Unit on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses. What’s more, they all had duties in these working groups substantially similar to this new fraud unit. And they did nothing of consequence.

Maybe the inclusion of Schneiderman will change that. I’m told there’s a bit more to that story, though I’m not ready to publish anything yet. But these are the facts of the matter. Three of the five co-chairs of this panel have a history of dragging their feet on enforcement against the banks in precisely the same areas that this panel will allegedly investigate.

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David Dayen

David Dayen