By Carlos Avalos and Mark Gutglueck
For the nearly three-and-a-half years San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson has been in office, he and the prosecutor’s office he oversees have remained out of compliance with California Government Code § 27388, San Bernardino County Treasurer/Tax Collector/Auditor/Controller Ensen Mason has acknowledged.
Mike Ramos, who was district attorney from 2003 until Anderson succeeded him in January 2019 after Anderson prevailed in the June 2018 election, similarly evaded the California Government Code § 27388 requirements.Essentially, under California Government Code § 27388, every time a property sale is recorded at the recorder’s office a fee of $10 is imposed that is then passed along or made available to the district attorney’s office, or is supposed to be passed along to the district attorney’s office, to be used to fund real estate fraud investigations and prosecutions. Further under California Government Code § 27388, the district attorney’s office is to log the money coming in, how it is used and what cases the money has been used toward and submit an annual report delineating that. In addition to failing to meet the § 27388 requirements, the district attorney’s office has not submitted an annual report as to the outcome of any real estate fraud cases the office took up.
Under California Government Code § 27388 (e) the district attorney “shall not expend funds held in that county’s Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Trust Fund until the county’s auditor-controller verifies that the county’s district attorney has submitted an annual report for the county’s most recent full fiscal year pursuant to the requirements of subdivision (d).”
Subdivision (d) states, “The county board of supervisors shall annually review the effectiveness of the district attorney in deterring, investigating, and prosecuting real estate fraud crimes based upon information provided by the district attorney in an annual report. The district attorney shall submit the annual report to the board on or before September 1 of each year.”
It thus appears the board of supervisors has lapsed on its mandated duty under Government Code § 27388, as well.
Pursuant to Government Code § 27388, the county treasurer is to disburse proceeds collected on the basis of the $10 fee imposed on the recording of documents into the Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Trust Fund for use by eligible law enforcement agencies within the county pursuant to California Government Code § 27388 subdivision (b) in a way “to be determined” by a Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Trust Fund Committee composed of the district attorney, county chief administrative officer, chief officer responsible for consumer protection in the county, and the chief law enforcement officer of one law enforcement agency receiving funding from the Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Trust Fund.
In San Bernardino County, there is no Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Trust Fund Committee. An agency or division of the county, such as the district attorney’s office, cannot qualify to receive the funding if it does not first submit a written application to the committee setting forth in detail the agency’s proposed use of funds. As no such committee has existed for at least five years, there was no legal grounds for the funds to have been released to any entities or agencies.
Moreover, under California Government Code § 27388 subdivision (d), a county cannot expend funds held in that county’s Real Estate Fraud Prosecution Trust Fund until the county’s auditor-controller verifies that the county’s district attorney has submitted an annual report for the county’s most recent full fiscal year.
After the Sentinel requested that he do so, Mason looked into the county’s performance with regard real estate fraud investigations and deterrence and Government Code § 27388 requirements.
Mason acknowledged that he has simply passed the money along to the district attorney’s office and, he says, no report has come back, at least for the last five years.
Los Angeles County submits an annual report with regard to its real estate fraud investigations, as does Riverside County.
The Sentinel made inquiries of Anderson; Anderson’s and the district attorney’s office’s public spokesperson, Jacquelyn Rodriguez; County Counsel Tom Bunton; and County Assistant Executive Officer/County Spokesman David Wert with regard San Bernardino County’s lack of compliance with Government Code § 27388.
The Sentinel sought from Anderson, Rodriguez, Bunton and Wert an account of what was being done to correct the lack of compliance, whether the county intends to go back and complete reports for the last five years, when that would occur and at what point the reports would be available. The Sentinel further sought to ascertain if the $10 fees imposed on the recordations of property sales at the recorder’s office were actually used for real estate fraud investigations and prosecutions or, if not, what the money brought into the county in that fashion was used for and what corrective action will occur if the money was used for some other purpose. The Sentinel asked if the district attorney’s office failed to pursue cases of real estate fraud because of the oversight. The Sentinel sought a quantification of the money that came into the county over the last five years from the $10 fee imposed on transactions at the recorder’s office. The Sentinel inquired as to whether the money could be repurposed to make whole those San Bernardino County residents who were victimized by real estate fraud while the district attorney’s office was neglectful of its real estate fraud investigative and prosecutorial responsibility.
Neither Andrson, Rodriguez, Bunton nor Wert responded.
Real estate fraud and victimization of homeowners by predatory lenders and loan interlopers has manifested repeatedly in San Bernardino County, resulting in scores of San Bernardino County residents losing their homes.
Mason said, “For my part, no further funds will be released without the required reporting. The rest is up to the DA. I cannot compel them to file reports for funds already released. There is no consequence in the law for failure to file the report. So, the best course of action may be to fix it going forward.”
By Carlos Avalos and Mark Gutglueck