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California, Nevada attorneys general join forces

Attorneys General Catherine Cortez Masto (L) of Nevada and Kamala Harris of California (R) are working together on investigating and prosecuting mortgage fraud.

Kai Ryssdal: Just because we haven't mentioned it in a while, here's your early December Occupy Wall Street update. OWS, as it has become known, joined with housing advocates today to protest what they're calling fraudulent foreclosures. They marched through Brooklyn and the city of South Gate, here in L.A.

The attorney general of the state of California also has foreclosures on her mind. Today, Kamala Harris announced she's joining with Nevada's attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto, to investigate big banks for mortgage fraud. They both join us now. Welcome to the program.

Kamala Harris: Wonderful to be here. Thank you.

Ryssdal: Kamala Harris, let me start with you and ask you why this announcement right now?

Harris: Well, the announcement of the joint-investigative agreement between California and Nevada is the product of quite a long discussion that has occurred between Attorney General Masto and myself around the mortgage crisis and how our state have been impacted. What we know is that California and Nevada have the bad occurrence of being No. 1 and No. 2 -- in alternating -- worst hit in the country. And what we have been independently doing is investigating wrongdoing.

Ryssdal: Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, the question to you has to be: Why have you -- and the state of California and the state of Nevada -- broken away from the larger agreement -- the 50-state agreement -- that we heard so much about earlier this year being led by Tom Miller of Iowa, the attorney general over there?

Catherine Cortez Masto: It's not that Nevada has broken away. It's that Nevada is monitoring it. At the end of the day, until I get the specific terms of whatever that settlement might look like, that will determine whether or not we sign on. But [I] want to make clear, [it's] also not going to hinder us moving forward with any type of investigation we need to conduct in the state of Nevada to hold individuals accountable and bring relief to the homeowners.

Ryssdal: When you say hold accountable, are you talking lawsuits, criminal prosecutions? Where are we here?

Masto: Actually both. Nevada has the ability to bring both civil enforcement actions in criminal prosecutions. Depending on where the facts and evidence take us, that will dictate the type of action we ultimately bring at the end of the day.

Ryssdal: Kamala Harris, the president -- as you know -- made that big speech in Osawatomie, Kansas today. He said these words: "There is a deficit of trust between main street and Wall Street." How do we get that back if the banks and the attorney generals have to go to court to figure out mortgage foreclosures?

Harris: One of the best ways to ensure trust is to ensure that justice occurs. And justice in the case of this issue is a combination of consequence and accountability, together with bringing meaningful relief to those who've been the subject of wrongdoing, together with reform of a broken system such that we can ensure that this does not happen again.

Ryssdal: Well, explain that just a little bit though. What are we going to see as taxpayers and mortgage holders in this country? What are we going to see out of all these investigations?

Cortez Masto: Well, from my perspective -- let me just say -- in Nevada there is so much rampant fraud going on -- whether it is in the area of foreclosure rescue scams, or servicing, or in the origination, securitization, marketing of these residential mortgages or even in the foreclosure process. Those are all the areas where we are seeing fraud. And so from my point of view, that is no different from what we're seeing -- or I'm hearing from -- General Harris is happening in California. In particular, we have one case right now where we've just indited two individuals who actually live in California but were perpetrating their fraud in Las Vegas. So there are areas of common interest that we have, that we know we can work on together investigatively to expedite some of these cases, move them through the process, hold individuals accountable, find justice and at the end of the day prosecute in our individual states those types of cases.

Ryssdal: Catherine Cortez Masto is the attorney general of the state of Nevada. Kamala Harris is her counterpart in California. Thanks very much.

Harris: Thank you.

Cortez Masto: Thank you.

Ryssdal:We've got all kinds of data on mortgages and foreclosures on our Marketplace Map: America Underwater.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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