- John S. Pistole
- Deputy Director
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Statement Before the House Committee on the Judiciary
- Washington, DC
- April 01, 2009
Good morning Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and Members of the Committee. I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) efforts to combat mortgage fraud and other financial frauds. Much the same as the Savings and Loan (S&L) Crisis of the 1980s crippled our economy, so too has the current financial crisis. Many of the lessons learned and best practices from our work during the past decade, such as the Enron investigation, will clearly help us navigate the expansive crime problem currently taxing law enforcement and regulatory authorities.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the United States experienced a similar financial crisis with the collapse of the savings and loans. The Department of Justice (DOJ), and more specifically the FBI, were provided a number of tools through the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) and Crime Control Act of 1990 (CCA) to combat the aforementioned crisis. As stated in Senate Bill 331 dated January 27, 2009, “in the wake of the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s, a series of strike forces based in 27 cities was staffed with 1000 FBI agents and forensic experts and dozens of federal prosecutors. That effort yielded more than 600 convictions and $130,000,000 in ordered restitution.”
However, today’s financial crisis dwarves the S&L crisis as financial institutions have reduced their assets by more than $1.2 trillion related to the current global financial crisis compared to the estimated $160 million lost during the S&L crisis. Mortgage and related corporate fraud were not the sole sources of the current financial crisis; however, it would be irresponsible to neglect mortgage fraud’s impact on the U.S. housing and financial markets.
As the FBI’s Assistant Director for the Criminal Division testified in 2004 before the House Financial Services Sub-Committee: “If fraudulent practices become systemic within the mortgage industry and mortgage fraud is allowed to become unrestrained, it will ultimately place financial institutions at risk and have adverse effects on the stock market. Investors may lose faith and require higher returns from mortgage backed securities. This may result in higher interest rates and fees paid by borrowers and limit the amount of investment funds available for mortgage loans.”
He also noted that the FBI supported new approaches to address mortgage fraud and its effects on the U.S. financial system, to include:
- a mechanism to require the mortgage industry to report fraudulent activity, and
- the creation of “ Safe Harbor” provisions to protect the mortgage industry under a mandatory reporting mechanism.
What has occurred has been far worse than predicted. Mortgage fraud and related financial industry corporate fraud have shaken the world’s confidence in the U.S. financial system. The fraud schemes have adapted with the changing economy and now individuals are preyed upon even as they are about to lose their homes. But what is mortgage fraud?
Although there is no specific statute that defines mortgage fraud, each mortgage fraud scheme contains some type of material misstatement, misrepresentation or omission relied upon by an underwriter or lender to fund, purchase or insure a loan.
The FBI delineates mortgage fraud in two distinct areas: 1) Fraud for Profit; and 2) Fraud for Housing. Fraud for Profit uses a scheme to remove equity, falsely inflate the value of the property or issue loans relating to fictitious property(ies). Many of the Fraud for Profit schemes rely on “industry insiders”, who override lender controls. The FBI defines industry insiders as appraisers, accountants, attorneys, real estate brokers, mortgage underwriters and processors, settlement/title company employees, mortgage brokers, loan originators, and other mortgage professionals engaged in the mortgage industry.
Fraud for Housing represents illegal actions perpetrated by a borrower, typically with the assistance of real estate professionals. The simple motive behind this fraud is to acquire and maintain ownership of a house under false pretenses. This type of fraud is typified by a borrower who makes misrepresentations regarding the borrower’s income or employment history to qualify for a loan.
The FBI compiles data on mortgage fraud through Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by financial institutions and through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports. The FBI also receives complaints from the industry at large.
While a significant portion of the mortgage industry is void of any mandatory fraud reporting and there is presently no central repository to collect all mortgage fraud complaints, SARs from financial institutions have indicated a significant increase in mortgage fraud reporting. For example, during Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, mortgage fraud SARs increased more than 36 percent to 63,173. The total dollar loss attributed to mortgage fraud is unknown. However, 7 percent of SARs filed during FY 2008 indicated a specific dollar loss, which totaled more than $1.5 billion. Only 7 percent of SARs report dollar loss because of the time lag between identifying a suspicious loan and liquidating the property through foreclosure and then calculating the loss amount. As of February 28, 2009, there were 28,873 mortgage fraud SARs filed in fiscal year 2009.