Good morning. Today, I’m pleased to join with so many key partners – including Director of Enforcement for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Robert Khuzami; Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan; Attorney General for the State of New York, Eric Schneiderman; United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, John Walsh; Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Tony West; and other critical leaders – in announcing an important step forward in investigating the financial misconduct – and, specifically, misconduct in the market for mortgage-backed securities – that contributed to our nation’s recent economic crisis.
Along with Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division – who, unfortunately, is traveling today and could not be here – the team standing with me will be leading a new initiative: the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group, which will operate as part of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. This Working Group brings together a variety of federal, state, and local partners – including HUD, the FBI, IRS, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Office of Inspector General. These, and many other, Task Force members have been conducting investigations into the residential mortgage-backed securities market – as well as related aspects of the housing market – for some time. And they’ve seen firsthand how massive failures in this market were a driving force behind the nationwide housing collapse that has had devastating effects for investors, consumers, and entire communities.
Beginning with its first full meeting – which will take place immediately after this press conference – the Working Group will streamline and strengthen current and future efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute instances of wrongdoing in the packaging, selling, and valuing of residential mortgage-backed securities. I am confident that this new effort will improve our ability to ensure justice for victims; help restore faith in our financial markets and institutions; and allow us to answer the call that President Obama issued earlier this week, in his State of the Union address.
On Tuesday night, the President referenced this initiative, asking us to, “hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.”
That is precisely what we intend to do. And the good news is that we aren’t starting from scratch.
Over the past three years, we have been aggressively investigating the causes of the financial crisis. And we have learned that much of the conduct that led to the crisis was – as the President has said – unethical, and, in many instances, extremely reckless. We also have learned that behavior that is unethical or reckless may not necessarily be criminal. When we find evidence of criminal wrongdoing, we bring criminal prosecutions. When we don’t, we endeavor to use other tools available to us – such as civil sanctions – to seek justice. My number one to commitment to the American people is that we will continue to devote significant resources to combating financial fraud and be as aggressive and creative as we can be in holding accountable those who, in violating the law, contributed to the financial crisis.
For example, in just the last six months, the Department has achieved prison sentences of 60, 45, 30, and 20 years in a variety of financial fraud cases charging securities fraud, bank fraud, and investment fraud. And, just last month, I announced the largest fair lending settlement in history, resolving allegations that Countrywide Financial Corporation and its subsidiaries engaged in a widespread pattern or practice of discrimination against minority borrowers from 2004 through 2008.
With this new Working Group, we will marshal our civil and criminal capabilities to build on these efforts – by focusing on abuses in the residential-mortgage backed securities market. I am pleased to report that this Working Group has considerable Department resources behind it as it builds on activities that have been underway through the broader Task Force. Currently, 15 attorneys, investigators, and analysts – here at Main Justice and throughout our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices – are supporting the investigative efforts that this Working Group will be focusing on going forward. And the FBI has assigned 10 agents and analysts to work with the group immediately. In the coming weeks, another 30 attorneys, investigators, and support staff from U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will join the Group’s work.
We are wasting no time in aggressively pursuing any and all leads. In fact, as part our current investigations, the Department recently issued civil subpoenas focusing on issues related to the market for residential mortgage-backed securities to 11 different financial institutions – and you can expect more to follow.
Of course, I can’t go into detail about our existing investigations. But I can tell you that significant efforts are moving forward, by both federal and state authorities. And I can assure you that, if we uncover evidence of fraud or other illegal conduct, we will bring the appropriate criminal or civil charges.
I’m also pleased to report that these teams will be able to hit the ground running. Already, the Working Group’s co-chairs have met to discuss the structure of our investigative efforts, how teams should and will be organized, and how information can be shared more effectively.
With this focus on collaboration – and by bringing our government’s full enforcement resources to bear – I have no doubt that we will improve our ability to recover losses, to prevent fraud, to bring abuses to light, and to hold those who violate the law accountable. That’s what the challenge before us demands. And that’s what the American people deserve.
I want to thank all of our Working Group members for their participation – and their dedication to this effort. And, now, I’d like to turn things over to one of the leaders of this important work – Director Robert Khuzami.