Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the National Association of Attorneys General Spring Meeting
Washington, DC
United States
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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, Attorney General [Rob] McKenna. And thank you all – especially NAAG’s leadership team – for, once again, including me in this annual meeting. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be with this distinguished group.

Over the last three years, we’ve gotten to know each other well. And I’ve benefitted greatly from your hard work, expertise, and advice – even when it’s unsolicited.

Today’s most urgent challenges continue to bring us together. Some of us are collaborating on critical public safety and consumer protection initiatives. Some of us are working together to strengthen our courts and corrections systems – and to find ways to cut costs and share resources. And, of course, a few of you are suing me.

But – at the end of the day – I know that we all share the same goals. And we’re all working to fulfill the same responsibilities: protecting the safety of our fellow citizens and the security of our nation; defending civil rights in our schools, workplaces, military bases, and voting booths; preventing and combating violent crime, human trafficking, and financial fraud; safeguarding our environment; ensuring the integrity – and improving the effectiveness – of our criminal justice systems; and strengthening partnerships with and among our government, law enforcement, and community partners.

 

In each of these areas and many others, I’m proud of the work we’ve done to find common ground and to act in common cause. In recent weeks, we’ve strengthened the call for Congressional leaders to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act – and, through the Byrne-JAG program and other allocations, to help ensure that our law enforcement partners have the resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. And since we gathered last year, many of you have assisted in the work of Department task forces focused on combating intellectual property crimes, cyber security threats, and internet crimes against children.

You’ve also been instrumental in advancing the Department’s fight against human trafficking – and bolstering the work of state-level task forces. In this effort, I’m especially grateful to Attorney General McKenna, who has made our joint efforts to identify and defeat trafficking operations – and to more effectively serve victims – a top priority during his tenure as NAAG President.

I also want to recognize – and salute – your continued work in shining a light on the need for innovative, comprehensive public safety strategies that incorporate prevention, intervention, and reentry. As a group, you’ve helped raise awareness about the alarming fact that, today, some 2.3 million people – or more than 1 in every 100 American adults – are behind bars; and that ninety five percent of these individuals will be released at some point. And I want to thank you for serving as leading advocates for policies that will help these individuals access the education, employment, and housing opportunities that will allow them to become productive members of our society.

There’s no question that the record of progress we’ve established is extraordinary. And I want each of you to know that I am determined to build on it. But perhaps nowhere is the power and importance of our collaboration more clear that in our historic efforts to ensure stability, accountability, and – above all – justice in the wake of our recent financial crisis.

At a time when most Americans are frustrated with the bipartisan stonewalling and turf wars they’re seeing here in Washington and in state houses nationwide – each one of you is helping to demonstrate the need for – and the impact of – cooperation. By working together – across party and jurisdictional lines – we are making meaningful, measurable progress to support and seek justice for those who’ve been devastated by once-in-a-generation financial challenges, to restore faith in our financial markets and institutions, and to hold accountable those who have violated our laws and abused the public trust.

Since the beginning of this Administration, the Justice Department has taken bold, unprecedented steps to address the causes and consequences of our economic crisis – largely through the collaboration made possible by the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, the largest coalition ever assembled to combat financial fraud. I am honored to chair this initiative – and extremely grateful for the contributions that so many State Attorneys General have made in advancing it. Since President Obama launched the Task Force in 2009, you’ve helped to make it a model of success. Not only has it streamlined the investigative and enforcement efforts of multiple agencies and offices, it also has allowed us to make the most of increasingly limited resources – and to recover, and more effectively utilize, precious taxpayer dollars.

From securities, bank, and investment fraud; to mortgage, consumer, and health-care fraud – many of you have been on the front lines of this work. And I’m particularly grateful for the partnership you’ve provided to the Justice Department’s Civil and Criminal Divisions.

Over the course of our joint investigations, we’ve found that much of the conduct that led to the financial crisis was unethical and irresponsible. And we also have discovered that some of this behavior – while morally reprehensible – may not necessarily have been criminal.

But – as you’ve helped to make clear – whenever and wherever we do uncover evidence of criminal wrongdoing, we will not hesitate to bring prosecutions. When we don’t, we will continue to use other tools available to us – such as civil sanctions – to hold people and institutions accountable.

So far, this approach is paying dividends. Since its creation, the work of the Task Force has resulted in charges – and sentences – against CEOs, CFOs, corporate owners, board members, presidents, general counsels, and other executives of Wall Street firms, hedge funds, and banks involved in financial-fraud activities.

