Posts Tagged ‘House Appropriations Committee’
Thursday, July 16th, 2009

An FBI report this month found that mortgage fraud is getting worse. And the Obama administration has made combating mortgage fraud a top priority. But the House Appropriations Committee wants the bureau to spend less time on mortgage fraud and more investigating other white-collar crimes.

The House report to the Justice Department’s fiscal year 2010 funding bill says:

“The committee is concerned that the FBI budget proposal focuses too exclusively on mortgage at the expense of other high priority financial fraud issues,” the House report said.

There were 63,713 reports by lenders of suspected mortgage fraud in fiscal year 2008, an increase of 36 percent over the previous year, according to the FBI report. Financial institutions estimated they lost at least $1.4 billion to mortgage fraud in fiscal 2008, the report said. This is an 83 percent increase in estimated losses over fiscal year 2007.

Suspicious Activity Reports from financial institutions indicate an increase in mortgage fraud reporting. Preliminary statistics indicate SAR filings in FY 2009 will exceed 70,000. (FBI)

Suspicious Activity Reports from financial institutions indicate an increase in mortgage fraud reporting. Preliminary statistics indicate SAR filings in FY 2009 will exceed 70,000. (FBI)

Suspicious Activity Reports reported in FY 2008 revealed losses of more than $1.4 billion, an increase of 83.4 percent from FY 2007. Additionally, SAR losses reported in the first six months of FY 2009 exceed the same period in FY 2008 by $208 million. (FBI)

Suspicious Activity Reports reported in FY 2008 revealed losses of more than $1.4 billion, an increase of 83.4 percent from FY 2007. Additionally, SAR losses reported in the first six months of FY 2009 exceed the same period in FY 2008 by $208 million. (FBI)

The House last month approved an increase of $25.5 million in the FBI budget to help fight white collar crime. The House Appropriations Committee report that accompanied the legislation directed the FBI to use those funds to not only probe mortgage fraud, but also investigate fraud or abuse in the Troubled Asset Relief Program,  market manipulation, self-dealing and accounting. The DOJ budget legislation passed the House prior to the release of the FBI report.

The Senate Appropriations Committee report language for the FBI supports the bureau’s efforts to combat mortgage fraud, while addressing concerns expressed by the House:

The sub-prime mortgage crisis threatens the Nation’s economic security. Suspicious Activity Reports filed by various financial institutions increased almost 200 percent within the last 3 years alone, and show no signs of decreasing. This increase in mortgage fraud activity is greatly straining the FBI’s white-collar crime investigative capabilities. The Committee fully supports the requested $25,491,000 increase to hire 50 new agents to augment the current positions conducting mortgage fraud investigations.

The Senate version of the FBI budget was reported out of committee last month, but the full Senate has yet to vote on the legislation.

The House and Senate must reconcile their versions of the legislation before it can come up for final votes.

In May, President Obama signed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, which authorized a major increase infunding for white collar fraud enforcement, including mortgage fraud. But it’s up to the appropriations committees to find the money for the programs.

The FBI did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding the House report. FBI Criminal Investigative Division Assistant Director Kevin Perkins said in a statement last week the bureau is committed to combating mortgage fraud.

“Mortgage fraud hurts borrowers, financial institutions, and legitimate homeowners,” Perkins said. “The FBI, in conjunction with our law enforcement, regulatory, and industry partners, continues to diligently pursue perpetrators of mortgage fraud schemes.”

This post has been corrected from an earlier version.

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The House approved the fiscal 2010 Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee spending bill today by a 259-157 vote, with $27.7 billion for the Justice Department.

The DOJ budget as approved by the House is 3 percent more than President Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget request and 6 percent more than fiscal 2009 budget. The bill also covers funding for science and the Commerce Department.

The House spent several hours today participating in roll call votes brought by Republicans who were protesting the Democrats’ decision to limit the amount of amendments they could make to the bill. The Republicans wanted to consider more than 100 amendments to the bill on the floor, but the Rules Committee decided earlier this week that amendments had to be printed in advance.

“It was an outrageous abuse of the legislative process,” Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) told Congressional Quarterly yesterday.

The House approved two amendments to the Justice Department budget yesterday, which increased funding for the Office of Violence Against Women legal assistance program by $4 million and directed $2.5 million in DOJ money to local police agencies to improve criminal background-check databases. Today, the House passed an amendment that increased funding for DNA testing programs by $5 million.

The bill also walls off funds for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility until Obama submits a plan for transferring the detainees.

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Thursday, June 11th, 2009

California pot dispensary owner Charles Lynch received a one year and one day prison term from U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu this afternoon, The Associated Press reported today.

