The Department of Justice was forced to revise inflated mortgage fraud statistics after an FBI memo revealed that an administration task force greatly overstated the amount of fraud victims, the number of charges filed, and the size of related monetary losses.
Bloomberg reports that the correct numbers were released late Friday from the multi-agency Mortgage Fraud Working Group, a year-long initiative ending in September 2012 and designed to crackdown on mortgage fraud in the United States.
At the time, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed the group’s “success” represented “an historic, government-wide commitment to eradicating mortgage fraud and related offenses.”
In an October press release, the DOJ initially stated that the group indicted “530 defendants for allegedly victimizing more than 73,000 American homeowners — and inflicting losses in excess of $1 billion.”
But following pressure from the FBI, the Justice Department updated that release to show that the actual number of indictments was just 107 — an 80 percent reduction in criminal charges from the number originally claimed.
The number of affected homeowners dropped by 56,000 and the number of alleged losses fell over 90 percent, to just $95 million.
“Regrettably, the statistics reported in October included cases that fell outside the specific parameters of the initiative,” an FBI memo from Friday morning stated.
Government watchdog groups condemned the misleading stats. “If there’s a publicity stunt opportunity they’ll go for it, and will attempt to accrue as much glory or benefit as they can for political purposes,” said Chris Farrell, director of research at the conservative, Washington-based Judicial Watch.
“They’re extraordinarily good at cherry-picking statistics and enforcement actions in a very self-serving way, making themselves look like they’re tough on crime,” Farrell told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But when you peel back the layers and get to the root of what they’re actually doing, you’ll find it’s normally a sub-par performance.”
Reports first emerged that the DOJ fudged the initiative’s numbers just days after the original press release, when two Bloomberg reporters noted that some of the cases Holder cited in an Oct. 9 news conference included those filed as far back as 2006, when George W. Bush was still president.
Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil sought the complete list of cases from the Justice Department last fall, but was repeatedly rebuffed by a DOJ representative. Although he was told multiple times that the information was forthcoming, the data never materialized.
“No wonder the government found it so difficult to bring a meaningful number of accounting-fraud cases against bank executives after the financial crisis,” he wrote on Sunday. “Its own books were cooked.”
Farrell agreed, arguing that rather than move “hard and fast” through the financial sector after the 2008 crisis and “clean house,” the Obama administration tried to “glom onto and claim credit for” financial fraud cases dating back to the Bush administration.
“Obama talks tough polemics against Wall Street bankers,” he said, “but who’s actually gone to jail?”
This is not the first time DOJ has been accused of massaging the numbers. In December 2010, the Justice Department rolled out “Operation Broken Trust,” an initiative ostensibly designed to ferret out financial fraud.
In reality, “Broken Trust” simply repackaged a number of older cases, some from as early as 2006, and attempted to pass them off as new investigations. They also took cases which had advanced separately through the court system earlier that year and lumped them together, giving the illusion of a combined effort.
Farrell believes that Holder deliberately trumpeted statistics he knew were grossly inflated.
“There’s no way he didn’t know,” Farrell said. “Any of these huge enforcement actions, they can’t happen, they can’t occur without the direct personal involvement of the attorney general.”
“It would be impossible for it to escape his attention,” he concluded.
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