WASHINGTON — Federal authorities announced Thursday that more than 400 real estate industry players have been indicted since March — including dozens over the past two days — in nationwide crackdown on mortgage fraud that has contributed to the country’s housing crisis.
The FBI put the losses to homeowners and other borrowers who were victims in the schemes at over $1 billion.
“Mortgage fraud and related securities fraud pose a significant threat to our economy, to the stability of our nation’s housing market and to the peace of mind to millions of Americans,” Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip said in a statement.
Since March 1, 406 people have been arrested in the sting dubbed “Operation Malicious Mortgage” that saw 144 cases across the country. Sixty people were arrested on Wednesday alone, including in Chicago, Miami, Houston and a dozen other regions policed by the FBI.
In a separate sweep, two former Bear Stearns managers in New York were indicted and taken into custody Thursday on criminal charges related to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. Matthew Tannin was taken into custody outside his New Jersey home and Ralph Cioffi was arrested at his New York City home, the FBI said.
An indictment unsealed in federal court charged both men with securities and wire fraud, and Cioffi with insider trading.
In a separate complaint filed Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleges that in the first five months of 2007, Tannin and Cioffi “deceived their own investors, as well as the fund’s institutional counterparts, by fraudulently concealing from them the full extent of the fund’s deepening troubles.”
The complaint says that in March 2007, Cioffi withdrew $2 million of his own money from a hedge fund without revealing to investors that he was substantially reducing his exposure to the toxic loans.
Reports of mortgage fraud have soared over the past year as the subprime mortgage market collapsed and defaults and foreclosures soared.
Banks reported nearly 53,000 cases of suspected mortgage fraud nationwide last year, up from more than 37,000 a year earlier and about 10 times the level of reports in 2001 and 2002, according to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
The most common type of mortgage fraud was misstatement of income or assets, followed by forged documents, inflated appraisals and misrepresentation of a buyer’s intent to occupy a property as a primary residence.
Over the last several months, the FBI has been investigating an estimated 1,300 mortgage fraud cases — including 19 involving subprime lending practices by U.S. financial institutions.
The Justice Department also is expected to ask Congress for more money to help combat mortgage fraud as part of a larger funding request to curb white collar crime and violent crime.
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