Thank you very much. I wanted to thank my colleague from Oklahoma for being so gracious to allow me to speak at this time. I am speaking today in support of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which I believe is an important and timely piece of legislation that I cosponsored and help to vote out of Judiciary Committee. I also wanted to thank senators Leahy and Grassley and Kaufman, all of whom spoke this afternoon, for their leadership and their work on this bill. I believe this bill will greatly increase our ability to prosecute and prevent financial crime.
I also will note that the president, the administration has come out with their statement of administration policy on this will bill and they are supportive of this bill. Unfortunately, Mr. President, the need for this legislation could never have been clearer. The Madoff scandal is just one big example of why we need this bill. Because of one man, one man, $65 billion has been lost in this country, lost to investors, lost to people who have nothing left, lost to charitable organizations in this country who are trying to help people in need during this difficult time. In my home state of Minnesota, literally dozens and dozens of people have lost significant sums of money, and our charities are suffering. This just isn't right.
After years of lax oversight and investigation, we are beginning to see many financial crimes come to light as the victims of financial fraud have emerged to tell their stories.
During a recent Judiciary Committee hearing on fraud enforcement, the acting assistant attorney general of the criminal division said as the economy is in decline -- this is his quote -- "what we may be starting to see are these sorts of ponzi schemes that were able to go on for a little while. Then all of a sudden there is a rush by the victims of schemes who don't know they're victims yet. Then the money is not there when they go to get the money out." in other words, as we would say in Minnesota, the chickens are coming home to roost.
All of this reminds me of a famous passage about embezzlement in John Kenneth Galbraith’s book "The Great Crash of 1929." I remember this because I would often use it as a prosecutor in Minnesota when I would address the legislature about the need to focus on white-collar crimes especially in times of economic difficulty. This is what he said:
“In good times, people are relaxed, trusting and money is plentiful. Even though money is plentiful, there are always plenty of people who need more. Under these circumstances, the rate of embezzlement grows and the rate of discovery falls off. But in a depression, all of this is reverse. Money is watched with a narrow suspicious eye. The man who handles it is assumed to be dishonest until he proves himself otherwise. Audits are penetrating and meticulous. Commercial morality is enormously improved.”
This may be an almost perfect description of our own time. As Galbraith suggested, our bad economy is exposing financial crimes that have been concealed for many, many years.
In the past three years, the number of criminal mortgage fraud investigations opened by the FBI, as Senator Leahy explained, has doubled. And in the past six years, there has been a nearly tenfold increase in the number of reports filed with the treasury department alleging mortgage fraud.
And I fear, Mr. President, that this is just the tip of the iceberg. As our economy has declined, crime will be on the rise. And with billions of dollars going out the door to stimulate the economy, important job-creating investments and transportation infrastructure and broadband networks and much more, you know there are going to be people trying to bilk the system whether for that or the tarp money and steal money for their personal profit.
So it's critical that have we have a justice department and an FBI that will hold accountable the people who are getting government funds, that will watch over the taxpayers' money, that will make sure that people like Bernie Madoff are prosecuted and brought to justice.
In order to do that, we need to make sure law enforcement has the tools and the resources they need to effectively fight, investigate, and prosecute these crimes. Before entering the senate, I served as a chief prosecutor for Hennepin County in Minnesota, which consists of Minneapolis and 45 suburban communities. We worked extensively with the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI and other federal agencies on white-collar crime. I remember it well because after the tragedy on 9/11, a number of the white-collar cases that were previously being prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office came to our office since we were the largest state prosecutors' office in the state. And we took those cases on. We got the people in place to handle them. But I saw them how resource-intensive these cases can be.
Most prosecutors have a simple saying about financial fraud cases. Follow the money and you'll find the crooks.
Of course in reality, it is often very hard to do that. It is very time-consuming, very expensive to look through thousands and thousands of boxes of documents and computer files to find that money trail and to follow it to where it goes to mortgage fraud and financial fraud. In fact, many white-collar crimes require complex investigations and significant resources to catch the crooks and prosecute them. And they often require special and expensive expertise, like individuals skilled in accounting or computer forensics.
Although it's harder and more complex to catch white-collar criminals, it is no less important. For the sake of our economy, for the sake of justice, we must hold people accountable for their crimes, whether it's robbing a screens store or using a computer to bilk investigators out of millions of dollars. Financial crimes have a ripple effect. Increased enforcement acts as a deterrent sending a clear message to those who may want to commit financial fraud, that wrongdoers may be prosecuted and subject to the full extent of the law. Oftentimes white-collar criminals see themselves above the law because they've got a good job, because they know people in town. Once we started prosecuting some of these people, a lot of people started turning money in. My favorite was when we prosecuted nine commercial airline pilots for not paying taxes to the Minnesota revenue department. We suddenly got millions of dollars into the coffers of the revenue department in the state of Minnesota, because it turned out other people were also maybe opening up post office boxes in other states and pretending to live there instead of in our state. So there can be a great deterrent act and -- effect and bring money into the state for people who haven't been paying their taxes or committing fraud.
Unfortunately, in the last eight years on the federal level I believe there hasn't been enough of this, partly because we haven't had the resources and partly because some of the regulatory agencies have been basically asleep at the wheel.
After the attacks on September 11, the FBI reduced its criminal investigative work to expand its national security role, shifting more than 1,800 agents or nearly one-third of all agents that were in criminal programs to terrorism and intelligence duties. Current and former officials say that the cutbacks have left the FBI seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime. Right now the FBI doesn't have enough staff to investigate or even review the 5,000-plus fraud allegations that the treasury department receives every month. Make no mistake; this is having an effect on our economy.
In addition to the many families losing their hard-earned money and their homes, it has contributed to the collapse in the mortgage-backed securities markets. In the past year banks in our country lost more than $500 billion because of the subprime mortgage industry. That's why the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act is so important. The bill authorizes $165 million a year for the justice department to hire fraud prosecutors and investigators, including funds for the FBI to bring on an additional 190 special agents and more than 200 special staff to rebuild its white-collar investigation program. Additionally, the bill will provide resources for the FBI to double the number of mortgage fraud task forces nationwide that target fraud in the hardest-hit areas of our country. I'm a big believe in these task forces, Mr. President, as a way of bringing local law enforcement and federal law enforcement together. We've seen it work effectively in a number of areas across the country. In addition to making sure law enforcement has the resource that is it needs, this legislation also makes sure they have the tools they need to crack down on financial crime.
This bill makes it easier to prosecute mortgage lending businesses for fraud. The predatory lenders these companies are responsible for nearly half the residential market before the economic collapse, yet they currently remain largely unregulated and outside the scope of traditional federal fraud statutes. This makes no sense. By amending the criminal code, we can hold unregulated mortgage businesses responsible for their actions. Federal fraud laws should apply to private mortgage businesses like country wide home loans and GMAC mortgage just as they applied to federally insured and regulated banks. I know we have a lot of very healthy banks in Minnesota, and they have been fighting for this for years. Why should they be held to a different standard? Why should some of these mortgage companies not be held to the same fiduciary duty as these banks?
As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is. If we're going to get our economy back on track, we have to restore trust in our financial system. And that starts with stopping fraud and crime. The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act will give our law enforcement agencies the tools and resources they need to do this.
I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bill and to support this incredibly important piece of legislation. The time is right. We not only have the fraud that we're already seeing come to light, but we also know that there is a number of possibilities for fraud as we've seen in the past when government funds go out. There has to be the policeman on the corner. And that is our FBI that is our task forces with local law enforcement. That is our prosecutors. Watching what happens so we don't let another Bernie Madoff slip through the cracks. Thank you very much.