U.S. law enforcement officials have announced the results of a major crackdown on financial fraud around the United States that harmed more than 120,000 victims.
The crackdown began in August and is known as 'Operation Broken Trust'.
Attorney General Eric Holder told a Washington news conference the effort resulted in more than 200 criminal cases involving estimated losses of more than $8 billion and affecting more than 120,000 victims around the country.
"A crucial step forward in law enforcement's work to protect American investors, to ensure the strength of our markets and to prevent financial fraud schemes," said Holder. "Operation Broken Trust is the first national operation in history to target the many different types of investment fraud schemes that prey directly on the investing public."
Some of the losses in individual cases are staggering. In Texas, 7,700 investors in a fraudulent oil and gas scheme lost more than $485 million. In another case from Florida, the author of a fraudulent investment scheme used the money to fund his yacht and tickets for professional basketball.
In many other cases the amounts of money were smaller, but the hurt was just as great, including schemes that targeted Italian and Haitian immigrants and some church groups.
FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry says many of those duped were lured into schemes by people they trusted.
"The perpetrators of these crimes are those you might trust, hence the term 'Operation Broken Trust'," said Henry. "Friends, colleagues, people you worship with, people in your workplace, people from your kid's soccer team. Criminals have always preyed on the trust of individuals with offers too good to be true, and while the schemes might change, the underlying greed does not."
U.S. officials say the operation is the first of its kind aimed at a broad array of investment fraud schemes carried out with the cooperation of several government departments.
Robert Khuzami is director of enforcement for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission:
"Trust is broken when financial predators take aim at the deaf, the elderly and the retired or the unsophisticated and convince them to invest their hard-earned money and then steal that money and squander it on lavish weddings, fine restaurants, exotic vacations and vacation homes," said Khuzami.
Attorney General Holder says 87 defendants have been sentenced to prison in connection with the fraud schemes, including several who received prison terms of more than 20 years.