Quelle Surprise! Administration Lied About Mortgage Fraud Results, Numbers 4 to 10 Times Too High

Normally I’d relegate a good job of news spadework to the daily Links feature, but Bloomberg caught out Attorney General Eric Holder in such an egregious lie that this failed con job merits ample, widespread publicity and well-deserved derision.

So remember that Mortgage Fraud Task Force? No? There’s a really good reason the name doesn’t ring a bell. It’s been missing in action. As we wrote last September:

I’m sure the banksters are quaking in their boots. Eric Schneiderman, the New York state attorney general whose joining a heretofore moribund mortgage fraud task force and withdrawing from opposition to the horrid mortgage settlement allowed the Administration to push the bank-friendy deal across the line, is now making noises that really, truly, he and his Federal best buddies are gonna nail some baddies really soon. From Reuters:

The mortgage task force formed by President Barack Obama to probe misconduct that contributed to the financial crisis will soon take legal action, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said on Thursday.

Schneiderman, a co-chair of the task force, would not say whether cases would be brought against individuals or financial institutions. He also would not comment on whether criminal charges would be filed.

But he said his office would take action and that he expected his federal counterparts on the task force to do so as well.

“We’ll see actions being taken sooner rather than later,” said Schneiderman, speaking in an interview at his office in New York.

The Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group was formed in January, to probe the pooling and sale of risky mortgages in the runup to the 2008 financial crisis. Obama said he was creating the group to “hold accountable those who broke the law” and “help turn the page on an era of recklessness.”

Schneiderman said he believes it is still necessary to go after the “bad actors” to restore confidence in the financial markets.

“It’s important to convey the sense that no one is above the law. There’s a set of rules to which all will be held accountable, including big players on Wall Street,” Schneiderman said.

It might help if Reuters did reporting rather than took dictation. As we pointed out in older posts, this “task force” is merely a new unit in an interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force established in 2009 which looks to have done precisely nothing since its inception. And the New York Times, which had been solidly in Scheiderman’s camp when he looked to be taking on the big banks, issued a “show me” op ed and specified what Schneiderman and the Feds needed to do to be credible

That post was in September. In October, Eric Holder announced publicly, au contraire, this task force had really been busting chops! And he cited figures of activity since October 2011 to prove it. As Jonathan Weil of Bloomberg recapped:
When Holder first trotted out these figures last October, he bragged during a press conference about the

results of the government’s “Distressed Homeowner Initiative,” which he called “a groundbreaking, yearlong mortgage-fraud enforcement effort” and “the first ever to focus exclusively on crimes targeting homeowners.” Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan joined him at the press conference.

To be honest, I ignored this announcement. My assumption was that they had somehow found creative ways to attribute some of the actions of the people involved in the pretty much moribund task force to the task force itself (the Administration has done this sort of thing creative accounting elsewhere). To be honest, I didn’t regard the October announcement as credible, since this group had not launched a case against either a meaningfully large player or at conduct that was central to the crisis.

But what actually occurred was even worse than my reflexively cynical take.

Bloomberg could also tell that this story didn’t even remotely add up. Weil again:

Last October, two days after Holder first publicized the numbers, Phil Mattingly and Tom Schoenberg of Bloomberg News broke the story that some of the cases included in the Justice Department’s tally occurred before the initiative began in October 2011. At least one was filed more than two years before President Barack Obama took office….

My column about the Justice Department’s refusal to come clean ran a few days later last fall. And it seems obvious now why I wasn’t given the list. The government would have been handing me the proof that the numbers it was touting were wrong.

Weil recounts how he kept after the DoJ flack and got all sorts of promises and excuses. Finally, presumably hoping no one cares about mortgage abuses any more now that housing prices are up, the Administration came clean in the most backhanded way possible…..by issuing a corrected press release.

And how big were the corrections? You be the judge:

Originally the Justice Department said 530 people were charged criminally as part of a year-long initiative by the multi-agency Mortgage Fraud Working Group. It now says the actual figure was 107 — or 80 percent less. Holder originally said the defendants had victimized more than 73,000 American homeowners. That number was revised to 17,185, while estimates of homeowner losses associated with the frauds dropped to $95 million from $1 billion.

So get this: the number of people charged criminally was originally exaggerated more than five times. The amount of people victimized was overstated by over four times, and the dollar losses, more than ten times. And the original dollar losses were bupkis relative to the harm mortgage borrowers suffered, and the revised number, $95 million, is a pathetic joke. The Administration had the nerve to show its face and try to spin this insult as some sort of positive outcome? They’d have been better off firing everyone associated with it and handing out the money saved to Legal Aid offices all over the US. Or just give the money to homeless people in DC.

