FBI to join task force on mortgage fraud cases

The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that between $4 and $6 billion in losses can be attributed to mortgage fraud nationwide in fiscal year 2007. It has 35 task forces working across the country on the problem and considers 16 states hotspots for the crime, but Massachusetts is not on the list. The task forces work in places like Florida, where swamp peddling is still alive and well. But the FBI will soon participate in a mortgage-fraud working group with state and city agencies, said a spokeswoman for the agency.

The suffolkdeeds.com website that tracks real estate transactions for the county contains a number of highly suspicious transactions in Dorchester and Mattapan, including many three-deckers that were bought, converted to condos and sold in less than a year, all for the same price, all with 100 percent financing, and all with very few or zero payments on the mortgages after the sale. Many of these properties tend to be foreclosed upon less than a year from the sale date. In a few instances the Reporter has been able to verify that new buyers never moved in.

"The market was puffed up to an incredible level not by predatory lending, but by fraud… I would guess it's at least 100 three-deckers," claims local Dorchester real estate analyst John Anderson. "When the financing collapsed, the market collapsed."

Likely it was a number of factors, but Anderson and several other local real estate agents have pointed to various strange transactions in the neighborhood, none more compelling to date than 77 Draper St. on Meeting House Hill, first reported on these pages in October, 2007.

The house sold for $50,000 in August 2006, and on Jan. 3 of the following year, all three units sold for $330,000 each. Two sold to Daphney Stokes, and one sold to Allison Evan. Allison Evan also bought another condo at 35 Harwood St. the following month for another $320,000, and that three-decker building sold in a similar fashion, quick and all for the same price, with foreclosure proceedings under way on all three. Evan's 77 Draper condo was foreclosed last month.

But here's the kicker. The three-decker at 77 Draper St. was boarded up well before Aug. 2006, and those worn out boards with notices posted on them from earlier in the decade remained in place as of last month.

Spokespersons for Attorney General's office said that the AG is aware of this type of tactic, but investigations can take years before they produce a case before going to court. But both the AG and the FBI depend on outside sources to report cases. There is no systematic search underway to find mortgage fraud using tools like suffolkdeeds.com at either agency.

As of December last year, the FBI had 1,239 mortgage cases open across the country, compared to 400 in 2003, and 800 in 2006.

"Clearly mortgage fraud is going up in the country," said FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz. "Around 60 percent of the open cases have estimated losses over $1 million."

Marcinkeiwicz added that the U.S. Attorney's office has a threshold over which the losses must reach in order to be investigated. Calls to Massachusetts' U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan were not returned at press time.

The list of a broad spectrum of agencies that will participate in the new working group - still in the early planning stages - will include the FBI, the Boston Police Department, the state police, the U.S. Postal Police, the IRS, and the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, said Marcinkiewicz.

"We're bringing these various entities together so we can have all the information together in one place," she said. "The situation last year - what we were seeing is a number of different organizations looking at this and that. Rather than being disjointed, this is bringing everyone together."