The aggressive fraud campaign against home lenders - allegedly masterminded by a white supremacist group - is continuing. Law enforcement officials have scored few legal victories in the fight against fake money orders and related paper, according to mortgage bankers, regulators, and the officials themselves.
Since 1992, a number of splinter groups said to have strong ties to the Posse Comitatus, a group with anti-Semitic and antigovernment views, has waged a paper war against lenders. The weapons - counterfeit money orders used to pay off residential loans - continue to pop up at mortgage banks across the country.
The movement, which sometimes calls itself We The People, contends that credit in this country is worth nothing because it is not backed by the gold standard. Thus, the theory goes, mortgages are worth no more than the paper they are printed on and can be paid off with money orders the members print.
Thousands of counterfeit money orders - in face amounts reportedly totaling more than $100 million - have been received by lenders nationwide, according to law enforcement officials. More than $65 million of bogus money orders have originated from Wisconsin alone, said Robert Bauman, a U.S. postal inspector.
He said lender complaints, which have slowed in recent months, have come from every state in the nation.
"I have not heard of a case like this before, of this magnitude," said J.D. Butler, a U.S. Postal Service inspector in Texas.
In addition to the Postal Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service are actively investigating.
According to the Comptroller's office, the scam has a new permutation. The regulatory agency issued a new alert to bankers a few weeks ago on a related hustle: "Constructive Notice and Demand" notes.
The notice "demand(s) that the notes, mortgages, liens, credit card balances, IRS, IRS levies, and all contract agreements pertaining to the undersigned in any capacity, be immediately released, forgiven, and canceled," according to one such note sent by Dean M. and Lois E. Heal of Sumter, S.C. It cites sections of U.S. code "and orders from the united states Justice Department, and the Treasury of the united states of America." (The organization often uses lower case in references to the United States, apparently to emphasize its opposition to the government.)
The "Constructive Notice and Demand" instruments are addressed to Darrell Frech, of Jet, Okla. The notes indicate copies have been sent to Janet Reno, the U.S. attorney general, and ask her to "Stand with us, and we will stand with YOU."
Efforts to reach Mr. Frech were unavailing.
John W. Shockey, special assistant at the Comptroller's office, said the instruments "are basically about the same thing" as the money orders. He said the scam was "still a problem."
Investigators have also found the money orders coming from a new location, Oxon Hill, Md. Other addresses from which money orders have originated are in Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Oklahoma.
Law enforcement officials have had limited success against the scam's perpetrators. This month, the first conviction in the case was handed down in Dallas. Allan Kramer was convicted on 14 counts of mail fraud. He used the money orders to buy homes, cars, and a boat. He will be sentenced later this month.
Other indictments have come down in Lafayette, La. Mr. Butler, the postal inspector, said investigations of about 50 individuals across the country who are involved in the scheme are winding up. He said indictments would soon come.