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Operation Broken Trust: Over 500 Charged in $10.4 Billion Investment Fraud Sweep

Monday, 6 Dec 2010 | 1:00 PM ET

Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday that federal authorities have charged more than 500 people as a result of what they are calling “Operation Broken Trust,” a nationwide crackdown on investment fraud.

The operation has resulted in criminal charges against 343 people, involving more than $8.3 billion in estimated losses from fraud. An additional 189 people have been charged in civil cases involving estimated losses of more than $2.1 billion.

The government claims that more than 120,000 people were harmed by the fraud.

"Operation Broken Trust was organized in August by the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, an interagency body set up in November 2009 by President Obama.

Here’s the full press release from the Justice Department:

WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder announced today the results of Operation Broken Trust, a nationwide operation organized by the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to target investment fraud. To date, the operation has involved enforcement actions against 343 criminal defendants and 189 civil defendants for fraud schemes that harmed more than 120,000 victims throughout the country. The operation’s criminal cases involved more than $8.3 billion in estimated losses and the civil cases involved estimated losses of more than $2.1 billion. Operation Broken Trust is the first national operation of its kind to target a broad array of investment fraud schemes that directly prey upon the investing public.

In announcing the results of Operation Broken Trust, Attorney General Holder was joined by FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami, U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell, Deputy Chief Rick Raven of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Acting Director of Enforcement Vince McGonagle of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and other members of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

The interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force was established by President Obama to lead an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. Starting on Aug. 16, 2010, within a three-and-a-half month period, Operation Broken Trust involved 231 criminal cases and 60 civil enforcement actions. Eighty-seven defendants have been sentenced to prison, including several sentences of more than 20 years in prison.

“With this operation, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force is sending a strong message,” said Attorney General Holder. “To the public: be alert for these frauds, take appropriate measures to protect yourself, and report such schemes to proper authorities when they occur. And to anyone operating or attempting to operate an investment scam: cheating investors out of their earnings and savings is no longer a safe business plan - we will use every tool at our disposal to find you, to stop you, and to bring you to justice.”

“This operation highlights the scope of this problem, and its impact on individuals from all walks of life,” said FBI Executive Assistant Director Henry. “This one sweep alone involves fraud schemes that harmed more than 120, 000 victims. The schemes may change, but the underlying greed does not. Working with our partners, we in the FBI will use all the investigative techniques in our arsenal, including undercover operations, to bring those responsible to justice.”

“Fraud by well-known companies or high-profile executives gets the biggest headlines, but other scams are equally devastating to hard working families and retirees,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “Victims want justice and don’t much care who the fraudster is or how unique the fraud. Today’s actions underscore that law enforcement agrees and will pursue fraud in whatever form.”

Enforcement actions taken as a result of Operation Broken Trust involve a range of different investment fraud schemes, all of which prey directly on the investing public. The operators of these schemes often promise high returns to investors, but engage in little to no legitimate investment activity. Such schemes include Ponzi schemes, affinity fraud, prime bank/high-yield investment scams, foreign exchange (FOREX) frauds, business opportunity fraud and other similar schemes. In some instances, operators of these schemes filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to avoid claims by victim-investors.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service has a long tradition of protecting postal customers from these types of investment and Ponzi scams and bringing those responsible to justice,” said USPIS Chief Postal Inspector Cottrell. “The Postal Inspection Service constantly strives to protect our customers and the general public from falling victim to these scams that claim millions of dollars every year.”

“The results announced today demonstrate the effectiveness of federal civil and criminal law enforcement in bringing to justice those who have engaged in financial fraud schemes,” said Acting Director McGonagle of the Division of Enforcement for CFTC. “The CFTC continues to devote substantial enforcement resources to combat financial fraud. We appreciate the partnership with the other members of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to protect the public from financial fraudsters.”

“Securities and investment frauds are serious offenses which have brought financial ruin to many citizens. Promoters of Ponzi schemes prey upon trusting investors and then steal their hard earned money,” said Rick Raven, Deputy Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation. “IRS Criminal Investigation is proud to bring our forensic accounting skills to this joint venture with our law enforcement partners to put a stop to this and other types of white collar fraud.”

Operation Broken Trust was conducted in conjunction with various Department of Justice components—including the U.S. Attorney Offices, the FBI, the Criminal and Civil Divisions and the U.S. Trustee Program—as well as the SEC, USPIS, the CFTC, IRS-CI, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Secret Service and the National Association of Attorneys General.

As a part of Operation Broken Trust, the task force is making the public aware of resources available to protect against these types of fraud and how to report fraud when it occurs. To learn more about investment scams, how to take steps to protect yourself from scams, or how to report investment fraud if you believe you have been victimized, go to StopFraud.gov. The website includes links to a wide array of task force member resources.

The President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information on the task force, visit www.StopFraud.gov.

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