And let’s do some simple math. The average amount of damage done by each fraudster they nailed was $880,000. And the harm per homeowner averaged $5,500. Heck of a job, Brownie!

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  1. Danb

    As usual, thanks for the concise write up, Yves. A couple of flow disrupting typos, though: “The Administration had the never [nerve?] to show…”
    “They’ve [they’d?] have been better off…”

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Yves had the proofreaders to layoff lack of for donations. Which reminds me…

      Also from the Yoda school of grammar:

      “…since not had this group launched a case against either a meaningfully large player.”

      Okay, okay, the check in the mail is.

  2. steelhead23

    The proper response to the US AG lying to us is not an apology, it is a resignation. Failing that, a general strike until he does. This needs to end.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Holder’s resignation would be wholly inadequate—prison too— even a lamppost seems too little. Ditto for lying-sack Schneiderman. ZH made that point a few days ago in response to Holder’s lying about the mortgage fraud coverup.


      From gun-runner Holder, the lies are now beyond absurd. I once wondered about the bloodlust of the French Revolution and how it is that people could be driven to lose their humanity and gleefully celebrate public beheadings. Comprehension is dawning.

      1. Yoda

        You would need much more then realization that AG is lying for the General Strike. I suspect that majority of people don’t know who Holder is. Probably, no earlier than there is a wide-spread hunger that people will strike.

  3. Bill Frank

    After all that has happened in this country, it is not “surprising” to me when another lie is exposed. I’m actually a little “surprised” to discover that you’re “surprised” about a Holder lie.

      1. diptherio

        Note that the update announcement on the DOJ’s website, explaining the change in numbers doesn’t provide the original numbers. Without further research, a person reading that page wouldn’t know that the number of affected individuals was formerly claimed to be five times higher.

        Thank the interweb gods for the Way Back machine (and all of the people who keep it running).

        1. just me

          Here’s the DOJ’s notice on the updated page:


          This announcement was updated on August 9, 2013.
          The initial version of these remarks inadvertently contained inaccurate numbers stating that the Distressed Homeowner Initiative netted 530 criminal defendants in cases involving more than 73,000 victims and losses of more than $1 billion, in FY 2012.
          An extensive review of the reported cases concluded that the original figures included in the Distressed Homeowner Initiative included not only criminal defendants who had been charged in Fiscal Year 2012, as reported, but also a number of defendants who were the subject of other prosecutive actions � such as a conviction or sentence � in Fiscal Year 2012. In addition, the announcement included a number of defendants who were charged in mortgage fraud cases in which the victim(s) did not fit the narrow definition of distressed homeowner that the initiative targeted. While all of the cases originally reported were part of our collective efforts to ensure stability and fairness in our financial and housing markets, the remarks below reflect the accurate, up-to-date data regarding the Distressed Homeowner Initiative.

          What’s this? � (Does everyone see a funky symbol or just me?)

          What does this mean?

          but also a number of defendants who were the subject of other prosecutive actions � such as a conviction or sentence � in Fiscal Year 2012.

          Is it just me, or wouldn’t you want to be counting convictions instead of defendants? Isn’t everyone innocent until proven guilty? DOJ? (Like, thing 1?)

          1. yata

            What’s this? � (Does everyone see a funky symbol or just me?)

            Is this what it has finally come to ? ? ?
            vague explanations? cryptic symbols? ..shame.

            I pine for a simpler time when a former National Security Director could simply walk into the National Archives and fill his undergarments with documents, walk out, and make them disappear.

            1. just me

              Well I thought it was funny from the lords of the internet. Can they be so far beyond us that they have their own font/punctuation when they attempt to communicate? (Does anyone remember the Invaders? Aliens who took human form but you could tell them apart from humans because their little finger was bent? wow, kinda like �) Or maybe the DOJ is just above copy/paste reality checking? What odd creatures they be.

              1. just me

                I thought I was kidding about a DOJ font, but maybe not? Just read this comment (by Lulo) in HuffPo article about Gmail/no legitimate expectation of privacy:


                All those Google fonts you are embedding? How hard would you think it would be to cross-reference the font use, order, date and IP location of the machine using them? If you are provinding the font you can very easily read the very text that font is creating….letter by letter.

