Thank you, Willy, for that kind introduction, and for the great work that you – and your team in the United States Attorney’s Office – are leading here in the Southern District of Florida.
It’s a pleasure to be back in Miami this afternoon, and a privilege to join with so many critical leaders – including the outstanding U.S. Attorneys for the Middle and Northern Districts of Florida, Robert O’Neill and Pamela Marsh; the many dedicated investigators, law enforcement leaders, attorneys, and support staff who stand on the front lines of our anti-fraud efforts every day; as well as a broad range of critical partners – from the FBI, to state and local authorities, to the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies – as we explore strategies for advancing the Justice Department’s efforts to prevent and combat investor fraud; and to protect the rights, interests, and security of the American people.
Thank you all for being here. I also want to thank President [Eduardo] Padron, and the Miami Dade College community, for hosting this important Summit. And I want you to know that this entire community – and, especially, the victims of this week’s tragic accident – are in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.
Today marks the last of six regional summits that have been convened over the last twelve days in fraud “hot spots” across the country. And I’m grateful that we have such a large and diverse group gathered here. I’d like to extend a special welcome to the experts and allies from the AARP, FINRA , and other private sector, non-profit, and advocacy organizations – who are here to help drive this conversation forward. Finally, I’d like to recognize, and thank, Dr. John Gentile and Manuel Comella for courageously sharing their personal stories with us, for teaching us about the devastating impact that fraud crimes can have, and for raising their voices to help prevent others from being victimized.
Especially today – as our nation continues to recover from once-in-a-generation economic challenges, and as we move to confront a recent, and troubling, rise in investment fraud schemes – the urgency of this work has been brought into stark focus. And, as you’ve been discussing, the need to move both aggressively and collaboratively to help the American people safeguard their homes, their investments, and their hard-earned savings – and to bring fraudsters to justice – has never been more clear .
Recent estimates reveal that, since 2011, more than $20 billion has been lost to investment fraud schemes – and that, between 2008 and 2011, the incidence of these crimes increased by more than 130 percent. The FBI has indicated that these offenses represent an astonishing 60 percent of all corporate and securities fraud investigations that are currently being conducted. And their scope and complexity continues to increase.
From illegal kickback and market manipulation plots, to Ponzi schemes, business opportunity scams, affinity fraud, and “strike it rich” scams – we’ve seen that these crimes are as diverse as the imaginations of those who perpetrate them, and as sophisticated as modern technology will permit. Their costs can be measured not only in dollars and cents – but in lives turned upside down.
Far more compelling than any statistics I can cite are the stories you heard this morning – and thousands like them that play out every day in cities and towns across the country. Heartbreaking stories of bankruptcies, foreclosures, forced moves, and unexpected debt; of individual lives and families shattered by fraud; and of entire communities devastated by the actions of those who violate the law to take advantage of their fellow citizens – and, all too often, their own neighbors, coworkers, and family members.
You’ve all heard these tragic stories – and some of you have seen and experienced the consequences of investor fraud crimes firsthand. Not only do you understand what we’re up against, you also recognize that this problem has reached crisis proportions – that fraud is most frequently committed by seemingly trustworthy individuals who prey upon their fellow community members; and that these schemes often target senior citizens and other vulnerable members of society.
Even more importantly, you know – as I do – that, despite our record of success, and despite the Justice Department’s commitment to fighting investor fraud, government won’t be able to make the progress we need – and attain the results that the American people deserve – on its own. By taking part in today’s Summit, you’ve proven your dedication to helping us confront these challenges. And I want to assure you that you’ll always have a strong partner – and a steadfast ally – in our nation’s Department of Justice, and in your local United States Attorney’s Office.
At every level, my colleagues and I have made the fight against financial fraud a top priority. We’re more determined than ever to eradicate these crimes – and, alongside more than two dozen additional federal government agencies and private sector partners, we’ve made an historic commitment to advancing this work at the national level. We’ve also made remarkable progress.
