Image: Specter, Mueller
J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., right, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller, before his testimony.
updated 3/25/2009 2:11:43 PM ET 2009-03-25T18:11:43

Federal agents and prosecutors are accelerating their probes of some financial fraud cases amid growing public demand for a quicker crackdown on Wall Street misdeeds, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress on Wednesday.

Lawmakers prodded Mueller to move faster to bring charges against suspected swindlers in the wake of the global economic collapse.

"I get the question all the time, 'What's going on? Where's the accountability? Who's going to jail?'," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mueller had just finished explaining that the bureau has seen its mortgage fraud cases balloon to more than 2,000, in addition to more than 566 open corporate fraud investigations.

Lawmakers urged him to hurry up and act to show that the government is aggressively policing Wall Street.

"What can we do to expedite the investigations, prosecutions?" asked Specter.

Agents are working with federal prosecutors "for what we call fast-track prosecutions in a number of areas," Mueller answered.

"We're prioritizing our cases to get the most egregious early and put those persons away. So we share your concern and your desire for a fast-track approach to these type of cases," the director said.

Mueller told the panel that the thousands of financial fraud investigations are putting a strain on the FBI's ability to fight other kinds of crimes.

Agents are juggling the demands of financial cases with the need to prevent terrorism, he said, as well as fighting public corruption. Mueller called that the bureau's No. 1 criminal priority.

Currently the FBI is investigating 2,500 pending public corruption cases, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2003, Mueller said.

Since taking charge of the FBI just before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, Mueller has overseen significant changes, including a major expansion of the bureau's counterterrorism efforts and an overhaul of the bureau's computer systems.

The director said that in a short period of time, the agency has had to expand its global reach to combat terrorism, investigate cyber crime, and fight gang and drug cartel-related violence.

"Just as there are no borders for crime and terrorism, there can be no borders for justice and the rule of law," Mueller said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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