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Predatory lending, corporate fraud top Marc Dann’s agenda
Two weeks ago, Ohio law- enforcement officials solved a 22-year-old murder in Ashtabula County by using advanced computer technology, Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann boasted last week.
Over 150 consumer protection cases are pending, seeking damages from companies, compared with the 12 in the works when he became attorney general.
And Dann is about to bring criminal charges of mortgage fraud against a retired Akron drug dealer who became a mortgage banker.
Since he was sworn in as attorney general in January 2007, Dann describes his as a high-energy office, working on multiple fronts. Taking action against predatory lending practices and corporate fraud tops his agenda. Not one mortgage enforcement action was brought by the attorney general’s office in the preceding 10 years, Dann noted.
Predatory lenders are “using smart MBAs on Wall Street to screw homeowners and bond holders,” Dann said. He is working with his counterparts in Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia to bring predatory-lending lawsuits.
Wall Street is also in the attorney general’s sights.
“We’re bringing a securities fraud case against Fannie Mae n the largest in the country,” said Dann, speaking recently to financial planning professionals attending a program presented by the Cleveland Chapter of the American Technion Society. Fannie Mae is a private, shareholder-owned financial services company that provides financing and credit guarantees to the American home mortgage industry.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that professionals that aid and abet fraud ought to be held liable,” said Dann.
The Shaker Heights native, who was a bar mitzvah at Temple Emanu El, has been generating controversy and national headlines ever since he was a state representative from the Youngstown area hammering then-Gov. Bob Taft for his role in the Tom Noe Coingate scandal. As attorney general, Dann has pursued a dozen hot-button issues, from influence peddling in university financial-aid programs to underperforming charter schools.
As a candidate for attorney general, Dann criticized his Republican predecessors for awarding legal contracts to Republican-leaning attorneys based on their political connections and contributions.
Since he’s made changes in how his office awards legal contracts, Dann has been accused of giving the same inside track to his political supporters, said Columbus Dispatch reporters in a Buckeye Forum podcast last month.
Yet at the recent Technion gathering, Dann maintained that the attorney general’s office is the “standard bearer for ethical conduct; we’re working to practice what we preach.”
Eliminating “pay for play or the appearance of pay for play” by bidding out outside counsel work has saved $10 million in legal fees, Dann pointed out.
He stressed the importance of the state’s Sunshine Laws, which require government institutions to open their meetings and their records to public scrutiny. Recently passed legislation strengthens these laws and charges the attorney general’s office with training government employees to comply with the public-record policy.
“We’re changing how the state does business … making state government transparent,” Dann insisted.
Along with a big push against predatory lenders, the attorney general’s office is going after underperforming charter schools, saying they’re violating charitable trust regulations.
A website, ag4ohio. com, has been designed to make it easier for the public to access the attorney general’s office, file complaints about fraud and corruption, and request action on consumer issues.
As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Dann has created the Special Prosecutions and Criminal Justice Initiatives Sections. These offices assist local prosecutors in complex cases dealing with sexual abuse, Internet crime, elder abuse, and child support cases.
Describing law enforcement agencies under his jurisdiction as the “CSI of Ohio,” Dann says the office is building an incubator for new forensics technology at the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in New London. He has created OHLEG, the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, to share information among the different agencies and gather police reports in one searchable statewide database.
The next step is to “take the data and mine it to predict crime trends and where it will happen next,” Dann said.
Even though he opposed some bills as a state legislator, it’s now Dann’s job to defend those laws, whether he agrees with them or not.
It’s very frustrating, he acknowledged, that the General Assembly is devoting its time to such issues as shutting down the strip-club industry instead of tackling more meaningful legislation, such as laws to allow people to control their own credit reports or to regulate abusive foster homes.
“Children are dying in (foster) homes,” he said. “A bill was brought, but instead of passing it, the legislature is passing the stripper bill instead.”
As a state with “more mature” industries, Ohio is susceptible to people who cheat on environmental and consumer protection, Dann said. Ohio is the seventh largest state, with a large role to play in the national economy. By enforcing Ohio’s laws, he said, “we’ll be sending a positive message, that this is a great place to do business. I’m here to have Ohio known for that.”
Attorney General Dann’s top priorities
• Increased use of technology
for law enforcement
• Tracing predatory lending schemes to lawyers,
accountants and bond-rating agencies
benefiting from fraud
• Opening attorney general’s office in Dayton
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