21st Century Policing

Attorneys General of California and Nevada Announce Mortgage Investigation Alliance

December 6, 2011
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES -- Attorneys General Kamala D. Harris of California and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada today announced that their states have entered into a joint investigation alliance designed to assist homeowners who have been harmed by misconduct and fraud in the mortgage industry.

By forging this alliance, California and Nevada will combine investigative resources, including litigation strategies, information, and evidence gathered through their respective ongoing investigations, assisting each state as it pursues independent prosecutions.

This alliance will link the offices’ civil and criminal enforcement teams, speeding along the full, fair and adequate investigation of wrongdoing in the two states, which have experienced similar foreclosure and mortgage fraud crises.

“The mortgage crisis is a man-made disaster that has taken a heavy toll on the country, but it saved its worst for California and Nevada,” said California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “The mortgage crisis is a law enforcement matter, and we will prosecute to hold accountable those who are responsible and also protect the homeowners who are targeted for fraud. I am delighted that California and Nevada are entering into this alliance to leverage the best results for our investigations and look forward to forging similar collaboration with other states.”

“I am pleased to join forces with General Harris to fight against fraudulent mortgage and foreclosure practices that continue to devastate lives, homes, and the economy in Nevada and California,” said Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. “This strong partnership will allow our states to make an even more concerted effort to hold fraud perpetrators accountable and ensure law-abiding homeowners receive justice.”

By most objective measures, California and Nevada have been the states hardest hit by the nation’s foreclosure crisis. In October 2011, Nevada and California ranked first and second, respectively, for the percentage of their housing units that entered the foreclosure process, reflecting a parallel surge in foreclosures in the two states. One in every 180 Nevada properties entered the foreclosure process in October, and one in every 243 California homes received a filing that month. In 2010, California led the nation with a total of 546,669 foreclosure filings (4 percent of the state’s housing units), while Nevada led the nation with 9.4 percent of its homes receiving a foreclosure filing (totaling 106,160 units).

The crisis in these Western states is similar because both states share a foreclosure system in which a bank can foreclose on a borrower’s home without court oversight, also called “non-judicial foreclosure.” The collective result has created a rich opportunity for predators, leading both states to make mortgage-related law enforcement action a top priority.

In May 2011, Attorney General Harris formed a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, now composed of nearly 40 attorneys and investigators, that has launched a wide series of investigations and litigation. The Mortgage Fraud Strike Force has instigated legal actions, including a lawsuit alleging false representations and other unlawful conduct in the marketing of multi-million dollar 'mass joinder' lawsuits, and the arrests earlier this month of three top officers of a Stockton real estate company who took thousands of dollars in up-front loan modification fees and made false promises to assist struggling Central Valley homeowners with lowering their mortgage payments.

In 2007, Attorney General Masto formed the Nevada Mortgage Fraud Strike Force that launched a wide series of investigations and litigation into areas including violations of the law related to mortgage lending, servicing, and foreclosure practices and the creation, rating, marketing, sale, and management of mortgage backed securities. The Nevada Mortgage Fraud Strike Force has taken action against predatory “mortgage rescue” companies and individuals claiming to offer services to stop foreclosures. Last month, the Strike Force announced the indictments of Gerri Sheppard and Gary Trafford, who led a massive robo-signing scheme which resulted in the filing of tens of thousands of fraudulent documents. Nevada is also suing Bank of America and its subsidiaries, including Countrywide, for violations of a Consent Judgment for mortgage servicing and mortgage origination irregularities.

The Mortgage Investigation Alliance is the product of weeks of discussion between Attorneys General Harris and Masto regarding the most effective and efficient means of achieving justice for their respective states. Today’s announcement formalizes an agreement reached between the two officials last week.

Brown Fights to Solve Violent Crimes with DNA Collected from Adults Arrested for Felonies

July 13, 2010
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. continued his fight today against an attack on the state’s innovative use of DNA to identify suspects of violent crimes, asserting that “DNA is the fingerprint of the 21st century.”

In an argument before the federal court of appeals in San Francisco, Brown’s office defended the state’s voter-mandated collection of DNA from adults arrested for felonies.

“California is at the forefront of solving crimes through new and innovative uses of DNA technology, and I intend to do everything in my power to defend the state’s ability to reduce crime by collecting DNA from those arrested for felonies,” Brown said. “So far, DNA collected from arrestees has led to the identification of suspects in more than 970 rapes, murders and other very serious crimes,” Brown added.

This case arose when the ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the state’s DNA arrestee program. The Attorney General prevailed in the United States District Court, and the ACLU appealed to the federal court of appeals.

Samples are taken through a simple procedure using a wooden swab to collect DNA from the inside of a person’s cheek. Strict safeguards ensure that the samples are used only by law enforcement officials to identify an individual and not for any other purpose.

Brown pointed out that about 40 percent of homicides and 60 percent of rapes go unsolved. For example, many of the victims of the Grim Sleeper might still be alive if the suspect had been identified from DNA taken when he was previously arrested.

Collecting DNA samples from those arrested for felonies is a profoundly important way to help solve murders, rapes and other very serious crimes. It should be noted that almost half of those arrested for felonies are repeat offenders.

In 2004, California voters approved Proposition 69, which required law enforcement officers to begin last year taking DNA samples from every adult arrested for a felony.

The program is accomplishing its purpose: identifying criminal suspects. In its first 18 months, DNA collected from arrestees has lead to the identification of 970 suspects of serious felonies. For example:

• DNA collected from Donald Carter, 56, arrested in Sacramento in 2009 on a felony drug charge, was linked to the unsolved 20-year-old murder of Sophie McAllister, 80. Although Carter's drug charge was dismissed, he was later charged with murder and his trial is pending.

• In April 2009, Christopher Rogers, 34, was arrested in Sacramento for assault with a deadly weapon, which was ultimately reduced to a misdemeanor. But his DNA, collected at the time of arrest, was matched to DNA taken at the scene of a 2004 murder in Sacramento. In October, Rogers was arrested and charged with murder. He awaits trial.

• In August 2009, Rene Hernandez, 26, was arrested in Watsonville for felony assault. His DNA was linked to a February 2009 sexual assault of a Watsonville woman, and he was arrested on multiple charges related to that crime. His trial is pending.

• In May 2009, Anthony Vega was arrested in Los Angeles County on felony drug charges, which were later reduced to misdemeanors. His DNA, collected at the time of arrest, was linked to two separate crimes committed in Orange County, a burglary in 2007 and a 2008 armed home invasion robbery. A preliminary hearing is scheduled.

• Earlier this year, Joshua Graham Packer, 20, was arrested in Santa Barbara on armed robbery charges. His DNA was matched to a sample taken at the site of an unsolved 2009 triple murder in Ventura County. He was arrested for that crime in April and charged with murder.

Oral arguments in the case were scheduled today in the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals at Seventh and Mission streets in San Francisco.

Attached are briefs filed in the case. An earlier press release on the DNA felony arrestee program can be found at http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/release.php?id=1936&