Florida tops nation for mortgage fraud

Mortgage fraud is responsible for untold trillions of dollars in bad loans currently defaulting across the country, and Florida has played a starring role in the tragedy, a federal commission said during a hearing in Miami on Tuesday.

A panel of national and local experts sat before the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission during a hearing focused on liar's loans, predatory mortgage practices and shady home appraisals. They concluded that the financial impact of the fraud was more severe than most have estimated, and prosecuting those responsible will be nearly impossible. It was the third of four hearings being carried out nationwide by the commission, which Congress assembled last year to investigate the causes of the global financial meltdown.

"Mortgage fraud is not just a side issue -- in many ways it's a central issue of this financial collapse," former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, a commission member, said after the hearing. "I was stunned at the extent and the dollar impact of mortgage fraud and its contribution to the worst financial meltdown in half a century."

Five hours of expert testimony painted a picture of a system wrought with regulatory inadequacies and financial incentives for unscrupulous behavior at nearly every level. The result, panelists said, was more than $1 trillion lost by banks, homeowners and, ultimately, the U.S. taxpayer between 2005 and 2007 alone. As many as 70 percent of mortgages now in foreclosure were the result of at least one element of fraud, said Ann Fulmer, vice president at Interthinx, a risk-mitigation firm that does extensive mortgage fraud research.

The hearing also laid out the laundry list of challenges local law enforcement officials face as they try to track down and prosecute the predatory lenders and mortgage fraudsters active in Florida during the housing boom.

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