Mortgage fraud case illustrative; underscores need for counsel

Much of the American public is still calling for the heads of many unpunished Wall Street CEOs and executives responsible for the financial fallout that triggered the recent economic recession. Notwithstanding that, the government has made an example out of jailing a borrower for 21 months after committing an act of mortgage fraud that was rampant during the housing boom: inflating his income to qualify for a home loan.

The man was caught by an undercover federal investigator and subsequently tried, convicted and jailed. But the banking institutions that allowed rampant bank fraud to continue on in the name of profits? They received bailouts from the government.

Even more perverse was this man’s path to getting caught — an extreme adventure runner who trains obsessively, his story caught the interest of an IRS agent who wondered how he maintained an income while running so much. Through extreme investigative practices, which included the employment of an attractive female runner/agent to pry personal information from the man, investigators discovered that he owned investment properties obtained by inflating the amount of income he earned.

By disclosing that information to the undercover agent, he provided the evidence needed to charge and convict him.

Although obviously illegal, mortgage fraud was widely committed by home buyers across the country during the housing boom of recent years, and the practice of inflating income sufficiently to qualify for higher loan amounts was heartily endorsed by many financial professionals and banking institutions who knew they could profit off the loans.

Now released from jail, the man notes that it wasn’t just he alone who was engaging in the deception, but brokers, banks and many thousands of other borrowers as well. The intensity of the probe against, him, though (the IRS agent who investigated him spent nearly 700 hours doing so), and the time he spent incarcerated, certainly qualify as examples of exceptional targeting and differentiated punishment.

It is, unfortunately, too often a common practice to charge and pursue a conviction of a lesser offender while bigger targets are left unpunished.

That disparity is unfair and undermines criminal enforcement and the concept of fairness, says Neil Barofsky, the former inspector general of the government’s program to bailout big banks. Barofsky notes that it “doesn’t really accomplish the broader goals that you want from your Department of Justice in the aftermath of a crisis.”

Source: MSN Rock Center, “Borrowers targeted for mortgage fraud, while bankers got bailouts,” Sopan Deb, Nov. 14, 2012