Attorney General Eric Holder declared financial fraud "one of the greatest and most glaring threats facing our economy" at a speech to Florida civic leaders delivered just a few miles from the 8,700-square-foot mansion that used to belong to mega-swindler Bernard Madoff.
Holder traveled to West Palm Beach Friday to unveil what he said would be "a more robust and strategic law enforcement effort" aimed at combating fraud schemes. He gave his speech at The Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, a nonprofit set up to educate the community on business, political and social issues.
After Manhattan, the West Palm Beach area, along with Denver and Fort Lee, N.J., was home to the largest number of Madoff victims.
"The consequences of these schemes and scams are real, as this community knows all too well," he said. "Palm Beach is, in many respects, ground zero for the $65-billion Ponzi scheme perpetrated by Bernard Madoff -- the largest investor fraud case in our nation's history."
But Madoff is far from alone, the attorney general pointed out.
Last year was one of the worst years on record for financial scams, Holder said. Allen Stanford, Tom Petters and, most recently, Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein – who is alleged to have run a $1 billion investment scam -- joined Madoff in notoriety, he said. Stanford is accused of running an $8 billion scheme, while Petters was convicted on 20 counts of fraud.
To step up efforts to combat financial crime, Holder said the Justice Department has established a task force that will focus more attention on fraud schemes related to mortgage lending, securities, misuse of federal Recovery Act funds, and predatory lending.
"Through this effort, critical information will be shared in real time across the federal government -- and with our state and local law enforcement partners -- so that we can stop fraud schemes in their tracks," he said.
Holder also acknowledged that the government is unlikely to recover all of the money that Madoff stole.
"And as a result of his crimes, too many people who once dreamed of retirement now fear that they will become burdens upon their families," he said. "Too many who once looked forward to the future now fear it. Too many promises can no longer be kept -- promises made to charities and schools, to churches and synagogues, to children and grandchildren.
"The ripple effect of Mr. Madoff's greed and deception is as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking," he said.