The case which we previously reported on here has garnered national media attention because of Attorney General Eric Holder’s stated policy of not raiding medicinal marijuana facilities that are legal under state law. The sheriff of Kern County, Calif. and the Drug Enforcement Administration raided Lynch’s facility in Bakersfield last month after the Attorney General’s announcement.

Central District of California U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien told The New York Times that Lynch broke state laws because Lynch was not his users’ primary caregiver and he didn’t provide any medical care beyond selling the marijuana. DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller told The Times that the Justice Department is “not prioritizing federal resources to go after individuals or organizations unless there is a violation of both federal and state law.”

Federal law forbids the cultivation, sale and use of pot for medical reasons. Authorities have raided more than 100 pot dispensaries – many in California – since California sanctioned medical marijuana in 1996, according to The Times.

Wu decided not to give Lynch the mandatory five-year minimum sentence for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, using a federal provision that allowed him to lower the prison term, according to The AP. Lynch, however, must still serve two one-year sentences for selling marijuana to a person under age 21, The AP said.

“It’s not really a victory,” Lynch told The AP. “In a way it’s a loss, but not a bad loss.”

Medical marijuana supporters told The Times that this decision will have a chilling effect on efforts to protect medicinal pot.

“That Attorney General Holder changed federal policy three months ago only makes this miscarriage of justice all the more disturbing,” Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for a change in drug policy, told The Times. “Charlie is like a forgotten prisoner of war, abandoned after a truce was declared.”

We previously reported that the House Appropriations Committee added an amendment to the Justice Department budget bill Tuesday that would require the DOJ to clarify its policies on the enforcement of federal laws regarding the use of medical marijuana.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

The House Appropriations Committee passed the fiscal 2010 Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee spending bill today by a voice vote, with $27.7 billion for the Justice Department. As expected, the panel eliminated $60 million requested for closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, with lawmakers complaining about a lack of a plan for transferring the detainees.

The DOJ budget as approved by the committee is 3 percent more than President Obama’s fiscal 2010 budget request and 6 percent more than fiscal 2009 budget. The bill  — which also covers funding for science and the Commerce Department — is expected to be considered by the full House next week.

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), chair of the Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee, touted the funding increases to several key DOJ programs including grants for state and local law enforcement agencies. Local and state law enforcement agencies are slated to receive $3.4 billion in grants  — $671 million more than Obama’s request and $197 million more than last year — to help hire thousands of police officers and improve crime prevention programs, Mollohan  said.

“It is a good bill and it is a balanced bill,” Mollohan said at the markup today.

Here’s a summary from the House Appropriation Committee on the slated allocations (in millions of dollars):

DOJ Program

FY 2009

FY 2010 Obama Request

FY 2010 Committee Recommendation

Change From FY 2009

Percent Change From FY 2009

Detention Trustee

1,295.3

1,438.7

1,438.7

+143.4

+11 percent

U.S. Attorneys

1,836.3

1,926.0

1,934.0

+97.7

+5 percent

U.S. Marshals Service

954.0

1,152.4

1,152.4

+198.4

+21 percent

FBI

7,218.6

7,861.5

7,851.5

+632.9

+9 percent

DEA

1,939.1

2,014.7

2,019.7

+80.6

+4 percent

ATF

1,054.2

1,120.8

1,105.8

+51.6

+5 percent

Bureau of Prisons

6,173.9

6,079.3

6,176.7

+2.8

0 percent

State and Local Law Enforcement Activities

3,227.1

2,753.5

3,424.0

+196.9

+6 percent

DOJ Total

26,087.6

27,073.9

27,746.7

+1,659.1

+6 percent

Republicans objected to the increase in funds slated for the Justice Department.  Appropriations Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) proposed an amendment that would have decreased the funds slated for the Justice Department, Commerce Department and science programs by 14 percent. The amendment failed 21-31.

“This generous allocation allows every agency a significant increase,” said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee ranking member. He added: “This level of spending is unsustainable in the light of the growing deficit.”

Only a handful of DOJ programs are slated to receive less money than last year or no funds at all. Among those initiatives is Obama’s executive order to close down the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Like the wartime spending bill, the Appropriations bill calls for a plan before money can be allocated for its closure. Here’s a summary from the House Appropriations Committee on these initiatives:

Program

Bill Recommendation

Funds Cut From FY 2009

Funds Cut From Obama Request

Terminated?

Why?

