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Obama task force probing banks on foreclosures, criminal charges possible

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, October 19, 2010 16:32 EDT
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In the still-developing “mortgagegate” scandal, the Obama White House is pledging its loyalties to the letter of the law, vowing Tuesday to hold “accountable” any bank that engaged in foreclosure fraud.

“As institutions are determining their next steps in addressing these issues, we remain committed to holding accountable any bank that has violated the law,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

“Mortgagegate,” as it’s been dubbed in the media, centers around the use of unqualified workers given jobs as “mortgage experts,” who were then tasked with signing off on thousands of documents required by courts in foreclosure proceedings.

RELATED: Who’s who in the foreclosure crisis: a primer on the players

Many times, paperwork was not properly examined. In some cases, according to sworn statements, bribes of jewelry, cars and even houses were offered if an employee would forge documents or notary seals.

And all of it, according to the allegations, happened in an effort to speed up the foreclosure process.

It was enough for attorneys general in all 50 states to initiate investigations. Only 23 states currently require a court approval before a bank may foreclose on a home.

Now, the Obama administration has directed its Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to find out whether banks that used so called “robo-signers” actively mislead government housing agencies, or if they committed mail or wire fraud by submitting false paperwork.

“The administration’s Federal Housing Administration and Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force have undertaken their own regulatory and enforcement investigation into the foreclosure process,” Gibbs explained Tuesday.

It is possible the investigation will result in criminal charges, The Washington Post noted.

In the wake of the “robo-signing” revelations, several major lenders froze foreclosures temporarily to review paperwork, Bank of America being the largest. The institution said Monday it would be resuming foreclosures this week.

The Obama administration has resisted calls for a national moratorium on foreclosures, with spokesman Robert Gibbs warning of the “unintended consequences” of such an action.

While many House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), have called for a congressional investigation into foreclosure fraud, Congress is widely expected to attempt legislation retroactively forgiving the mortgage industry for its abuses.

Up to 1.2 million homes are expected to be foreclosed upon this year, according to data provided by RealtyTrac Inc.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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