July 11, 2018 / 7:11 PM / 3 months ago

Justice Department announces task force to deter fraud, avoid 'piling on'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Justice Department officials on Wednesday announced the establishment of an anti-fraud task force intended to deter fraud and coordinate investigations to avoid “piling on,” where multiple agencies probe the same alleged misconduct.

The task force brings together the Justice Department and U.S. attorneys offices, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who made the announcement along with the heads of the three agencies.

Rosenstein told reporters at a press conference the task force would focus on procurement and grant fraud, securities and commodities fraud, digital currency fraud, money laundering, healthcare fraud and tax fraud.

“The goal is to discourage ‘piling on’, and instead coordinate with local, state, federal and foreign authorities to achieve a joint result that imposes appropriate punishment without prolonging investigations,” he said, noting a policy announced in May to encourage better cooperation among government agencies

Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) is one company that faced an array of probes following revelations it sold diesel cars equipped with software configured to cheat on emissions tests.

VW agreed to pay up to $10 billion to compensate VW owners as part of an FTC settlement, a $2.8 billion criminal fine and $1.5 billion in civil penalties to the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In a client note in May, the law firm Davis, Polk and Wardell LLP said avoiding multiple investigations for the same conduct “will likely prove beneficial to institutional clients in highly regulated industries, many of which frequently face simultaneous investigations by multiple agencies and potentially duplicative penalties.”

Rosenstein also said agencies would try to identify problem areas to better target resources. “Our goal is not to prosecute fraud; our goal is to deter fraud,” he added.

The CFPB was conceived after the 2007-09 financial crisis to stamp out abusive lending, while the SEC investigates scams targeting retail investors. The FTC pursues consumer fraud based on its mission to probe “deceptive acts or practices.”

Reporting by Diane Bartz and Katanga Johnson. Additional reporting by Patrick Rucker

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