* Successor to be hired in coming weeks
* Questions raised about task force effectiveness
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON, July 15 The head of President
Barack Obama's task force to better combat fraud in the wake of
the financial meltdown, Robb Adkins, is stepping down from his
position on Friday, the Justice Department said.
Adkins, 40, leaves as executive director of the Financial
Fraud Task Force after about 17 months in the job. He will join
a private firm in California where he was a federal prosecutor
before taking the task force position, the agency said.
The task force was set up in late 2009 by Obama in a bid to
focus more on mortgage and financial fraud that emanated from
the housing market implosion, drawing on resources from various
federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expanded the group's
mandate earlier this year to include examining possible fraud
as a result of speculation in the oil and gas markets as fuel
"He has helped in the administration's efforts to launch
the largest coalition of federal, state and local enforcement
and regulatory authorities ever brought to bear to combat a
wide range of fraud," Deputy Attorney General James Cole said
in a statement.
"We will continue to focus our efforts on this important
work," Cole said. A replacement is expected to be hired in the
coming weeks, according to Justice Department spokeswoman Alisa
Adkins said in a statement he and his family wanted to
return home to California.
His departure comes as the administration faces criticism
from some lawmakers concerned that there have been few major
cases that have penetrated the executive suites of the largest
financial institutions in the wake of the financial meltdown.
One of the biggest cases so far was a $3 billion fraud case
involving the privately held mortgage firm Taylor, Bean &
Whitaker Mortgage Corp. The chairman of the firm, Lee Farkas,
was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted on 14
counts of conspiracy, wire, securities and bank fraud.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors dropped a probe of
former Countrywide Financial Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo
after determining his actions in the mortgage morass did not
amount to criminal wrongdoing.
Elizabeth Warren, who is setting up the administration's
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said on Thursday that
"there's a real question about whether there's been adequate
investigation" into financial institutions' actions.
The task force's annual report said that with the help of
its work, prosecutors had more than doubled the number of
mortgage fraud cases charged during fiscal 2010, going to 656
from 267 during the prior year.
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee last
month also questioned what the task force had accomplished or
whether it was merely window-dressing for the White House.
"All too often here in Washington, task forces and
commissions are created to make people think that they're doing
more than they actually are," Charles Grassley said at a June
30 hearing about the task force. "I'm concerned that the task
force may in fact be too broad in its missions."
Adkins responded to Grassley by acknowledging the group's
breadth but also said that was a strength.
"One of the great success stories of the task force has
been bringing together some of these other entities that
previously had not been as coordinated or brought into the
fight in mortgage fraud," he told Grassley.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by Matthew Lewis)