Mortgage Fraud Targeted by Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress on Monday sent the president a bill
to clamp down on mortgage fraud and set up a $5 million independent
commission to investigate the cause of the worldwide financial
meltdown.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the legislation,
which received broad bipartisan support. The House agreed on Monday
to a Senate version of the bill by a 338-52 vote.

Obama and other supporters say the bill's estimated cost of some
$265 million a year will more than pay for itself because of the
fines and penalties that would result from increased government
oversight.

"No one should want to see those who engaged in mortgage fraud
escape accountability," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Also this week, Democratic leaders hope to send Obama
legislation on credit cards that would protect consumers from
arbitrary rate hikes. Another measure that could make it to the
president's desk would try to make it easier for homeowners with
shaky credit to switch to a lower-cost mortgage backed by the
government.

Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-sponsored
the mortgage fraud bill with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. They
estimate the money could hire about 160 special FBI agents and more
than 200 support staff, including forensic analysts. Currently, the
FBI has fewer than 250 special agents assigned to mortgage fraud
cases, despite caseloads that have more than doubled in the past
three years.

The Justice Department could hire 200 more prosecutors and civil
enforcement attorneys, along with 100 support staff.

Other government entities in line to receive money include the
Securities and Exchange Commission, the Secret Service, Postal
Inspection Service and the inspector general for the Housing and
Urban Development Department.

The bill also would establish a new "financial markets
commission." Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D.,
proposed creating the group to "examine all causes, domestic and
global" of the economic crisis.

Democrats would hold sway on the panel, with the majority party
able to pick six members and Republicans to pick four. In a bid to
ensure the panel is apolitical, members of government are not
allowed to participate and at least one Republican-appointed panel
member must sign off on subpoenas issued by the group's
Democratic-appointed chairman.

The commission will focus on more than 20 areas, including how
the government failed to protect investors and the role financial
fraud may have played in the meltdown. The group would report its
findings by Dec. 15, 2010.


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