Driving this effort forward is the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which constitutes the largest coalition ever assembled to combat financial fraud. I am honored to chair this Task Force – and we can all be encouraged by what it is enabling us to achieve. Since its inception in 2009, the Task Force has helped to leverage the tremendous strength of federal, state, local, and tribal partnerships; to streamline the investigative and enforcement efforts of multiple agencies that can operate across jurisdictions and state lines; and to advance cutting-edge strategies for recovering – and more effectively utilizing – precious taxpayer resources.
Already, this approach is paying dividends. In February, in cooperation with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 49 state attorneys general, and other partners, the Justice Department reached the largest residential mortgage fraud settlement ever obtained – totaling $25 billion – with five of the nation’s top mortgage servicers. Earlier this year, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force launched a Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group and a Consumer Protection Working Group to help take our comprehensive fraud-fighting efforts to a new level. On Tuesday of this week, I was proud to join HUD Secretary Donovan and other federal officials in announcing the results of an historic initiative that has helped tens of thousands of homeowners in distress. And just yesterday, I joined with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to convene the first-ever meeting of the interagency Elder Justice Coordinating Council – a group that will help guide national efforts to safeguard America’s seniors from neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation, including the fraud crimes we’ve gathered to discuss today.
All of this is only the beginning in our fight against investor fraud. As a result of the cooperation made possible by the Task Force – and thanks to the hard work of investigators, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and analysts at every level of the Justice Department, in each of our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and across a variety of partner agencies and organizations, many of which are represented here – we’ve devoted substantial resources, and an unprecedented level of attention, to stemming the rise in investment fraud schemes. Since the beginning of last year, federal prosecutors have brought a total of roughly 500 cases involving approximately 800 defendants who have been charged, tried, pled, or sentenced because of their alleged involvement in these crimes. And we have secured a 97 percent rate of incarceration for convicted defendants, with many receiving sentences of 10 years or more.
These include a prison sentence of 50 years that was obtained against an individual who preyed on more than 400 elderly victims in a $40 million Ponzi scheme – as well as a sentence of 30 years against another perpetrator who used roughly $15 million that had been entrusted to him by more than 160 retirees to build a home for himself, buy jewelry and luxury cars, pay his friends and family, and make private investments of his own. Right here in the Southern District of Florida, just over two years ago, a high-profile attorney from Ft. Lauderdale pleaded guilty to running a massive $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme – for which he is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence. And last November, we secured a sentence of 20 years against another Florida man who orchestrated a $30 million fraud scheme that victimized more than 500 people.
Here in the Southern Florida, your United States Attorney’s Office has brought together a number of federal and state authorities to fight back against these crimes. To date, their efforts have resulted in charges against more than 100 defendants and over $1.5 billion in restitution ordered. And their work remains ongoing. In fact, just two days ago, Willy and his team – and their colleagues in the Consumer Protection Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division – announced yet another indictment charging 10 defendants with participating in a scam that allegedly defrauded thousands of victims – by persuading them to invest in a vending machine business, then failing to deliver on their promises.
Now, these are just a few examples of the significant results we’ve obtained – and the meaningful, measurable progress that’s been made – in our efforts to prevent, deter, and punish fraud targeting investors. Yet there’s no question that serious challenges remain before us. Significant threats are all too common. And it’s only by working together, engaging with relevant authorities at every level, and enlisting the support of an informed public – that we’ll be able to make the difference we need, and capitalize on the momentum we’ve built.
That’s why I made it a priority to be here this afternoon: not only to listen, to learn, and to hear from all of you – but also to pledge my strongest support, and my own best efforts, in carrying this extraordinary work into the future.
Today’s event may mark the last in this series of Regional Investor Fraud Summits – but it proves that our anti-fraud efforts are only just beginning. And, as I look out over this crowd – of dedicated colleagues and indispensible partners – that’s gathered here today, I can’t help but feel confident in where this work will lead us from here. Though this effort is the responsibility of us all, I pledge that this Department of Justice will do whatever is needed to ensure the outcome we want. Our work will not be easy and the completion of our task will take time. But if we remain focused, if we continue to work together, we can, and will, hold accountable those who would prey on our fellow citizens, bring relief to those who have been victimized, and make our nation more safe and more secure.