DA Brings in Allies to Bolster Mortgage Fraud Fight
Mortgage fraud has fast become a financial crime with
a reputation for yielding high payoffs with relatively small risks of
criminals being tracked down and brought to justice for bilking mortgage
Not for long - at least in Collin County.
District Attorney John Roach's Special Crimes Division (SCD) has teamed
up with local police departments to investigate and prosecute those who
profit from this kind of fraud. In early November, prosecutor Christopher
Lee Milner joined Dr. Gary Lacefield of W.R. Starkey Mortgage in Plano
to show more than 40 local law enforcement officers how to investigate,
document and bring mortgage fraud cases to the grand jury - and get convictions.
In fact, the day-long seminar drew more than detectives from Collin County
city police departments, with investigators and prosecutors from north
Texas, Oklahoma and the Texas Attorney General's Office attending.
Mortgage fraud has grown to such a level in the last decade that industry
officials estimate that 85 percent of home foreclosures can be linked
to some form of mortgage fraud. While mortgage fraud can be complex and
sometimes involves conspiracies linking any number of buyers, sellers
and lending industry professionals connected to financial transactions,
Milner's and Lacefield's approach to making investigations is simple and
"Our idea was to show how to pick the low-hanging fruit from a mortgage
fraud scheme," Milner says. "Normally, you could spend months
and months pouring over reams of paper in a single mortgage transaction
to draw in every single person who may have had some role in the crime.
We showed police how to document the fraud and get to the most obvious
culprits as quickly and thoroughly as possible."
The idea is to broaden the number of eyes looking for mortgage fraud,
show police the fastest route to making solid cases that will stand up
in court - and send the message to crooks that someone's going to be looking
a little closer at the paper trail.
"By working together, we boiled all that's involved in a mortgage
fraud scheme down to a simple case of theft," Dr. Lacefield says.
"And to prove the crime, we showed investigators how to use the very
same paper trail created by these 'bad actors' to pull off the scheme."
Dr. Lacefield says W.R. Starkey worked closely with the Collin County
DA because it was the first local prosecutor's office to offer to help
slow the spread of mortgage fraud in this corner of North Texas.
The DA's Office has been prosecuting mortgage fraud in Collin County
district courts since Spring 2005, and Collin County Commissioners recently
beefed-up Milner's SCD with additional staff to help investigate and prosecute
expected mortgage fraud caseload increases in the coming year.