Erika Eichelberger

Erika Eichelberger

Reporter

Erika Eichelberger is a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She has also written for The NationThe Brooklyn Rail, and TomDispatch. Email her at eeichelberger [at] motherjones [dot] com. 

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DOJ Admits to Vastly Inflating the Number of People It Charged With Mortgage Fraud

| Mon Aug. 12, 2013 1:03 PM EDT

On Friday, the Department of Justice admitted that it had vastly overstated the number of people who had been criminally charged in connection with a year-long mortgage fraud initiative.

In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder created a multi-agency working group called the Distressed Homeowner Initiative, the first ever effort aimed exclusively at targeting crimes against homeowners in the lead up to the financial crisis. Last October, the DOJ publicized its stunning success: 530 people had been charged criminally as part of the initiative. The actual figure, according to the DOJ, is 107—80 percent less. The DOJ claimed that the defendants had victimized more than 73,000 homeowners. That number is actually 17,185. And the department estimated that homeowner losses associated with the fraud was about $1 billion. The new sum is $95 million.

The DOJ's original tally included those people who were criminally charged in 2012, as well as defendants who were sentenced or convicted that year but charged before the task force had even been set up. The department also counted cases in which the victims weren't distressed homeowners.

"As a result, the announcement overstated the number of defendants that should have been included as part of the Distressed Homeowner Initiative," the Justice Department said upon release of the new numbers. Oops.

Three Bloomberg reporters deserve credit for outing Holder. A couple days after the attorney general first publicized the numbers last October, Phil Mattingly and Tom Schoenberg broke the story that some of the cases included in the DoJ's tally occurred before the initiative began. And Bloomberg reporter Jonathan Weil, after pestering the department for a list of all the people charged and their case details, wrote a column about the Justice Department's refusal to comply. That prompted the DoJ to reexamine its numbers.

As Weil noted at Bloomberg on Friday, this is the second time that Holder's Justice Department has inflated prosecution numbers related to the financial crisis. In December 2010, Holder held a press conference to talk up a sweep by the president’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. "All the Justice Department did was lump together a bunch of small-fry, penny-ante fraud cases that had nothing to do with one another," Weil writes.

More from Weil:

The Obama administration has been on the defensive for years over its lack of decisive, high-profile prosecutions related to the financial crisis. So it leads one to believe that might help explain why the feds have occasionally inflated their fraud statistics: to persuade the public that they were being tough on financial crimes.

Holder needs to come forward and explain exactly how this happened and why. He used a press conference with the cameras rolling to give out numbers that proved to be false -- and they appear to have been willfully false. He should be just as eager to hold another press conference to set the record straight, answer any questions about his apparent sleight of hand when it comes to financial-fraud metrics and apologize to the American people.

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Democrats Jump on the 'Death Panel' Bandwagon

| Thu Aug. 8, 2013 10:47 AM EDT

In 2009, Sarah Palin claimed Obamacare would create "death panels," or bands of bureaucrats who would decide whether old or disabled Americans were worthy of medical care. That notion turned out to be a figment of her imagination. But now, a growing cohort of Democratic lawmakers is cozying up to the idea, charging that the cost-cutting board that Obama's health care law creates will indeed hurt people on Medicare, The Hill reports.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Reps. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) have all signed onto bills repealing the powers of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel created by the Affordable Care Act that will make recommendations on how to reduce Medicare spending once Medicare cost growth reaches a certain level.

The lawmakers have said they oppose the board because it would limit care for Medicare patients, even though the health care law says that any cuts would have to affect doctor reimbursement rates or the prices for certain drugs, not patient care.

All five lawmakers are worried about losing their seats in 2014. Barber, Kirkpatrick, Sinema and Esty have also voted with Republicans to delay the law's individual and employer mandates—the requirements that Americans purchase insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage, respectively.

The Democratic death panel fear-mongering follows an editorial that former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean wrote in the Wall Street Journal in July. He called for a repeal of the cost-cutting board because, he wrote, it would have the effect of rationing care by making it hard for doctors to make money from Medicare. Dean has worked as an adviser to a major DC lobbying firm that does work on behalf of the healthcare industry, which would see profits cut if the board goes into effect.

Major healthcare industry players like the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the pharmaceutical lobby have supported repeal of the board, arguing the panel would cut providers' pay arbitrarily.

Palin predicted folks would come around on death panels. "Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is, many of these accusers finally saw that ObamaCare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life and death decisions about healthcare funding," she wrote on Facebook in 2012.

But Republican lawmakers don't seems to appreciate the Dems' aisle-crossing. The National Republican Congressional Committee slammed the Democrats for "desperately trying to jump off the ObamaCare train."

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