                I have been saying it all along: Of the big tech companies, nobody has its hand on more cookie jars than Google. In a bad way.

                What magicians they be.

        2. just me

          Is this a red alert or a minor curiosity? Again, from the DOJ update:

          In addition, the announcement included a number of defendants who were charged in mortgage fraud cases in which the victim(s) did not fit the narrow definition of distressed homeowner that the initiative targeted.

          What “distressed homeowner” DOJ definition? What changed? Who changed? When? Why? Who decided?

          Wondering what broad and narrow mean to the DOJ at the various times when they’re measuring and reporting victims. Remember when Elizabeth Warren at the Independent Foreclosure Review hearing was trying to pin down how the defining and categorizing of victims and their awards was done? It had all neatly been announced shortly before the hearing on a one-page sheet in a table (PDF: http://www.occ.gov/news-issuances/news-releases/2013/nr-ia-2013-60a.pdf). She asked each of the representatives of the independent review consultants about that sheet and none of them knew how the results were determined. Because the banks must have decided on their own, without consulting the consultants.


          Sen. Warren: So that leaves us with the banks that broke the law were then the banks that decided how many people lost their homes because of their lawbreaking and as a result how many people would collect money in each of these categories. Is that right, Mr. Alt?

          Mr. Alt, Promontory: Senator, as I said, I’m not familiar with the basis for the schedule…

          Sen. Warren: But there is no – so far as you know, no independent review of the banks’ analysis of how many families broke the law. You looked at 100,000 cases and the banks have now put 4 million people into categories and resolved finally how much they will get from this review by the OCC and by the Federal Reserve. Is that right? Mr. Ryan?

          Mr. Ryan, Deloitte: Senator, my understanding was the banks were supposed to put this together and the OCC was going to look at it, but I don’t know exactly what transpired.

          Sen. Warren: All right, but you made no independent review of this.

          Mr. Ryan, Deloitte: We did not.

          Sen. Warren: Were not asked to make any independent review of this. Mr. Flanagan?

          Mr. Flanagan, PwC: PwC was not involved in the settlement or the preparation of that schedule.

          Sen. Warren: All right. Mr. Alt?

          Mr. Alt, Promontory: Same answer, Senator. We were not involved.

          Sen. Warren: All right. I just wanted to make sure, because it appears that the people who broke the law are the same people now who have determined who will be compensated from that lawbreaking. I just find this one amazing. Thank you. Thank you for your help. Mr. Chairman, I don’t have any other questions.

          Hope Weil keeps fact-checking this. I hope Yves will tell us again how much the unconsulted consultants got for their work in comparison to how much the defrauded homeowners got. I don’t remember the amounts, just that it was staggering. Useful context for this article.

          1. just me

            Trying to answer my own question, what’s the DOJ definition of a distressed homeowner?


            Distressed Homeowner Initiative web page October 2012: http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/october/dont-let-mortgage-fraud-happen-to-you – says this initiative is different from past ones, where primary victims were lenders. The bolded suspects are lawyers:

            We’ve also noticed a disturbing trend among these cases—an increasing number of lawyers playing primary or secondary roles in the fraud.

            Hmmm… searched on that page for word “bank” … Phrase not found. Same thing for “servicer.”

            List of Resources and links are given at bottom, including one for Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (http://www.stopfraud.gov/), which has a Victims of Fraud tab, which again is general, with a mortgage victim link:


            Kind of short page. Victims described are “Traditional Mortgage Fraud” (homebuyer as suspect), “Mortgage Rescue and Loan Modification Scams” (suspects are “so-called foreclosure rescue companies or foreclosure assistance firms”), and “Reverse Mortgage Scams.” Resource links are provided to HUD (buy a house), NeighborWorksAmerica (affordable home, improve community), and HOPE NOW Alliance Counseling Organizations (“organizations provide borrowers with in-depth debt management, credit counseling and overall foreclosure counseling”).

            But, again, no use of the word “bank,” “servicer,” or even “title” on stopfraud.gov’s mortgage victims page.

  4. Egmont Ouerveture

    Our government has held lying as a required skill for all high office holders since WWII. The fact that it lies and serves only the interests that feed it campaign money should never be surprising.

  5. hotshot bald cop

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  6. johnyang

    Mortgage frauds are the things which never remain hiden they are one day disclosed but hidding an mortgage fraud is just letting others to be in the trap. they should be disclosed so that they frauds can be punished.

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