Coverdell Forensic Science program

N/A

$25,000,000

$35,000,000

Yes

“Program terminated to support higher priority program”

Federal Bureau of Prisons: buildings and facilities

$96,744,000

$479,063,000

None

No

“Deferral of new construction starts”

FBI construction

$132,796,000

$20,695,000

$10,000,000

No

“No new construction starts”

ATF salaries and expenses

$1,105,772,000

None

$9,000,000

No

“Program reductions to support higher priority programs”

Justice Information Sharing Technology

$109,417,000

None

$14,200

No

“Reduction given (for) poor program performance”

Interagency Crime and Drug Enforcement

$528,569,000

None

$8,938,000

No

“Reduction to support higher priority programs”

Weed and Seed program

$15,000,000

$10,000,000

$10,000,000

No

No explanation given.

Public Safety Officers Benefits

$119,100,000

$49,000,000

None

No

No explanation given.

Closing Guantanamo

N/A

New Initiative

$60,000,000

Maybe

“Pending closure plan”

Police Integrity

N/A

New Initiative

$20,000,000

Yes

“Activities can be funded through existing program authorities”

Safe Start Program

$7,000,000

New Initiative

$3,000,000

No

“Reduction to support higher priority programs”

Community-based violence prevention initiative

$18,000,000

New Initiative

$7,000,000

No

“Reduction to support higher priority programs”

The committee also approved an amendment to the bill by Mollohan that calls on the Justice Department to clarify its policies on the enforcement of federal laws regarding the use of medical marijuana.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said that he does not support the raiding of medical marijuana facilities, but the DOJ’s Drug Enforcement Administration has continued to conduct raids. You can read our previous post on this issue here.

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder will testify at a periodic Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Justice Department on June 17 marking his first time back to the panel since his January confirmation hearing, Judiciary Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced today.

This is not Holder’s first visit to Capitol Hill as Attorney General. He testified at House Judiciary and Appropriations committee hearings earlier this year. During those hearings, he defended President Obama’s decision to withhold the release of prisoner abuse photos and dodged questions about the prosecution of former Justice Department lawyers Steven Bradbury, Jay Bybee and John Yoo who wrote memos that authorized harsh interrogation methods against terrorism suspects.

Our report on his April 23 visit to the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science and related agencies subcommittee is here.

Our report on his May 14 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee is here.

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

The ongoing saga on who knew what and when has two new twists today: a former intelligence professional told Talking Points Memo that the CIA did not use the “enhanced interrogation techniques” term when briefing House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) told Politico his staffer’s inclusion in the infamous briefings document is bunk.

TPM said that although the document refers to the discussion of “EITs” at each of the briefings, the source said the “EIT” term was not used until 2006 — four years after the briefing with Pelosi.

TPM reported:

“The former intel professional said that by using the term in the recently compiled document, the CIA was being “disingenuous,” trying to make it appear that the use of such techniques was part of a “formal and mechanical program.” In fact, said the former intel pro, it wasn’t until 2006 that — amid growing concerns about the program among some in the Bush administration — the EIT program was formalized, and the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were properly defined and given a name.”

As for Obey, the chairman wrote a letter to CIA Chief Leon Panetta asking the CIA chief to remove Obey aide Paul Juola from the document, Politico reported. Obey claimed that Joula was kicked out of the meeting before anything involving interrogations was discussed, Politico said.

The letter obtained by Politico:

“In light of current controversy about CIA briefing practices, I was surprised to learn that the agency erroneously listed an appropriations staffer as being in a key briefing on September 19, 2006, when in fact he was not. The list the agency released entitled “Member Briefings on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs)”, shows that House Appropriations Committee defense appropriations staffer Paul Juola was in that briefing on that date. In fact, Mr. Juola recollects that he walked members to the briefing room, met [former CIA Director] General Michael Hayden and Mr. Walker, who were the briefers, and was told that he could not attend the briefing. We request that you immediately correct this record.”

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Many Republicans and some Democrats aren’t happy with the idea that Guantanamo Bay detainees could end up in their districts when the military brig closes next year. The House Appropriations Committee solution: withhold the requested $50 million for the closure of the facility and the resettlement of its prisoners, The Washington Post reported today.

This doesn’t mean that the Democrats want to keep prisoners at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely. Most Democrats have stood behind President Obama’s plan to shutter the facility in a year, and Appropriation Committee Democrats rejected a Republican amendment that would prohibit any funding for the transfer of detainees to the United States, The Post reported.

The Democrats just want to know what the Justice Department will do with prisoners. They passed a resolution that asks the Justice Department to outline its plan for the detainees by October 1, The Post reported.

“You cannot close Guantanamo unless you have a plan,” Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) told The Post.

We previously reported the Attorney General Eric Holder is still trying to sort out how the Justice Department will handle each of the 241 Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

“We are reviewing each case individually and carefully,” Holder said at the American Jewish Committee gala last night.