Desert Underwater: Task Force Takes On Scam Artists - 8 News NOW

Desert Underwater: Task Force Takes On Scam Artists

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LAS VEGAS -- Few things stand between Nevada homeowners and the crooks eager to take their last buck. In 2007, the Nevada Attorney General's Office created the Mortgage Fraud Task Force, and since then, it has grown along with the spiraling need.

Investigators say when they first started getting housing-related complaints, they didn't have laws that seemed to fit the crime. There was no mortgage fraud on the books, so early prosecutions involved charges like theft. Though Nevada's statutes have improved since then, the need for even tougher laws hasn't and the bad guys still out number the good guys by an incalculable number.

In back hallways at the Clark County Courthouse, state investigators Shelly Neimann and Renee Lightford pursue the most satisfying part of their job -- an arrest warrant on a suspect accused of a housing scheme.

Check out the entire Desert Underwater section

"The judge reads your story and basically looks at you and tells you keep up the great work, this is a good cause. And then you get to go out and get your bad guy," said Neimann.

With the judge's ink barely dry, Steve Nohrden, former Republican Congressional candidate, radio host and licensed realtor is on his way to jail, accused of breaking into vacant homes he didn't own and renting them to unsuspecting victims.

"It's a constant moving target, but, you know, we're up for the battle," said Neimann.

Neimann, a five year veteran of the AG's Office is a founding member of the Mortgage Fraud Task Force, a team of investigators, attorneys, and support staff dedicated to housing-related crime.

"We created the wheel. No one came in and taught us about mortgage fraud. I literally had to go buy books and read and learn about mortgage fraud and the documents you're supposed to have and not supposed to have and the way the process is supposed to go," said Neimann.

The complexity of the schemes, according to the team, surpasses traditional white collar crime. And investigations, supported by mountains of paper, often involve losses into the millions, or in some cases, billions of dollars.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto assembled the team in 2007 in response to an exponential increase in mortgage fraud complaints. Since then, the task force has investigated more than 200 companies, each with a minimum of 50 victims.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Masto. "The intent is, and you always hope this, you put a lot of resources in one area, you attack that area, it stops it, it slows it down. You can take those resources put them in another priority. But unfortunately for us, mortgage fraud, it never stopped. It just continued to evolve."

Beyond the industry insiders, Cortez-Masto says organized crime has infiltrated some housing scams. In addition to financial losses, current investigations involve identity theft, drug trafficking, and even prostitution.

"I know they're going to keep coming -- the fraudsters come out of the woodwork, they always do. But that's my role and everybody in this office knows it. And at the end of the day, they're going to be very aggressive and go after them," said Masto.

Justice for tens of thousands of homeowners is, after all, the most satisfying part of Neimann's job.

"If I can find the piece to the puzzle and I can find another piece to the puzzle and in the end, I get to put the cuffs on the bad guy, then yeah, it's all worth it," she said.

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