From the latimes.com:
California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, saying that years of unscrupulous lending still haunts the state, is creating a 25-person task force to target mortgage fraud of any size — from small operations that preyed on troubled borrowers to corporations that sold risky loans as safe investments.
The team of 17 lawyers and eight special agents from the state Department of Justice will pursue three major areas, Harris said in an interview:
• Corporate fraud, including instances in which bundled mortgages were sold as securities to the state or its pension funds under false pretenses. Harris said her office plans to prosecute some cases under California’s False Claims Act, which she described as “one of those very powerful tools that California uniquely has … to pursue, in essence, what are false claims that are submitted to the state.”
• Scams, including instances in which consultants, lawyers and others took fees from people in foreclosure, saying they would help the homeowners get loan modifications or other remedies, but delivered nothing.
• Fraudulent lending practices, including deceptive marketing, failure to fully disclose loan terms and qualifying people for loans who couldn’t afford the terms.
Harris said the mortgage fraud that ultimately led to the housing crash continues to be a drag on the state, causing huge losses in jobs, property values and state revenues.
“We are looking at a situation of up to $640 billion in wealth having been lost because of this wave of foreclosures that has hit the state,” Harris said, referring to the decline in homeowner equity. “There is a direct connection” between mortgage fraud “and the issue that we are challenged with in terms of our state budget crisis.
Harris said her initiative was distinct from the multistate investigation because it would go after all aspects of the mortgage-lending business. Harris, formerly San Francisco’s district attorney, made a campaign promise last year when running for attorney general that she would crack down on mortgage fraud.
“If the evidence leads us there, no case will be too big or too small to pursue,” Harris said. “There remain millions of people affected by the mortgage crisis.”
Angelo R. Mozilo, whose Calabasas-based Countrywide Financial Corp. was a major underwriter of risky subprime loans, agreed to a $67.5-million civil settlement with federal regulators but was not prosecuted criminally, despite a nearly three-year investigation by the Justice Department. Countrywide was acquired by Bank of America Corp. in 2008.
Harris’ office reached a $6.5-million settlement this year with Mozilo and another former executive of Countrywide who the state had accused of predatory lending. Consumer advocates decried that settlement as far too small to be meaningful.