It also paved the way for us to come together to make history – when, in January, the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, other agencies, and 49 state attorneys general achieved a landmark $25 billion agreement with the nation’s top five mortgage servicers. This marked the largest joint federal-state settlement in our nation’s history – and it would not have been possible without your leadership and dedication. Many of you endured long hours of negotiations – and provided invaluable assistance in navigating extremely complex legal issues – to move this agreement forward. As a result of your hard work, this settlement will provide significant assistance to struggling homeowners and communities – and to those who lost their homes due to unfair and improper mortgage practices.

Of course, this settlement will not – by itself – cure all that ails our housing market. But – combined with other measures we are taking – it is a step in the right direction, toward the housing recovery that our nation so badly needs.

Fortunately – as you all know – this is only the beginning. And we can all be encouraged by the recent launch of two important new working groups that will help take our comprehensive anti-fraud efforts to the next level.

Less than two months ago, I convened the first-ever meeting of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, which brings together a variety of partners – including State Attorneys General Eric Schneiderman, Lisa Madigan, and Beau Biden – and other key leaders, in order to marshal and strengthen current state and federal efforts to investigate and prosecute abuses in the residential mortgage-backed securities market.

This will allow us to build on our recent successes. In fact, already, as part of current investigations, the Department has issued civil subpoenas to 11 different financial institutions. And, although I can’t go into detail about ongoing investigations, I can tell you that we expect more to follow.

As we kick off this year’s Consumer Protection Week, I also want to assure you that we will adopt this same approach – of collective action across all levels of government, state boundaries, and even party lines – in combating financial fraud schemes that target consumers.

As many of you know, last month, I convened the first meeting of the Consumer Protection Working Group – another newly-formed component of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force –– which will enhance civil and criminal enforcement of consumer fraud. This Working Group will meet again at the end of this week – and is already focusing on how to raise public awareness about common schemes – and ways to report them – so that potential victims have the information they need to fight back.

I’m confident that the vital efforts we’ve launched will allow the Justice Department – and our state and local government and law enforcement partners – to build on the momentum we’ve created in combating financial fraud. And I’m proud to say that there is perhaps no better illustration of this progress than our groundbreaking work to combat health-care fraud.

Over the last fiscal year alone – in cooperation with the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal and state partners, and by utilizing authorities provided under the False Claims Act and other critical statues – we were able to recover nearly $4.1 billion in funds that were stolen or taken improperly from federal health-care programs. This is a tremendous achievement – and it represents the highest amount ever recovered in a single year. In fact, over the last three years, for every dollar we spent combating health-care fraud, we’ve been able to return an average of seven dollars to the U.S. Treasury, the Medicare Trust Fund, and others.

Despite this remarkable record of success, I recognize that this is no time to become complacent. In the fight against financial fraud, I pledge my ongoing commitment – and I will continue to rely on yours.

I also briefly want to mention another priority area where I’ll be counting on your partnership in the days ahead. Just as I promised last year, protecting the safety of our law enforcement officers has been – and will continue to be – a key area of focus for the Justice Department.

Last year, 177 law enforcement officers were lost in the line of duty – an increase of 16 percent from the previous year. And 71 of these officers were killed by gun violence.

I am sorry – and, quite frankly, I am angry – to report that, since the beginning of 2012, we have mourned the loss of an additional 24 law enforcement officers. I know that you share my outrage – and that many of you have made protecting law enforcement a top priority. But I also know that we can – and we must – do even more.

In each of the states you serve, we must work together to build on the critical investments that the Justice Department has made to expand our bullet-proof vest initiative and our cutting-edge officer safety training programs and information-sharing platforms. These include new efforts like the Officer Safety and Wellness Toolkit, the VALOR program, and promising initiatives like the U.S.-Mexico State Alliance Partnership .

I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you that the safety challenges before us demand that we take these efforts to a new level. And our law enforcement partners deserve nothing less.

But I realize thatthe progress we hope to achieve won’t come quickly or easily. And I’m certain that – in this time of limited budgets and growing demands – it won’t come at all unless we continue to work together. In the months ahead, we must communicate better, collaborate more often, and more freely share ideas and insights across all levels of government.

I want to hear from you – and to better understand, and to help to address, your key concerns. And I want you to know that supporting you will continue to be a top priority – for the Justice Department, and for President Obama. The FY-2013 budget proposal he released last month proves this – and includes strong support for state and local public safety efforts.

Despite the challenges and frustrations of the day, we have some extraordinary opportunities before us. And each of you is in a unique position to strengthen this nation and to protect and improve the lives of those we serve.

So, let’s seize this moment. Let’s continue working together. And let’s keep up this conversation.

Thank you.