LAS VEGAS - Mortgage fraud investigators say violent street criminals are increasingly becoming paper pushers. They prey on innocent homeowners and commit mortgage fraud. One undercover investigator who asked to be called "Elizabeth" says her job involves tracking down the threatening crooks and locking them up.
"The street criminal is turning more and more toward these paper crimes, because the payoff is higher, and in a lot of situations, the penalty is lower," she said. "It's always a high risk when you're going looking for somebody to affect an arrest. We do surveillance. We do undercover operations to get evidence for our cases. All of that is high risk."
Soon, the number of investigators and prosecutors who work mortgage fraud cases will double at the Nevada Attorney General's Office. A near-$1.7 million federal grant will help level the playing field.
"The scales are completely out of balance now. When the citizens needs us the most, that's when there's the least of us, because our budget has been so hard hit," "Elizabeth" said.
With nearly 250 mortgage companies currently under investigation, Chief Deputy Attorney General John Kelleher says the new funding will fast-track those cases. It will also allow investigators to take on more cases.
"It's kind of like yeast and break," Kelleher said. "It pervades every aspect of the lending process. We handle cases involving loan origination fraud, fraud with securitization of the loans, fraud in the foreclosures of the loans and the foreclosure rescue fraud that we see."
Investigators like "Elizabeth" who put their lives on the line say the grant provides much needed relief for a state hit hard by mortgage fraud.
"All of us, our hearts are in this, and we feel for Nevada. We feel for consumers. So, we're excited to be able to actually get out there and make a dent in this and make a difference," she said.
The grant lasts two years. If the state can demonstrate successful prosecutions of mortgage fraud suspects, it could receive more federal money.