Rene Rafael Lopez paid more than $35,000 to a company that claimed it would work with him to save his East Los Angeles home from foreclosure.
"They told me, 'Don't worry, we are going to take care of everything,'" Lopez said, speaking Spanish.
But nothing happened.
"This company now doesn't answer my calls or anything," Lopez said. His home was sold at auction earlier this year.
It's a story that could have been told by numerous homeowners in Southern California who lost their properties after paying thousands of dollars to companies who pledged to help. But Lopez had a powerful audience for his tale.
He told his story at a news conference at the downtown Los Angeles offices of state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris. The occasion was to announce a new mortgage fraud strike force to go after people and companies who have committed mortgage-related crimes.
The aim of the task force is to fill an enforcement gap that officials said exists in California.
"This problem is not going away," Harris said.
The task force — whose creation the Times reported Monday — will pursue three major areas.
•Corporate fraud, including instances in which bundled mortgages were sold as securities to the state or its pension funds under false pretenses.
•Scams, including instances in which consultants, lawyers and others took fees from people in foreclosure, saying they would help the homeowners get loan modifications or other remedies, but delivered nothing.
•Fraudulent lending practices, including deceptive marketing, failure to fully disclose loan terms and qualifying people for loans who couldn't afford the terms.
In creating the 25-member task force, Harris is fulfilling a campaign promise to crack down on mortgage fraud. Speaking at the conference Monday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said combating mortgage fraud is especially important to the city's vast Spanish-speaking community, who have often been victims.
"One of the ways that these people take advantage of people is, obviously, they are not fluent in the language," Villaraigosa said.
Attorney general's office officials said evidenceof the need for such a task force was the more than 100 homeowners who heard about the announcement in advance and showed up downtown to seek help with their cases.
Harris also said she would not hesitate to go after major corporations, and, in particular, the task force could prosecute companies under California's False Claims Act if it were found that these institutions sold risky mortgages to the state or state pensions under false pretenses.
Many Wall Street financial institutions — private equity firms, hedge funds and banks — bundled poor-quality mortgage loans into securities during the boom years and sold them to major investors, including pension funds. That resulted in billions of dollars in losses when borrowers defaulted on the loans, triggering the financial crisis.