FBI director Robert Mueller tells Miami Chamber: Mortgage fraud and other white-collar crimes rate high priority

The Miami Herald on April 5, 2012 released the following:

“FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Chamber of Commerce audience that the agency remains committed to solving major financial crimes prevalent in South Florida

BY MARTHA BRANNIGAN

The FBI has remade itself in the post-9/11 era to focus on counterterrorism, but the agency continues to battle major financial fraud in key areas familiar to South Florida, like mortgages and healthcare as well as corporate and securities violations, FBI director Roberts Mueller told a lunch audience at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 triggered a new emphasis on cooperation among agencies and the use of intelligence to drive traditional white-collar crime investigations, Mueller told the gathering of 350 business and government officials at the Jungle Island luncheon.

“We have not neglected our criminal responsibilities,’’ he said. “What has changed is that we make greater use of intelligence and partnerships to focus our limited resources.’’

With tighter lending standards in the wake of the housing meltdown, mortgage fraud has morphed into “schemes aimed at distressed homeowners, such as loan modification scams and phony foreclosure rescues,’’ said Mueller, who became the FBI’s top cop on Sept. 4, 2001, the eve of the terror attacks.

Mueller said so-called “rescue services’’ hold out hope of helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, but instead extract big fees and personal information from victims, who sometimes are swayed “to sign away the deeds to their homes.’’

Among other priorities for the new FBI, Mueller said, is targeting rampant healthcare fraud. “Providers bill the government and insurers for excessive or unnecessary services and even for services they never provide,’’ he said, citing the recent case against officials at South Florida-based American Therapeutic Corp., who manipulated patients to receive unneeded treatment and padded bills to Medicare.

Another FBI focus — corporate and securities fraud — is also a familiar phenomenon to South Florida, Mueller said, citing the case of Scott Rothstein, the Fort Lauderdale attorney who led a $1.6 billion Ponzi scheme that hinged on selling interests in the proceeds of judgments from non-existent lawsuits.

In summing up, the FBI director urged chamber guests to take action when they see financial shenanigans. “You can learn to recognize financial fraud and unscrupulous business practices to better protect yourself and your companies. And you can alert us wehn you see these activities take place,’’ he said.

Chamber president Barry Johnson said the FBI and the chamber worked for two years to schedule Mueller’s visit. “He was interested in talking to South Florida, given the level of financial fraud operating in our part of the world. And they were looking for a business venue,’’ Johnson said.”

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