Fraudsters tend to prey upon the desperate, which is why the Bakersfield area is such a ripe target for mortgage fraud. When the real estate bubble was growing to dazzling dimensions five or six years ago, Bakersfield was one of the hottest markets in the nation. When it burst four years ago, Bakersfield was among the hardest hit. It shouldn't be the least bit surprising, then, that Bakersfield poses the fourth-highest mortgage fraud risk of any U.S. real estate market.
Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green is wise, therefore, to partner with the local real estate community to expand the reach of the DA's existing mortgage fraud task force. Its mission: go after the crooks who look for vulnerable homeowners to separate from their assets while simultaneously educating the public about their come-ons.
Green announced the new partnership on Tuesday, falling into step with the California Association of Realtors, which offers statewide guidance on the issue. The Kern County effort will be modeled after a collaboration between the Ventura County District Attorney's Real Estate Fraud Unit and real estate agents, brokers, lenders and escrow agents.
Mortgage fraud has exploded in the past few years. As late as 2007, Green's predecessor, Ed Jagels, said he opposed a proposal to form a specialized unit within his office because there wasn't enough mortgage fraud to justify one. At the time he said such cases could be handled by the office's white-collar crime division.
The case of former Bakersfield Realtors David Crisp and Carl Cole, both accused of large-scale mortgage fraud, ought to be drilled into most of us by now: Even the slickest, best-dressed real estate professionals out there can play fast and loose with the rules. Local authorities are right to go after them with vigor.