Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force Hosts Fair Lending Forum in Chicago

Representatives of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) met in Chicago today with community stakeholders to discuss national, state and local elements of the banking and housing crisis. The meeting was the first of a series of Fair Lending Forums, and task force representatives in attendance included members from the Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Reserve Board and the state of Illinois.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; FFETF Executive Director Robb Adkins; HUD Deputy General Counsel Michelle Aronowitz; and Timothy R. Burniston from the Federal Reserve Board were hosted by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Task force members participated in panel sessions with Chicago community leaders, including representatives of the Chicago Urban League, the Spanish Coalition for Housing and the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, to discuss the community impact of discriminatory lending practices in housing and banking, and the growing number of foreclosures. In the afternoon, task force representatives will tour a Chicago neighborhood that was affected by these practices.

“Fair lending enforcement is a top priority for Attorney General Eric Holder and for us in the Civil Rights Division, as we continue to grapple with the fallout from the housing boom and subsequent foreclosure crisis,” said Assistant Attorney General Perez. “I know that it is the people on the ground who can provide the best insight into what’s occurring today, and how it’s impacting homeowners, neighborhoods and communities.”

“During the peak of the housing bubble, Chicago’s African American and Latino neighborhoods became ground zero for the worst of the mortgage industry’s toxic loans.” Illinois Attorney General Madigan said. “Unfortunately, many families in these communities continue to struggle today because of the lending industry’s illegal, reckless practices. Today’s forum is critical because it enables us to combine state and federal resources and create partnerships with agencies on the ground that are committed to ending the types of discriminatory lending practices that helped cause the worst economic meltdown of our time.”

“ The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force is the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud, but one of our best partners in the fight is a vigilant, informed public, ” FFETF Executive Director Adkins said. “ Throughout government there are resources to help hardworking, honest Americans protect themselves from fraud and report fraud.”

The forum was the first in a series of meetings to occur in the coming months in order to inform the investigative and enforcement actions of the task force. For example, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the Fair Housing and Equal Credit Opportunity Acts. Previous enforcement actions like the multi-million dollar settlement with two subsidiaries of American International Group Inc., to resolve allegations they engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African American borrowers, are indicative of the task force’s continuing efforts.

The task force’s Fair Lending Unit, housed in the Civil Rights Division, is investigating major lenders for potential fraudulent practices targeted to minority communities, including practices commonly known as redlining, reverse-redlining and pricing discrimination.

Fair lending is a key focus of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s efforts. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. A dditional forum dates and locations are to be announced in the future.

The task force, established by President Barack Obama in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, is composed of representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement.