Cutbacks to FBI Criminal Investigative Staff Hinder Financial Fraud Prosecutions

The FBI, which cut its criminal investigative work force by nearly one third after the attacks of Sept. 11 to focus on counter-terrorism, is now struggling to find enough agents and resources to investigate criminal wrongdoing tied to the country’s economic crisis, the NY Times reports.  Current and former officials say the cutbacks have left the FBI “seriously exposed” in investigating areas like white-collar crime.

Although the FBI is planning to double the number of agents working financial crimes by reassigning several hundred agents, the NY Times reports that people inside and out of the Justice Department wonder where the agents will come from and whether they will be enough.

According to the article,

Since 2004, F.B.I. officials have warned that mortgage fraud posed a looming threat, and the bureau has repeatedly asked the Bush administration for more money to replenish the ranks of agents handling nonterrorism investigations, according to records and interviews. But each year, the requests have been denied, with no new agents approved for financial crimes, as policy makers focused on counterterrorism.

According to previously undisclosed internal F.B.I. data, the cutbacks have been particularly severe in staffing for investigations into white-collar crimes like mortgage fraud, with a loss of 625 agents, or 36 percent of its 2001 levels.

Over all, the number of criminal cases that the F.B.I. has brought to federal prosecutors — including a wide range of crimes like drug trafficking and violent crime — dropped 26 percent in the last seven years, going from 11,029 cases to 8,187, Justice Department data showed.

Robert S. Mueller III, the FBI director, states that the bureau is doing “more with less” but Justice Department data reportedly shows that prosecutions of frauds against financial institutions dropped 48 percent from 2000 to 2007, insurance fraud cases plummeted 75 percent, and securities fraud cases dropped 17 percent.

Read the NY Times article