Politics & Government

New federal financial fraud group augments N.C. group's efforts

Two of Charlotte's top federal prosecutors say a new White House initiative targeting mortgage fraud and other financial crime formalizes partnerships that have been crucial to their work.

President Barack Obama established the Interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force last week to strengthen efforts to find and halt financial crime. The Department of Justice heads the effort, which the agency said weds multiple federal and state agencies, law enforcement and regulatory authorities and other partners to investigate major financial crimes.

For most of this decade, the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Western District routinely worked with federal and state agencies to tackle complex white-collar cases, division chief Mike Savage said.

"The approach we've been taking here in North Carolina has become more of a national approach because it works," Savage said. "Each of these agencies has a unique perspective and contribution. You put them together, and we're smarter than the crooks."

The nation's financial meltdown has sharpened attention on the causes and prevention efforts. But finding and prosecuting financial fraud is more time-consuming than some other federal charges, such as bank robbery. And since the 9-11 attacks, a lot of enforcement power has been diverted to counterterrorism.

"The new world of terrorism ... drains resources, and rightly so," said Matthew Martens, deputy chief of the criminal division. "We have to be collaborative. In this day and age, it's the only way you can do cases."

The office employs 83 people, 35 of them prosecutors, in Charlotte and Asheville.

Savage and Martens wouldn't comment about ongoing investigations, but Savage said the office ranks in "at least the top 20 percent nationally in the number and significance of prosecutions of corporate crimes."

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