As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Mike [Bresnick], for that kind introduction – and for your leadership as Executive Director of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. It’s a pleasure to join you – and so many dedicated colleagues and essential partners – as we begin today’s important discussions.
Thank you all – especially our distinguished panelists – for being part of this historic Summit. I can think of no better way to commemorate – and raise awareness about – Consumer Protection Week, than for this group of stakeholders, experts, and advocates to join forces in examining the challenges we face – and identifying the solutions that the American people deserve.
In this conversation, I’m especially grateful for the commitment and engagement of the members of the Consumer Protection Working Group – a newly-formed initiative that’s operating as part of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. In particular, I would like to recognize Director [Michael] Blume, of the Consumer Protection Branch, and all of the Group’s co-chairs: Assistant Attorney General Tony West, of the Civil Division, and soon to be Acting Associate Attorney General; Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte of the Central District of California; Director [David] Vladeck, of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection; and Kent Markus, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Director of Enforcement.
Today, as the Working Group gathers for the second time since its inaugural meeting in February, I want to express my gratitude for your leadership of this effort – and for your dedication to protecting the health, safety, and economic security of consumers across the country. These are goals – and responsibilities – that we all share. And each one of us has a role to play in fulfilling them.
For me, and for today’s Department of Justice, protecting American consumers is a top priority. And, as we’ve rededicated ourselves to this work in recent years, we’ve also learned some essential lessons. Primarily, that fully understanding the threats consumers face – and protecting their interests in a comprehensive way – is not something that the Justice Department can achieve on its own. We cannot simply prosecute our way out of this problem. So we need your help. We need your perspectives and expertise. We need your talents and determination. And that’s precisely what today is all about.
Earlier this afternoon, we kicked off an important – and, in many ways, unprecedented – conversation between this Working Group’s leaders and key consumer advocates. We talked about strategies for enhancing our civil and criminal enforcement of consumer fraud crimes; increasing public awareness about common schemes – and ways to report them – so that ordinary citizens have the knowledge they need to fight back; and building on the momentum we’ve established in the fight against consumer fraud.
As a result of discussions like this one – and thanks to the strong partnerships we’ve forged with federal law enforcement officials, regulatory agencies, and key state and local authorities – we’ve been able to gain access to the wide array of tools and the extraordinary depth of experience we will need not just to continue the work that’s underway – but to bring this fight to the next level.
Especially in these times of great economic challenge, I recognize that the need to move aggressively to combat these crimes has never been more important. And that’s why I’m proud to report that our nation’s Department of Justice – and so many of the consumer groups represented here – have responded to these threats not with despair, but with resolve – and decisive action.
During the last fiscal year, the Department’s Consumer Protection Branch achieved an astounding 95 percent conviction rate. They recovered over $900 million in criminal and civil fines. And they obtained sentences totaling over 125 years of imprisonment against more than 30 individuals.
These achievements build on the remarkable success of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which has helped secure convictions against those responsible for a wide variety of consumer scams – including telemarketing schemes, fraudulent job training and referral services, and even an enterprise that generated over $75 million in loss and victimized 350,000 small businesses by placing unauthorized charges on people’s phone bills.
Since last April – when I established a new part of the Task Force known as the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group – we’ve also been focused on identifying civil or criminal violations in the oil and gasoline markets, and ensuring that American consumers are not harmed by unlawful conduct. This Working Group’s latest meeting was held at the Justice Department just this morning – and its members discussed a variety of topics, including the role of speculators in the market; recent reports and enforcement matters by various Working Group members – such as the FTC and the New York State Attorney General’s Office; as well as ways to improve information sharing between Working Group members and partners; and where we go from here.
I can also report that one of the Working Group’s members – the Federal Trade Commission – is currently conducting an investigation, with assistance from other Working Group members, into whether gas prices have been affected by any antitrust violation or market manipulation by refiners, oil producers, transporters, marketers, physical or financial traders, or others. Working Group members stand ready to act if the FTC learns anything that implicates the laws they enforce.
The Task Force has also been at the forefront of the Administration’s efforts to seek justice for those who were devastated by the recent financial crisis. Since 2009, we’ve helped bring charges, secure convictions, and obtain prison sentences of up to 60 years in a variety of cases charging securities fraud, bank fraud, and investment fraud. Using criminal enforcement tools where possible – and civil penalties and sanctions where necessary – we’ve made great strides in holding individuals and institutions accountable for the reckless, inappropriate, and often unlawful conduct that helped contribute to the financial crisis. And – by employing a similar collaborative approach – we’ve even been able to make history.
In January, the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, other agencies, and 49 state attorneys general came together to achieve a landmark $25 billion agreement with the nation’s top five mortgage servicers – the largest joint federal-state settlement on record. This will provide significant assistance to struggling homeowners and communities. And it will serve as a model for what we can accomplish when we work together – across federal agencies, state boundaries, and party lines – and through another new Task Force component known as the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group.
Now, we can all be encouraged by the achievements that have characterized the past few years. But there is perhaps no better illustration of the progress we’ve made than our groundbreaking work to combat health-care fraud. Over the last fiscal year alone, the Department and its partners were able to recover nearly $4.1 billion in funds that were stolen or taken improperly from federal health-care programs – the highest amount ever recovered in a single year. And over the last three years, for every dollar we spent fighting against health-care fraud, we’ve returned an average of seven dollars to the U.S. Treasury, the Medicare Trust Fund, and others.
These numbers are stunning. There’s no question that we should all be proud of the results that have already been achieved. Although health care fraud won’t be a focal point of this Working Group, this ongoing work will continue to augment our latest consumer protection efforts. But I also know that this is no time to be satisfied – and we cannot afford to become complacent.
That’s why we must – and will – continue to seek new avenues for communication and collaboration with partners like each of you. With the assistance and expertise of the friends and allies gathered here today, and through discussions like those that will take place this afternoon – on issues ranging from fraud targeting the elderly, to common tax schemes, to business opportunity fraud – we will develop comprehensive strategies and implement innovative new solutions for preventing and combating consumer fraud in the years ahead.
To put it simply: my colleagues and I are counting on you. American consumers are depending on you. And I look forward to all that we will accomplish together.