Justice Department Targets Investment Crooks

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The Justice Department announces results of a four-month crackdown on investment fraud against ordinary citizens. More than 300 people face criminal charges for swindling 120,000 victims — their neighbors, fellow church members and others. It's the first big public demonstration by President Obama's Financial Fraud Task Force.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

More than 300 people around the country face criminal charges for swindling their neighbors, fellow church members and others in their communities. The charges stem from a government campaign against investment fraud, as NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON: The Obama administration has been devoting more resources to fight fraud, taking down not just the Bernie Madoffs of the world, but also ordinary scam artists who mislead ordinary investors.

Attorney General ERIC HOLDER (Department of Justice): In fact, many of the scam artists that we've identified were preying on their own neighbors, and on the most vulnerable members of their communities.

JOHNSON: That's Attorney General Eric Holder.

Atty. Gen. HOLDER: One man in Texas allegedly targeted his fellow parishioners, asking them to invest with him and claiming that his success in foreign exchange trading was quote, "a blessing from God."

JOHNSON: The Justice Department has been after investment crooks for years. But Holder says that this operation represents something bigger: collaboration by criminal and civil investigators. The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, created by President Obama last year, organized the crackdown. Prosecutor Robb Adkins runs the unit.

Mr. ROBB ADKINS (Director, Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force): If you're a citizen in this country, you expect your government to bring forward enforcement. You aren't really concerned about whether it's the federal authorities, the state authorities, the local authorities. You aren't necessarily concerned whether it's civil or criminal enforcement. What you want to see is enforcement.

JOHNSON: Prosecutors say people charged in the operation swindled 120,000 victims out of more than $10 billion.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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