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Picks of the Week: Anthrax; Diploma Mill; Ex-Con Brokers

POSTED: 11:17 AM ET, 08/ 1/2008 by Derek Kravitz
TAGS: anthrax, fraud

In a regular feature of Post Investigations, our editors have combed through the in-depth and investigative reports from news outlets across the nation and selected the notable projects of the week.

Get the complete list (in no particular order) after the jump.

Anthrax Suspect an Apparent Suicide

David Willman of the Los Angeles Times was the first to report that a U.S. government scientist suspected in the 2001 anthrax attacks died July 29 in an apparent suicide, after learning the Justice Department planned to file criminal charges against him.

Bruce E. Ivins, 62, died from an overdose of Tylenol with codeine at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick, Md., the newspaper said, citing an unidentified friend and colleague. Ivins was a scientist at the U.S. biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, for 18 years, the Times said.

Ivins, who helped U.S. investigators analyze anthrax samples used in the attacks, had been told he was about to be charged, the newspaper said, citing unidentified people familiar with Ivins and the investigation. Five people were killed by anthrax spores anonymously mailed to news organizations and members of Congress in the weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Spokane Paper Releases Names of Phony Diploma Mill Recipients

Federal officials are combing through a list of more than 9,600 names to see how many federal employees may have bought a phony high school or college degree from a Spokane, Wash.,-based diploma mill.

The Spokesman-Review in Spokane obtained the list and published the names on its Web site Monday. The Justice Department has refused to release the list.

The Post obtained it from a state government official on condition of anonymity but efforts this week to contact people on the list for comment were unsuccessful.

The list includes at least 160 people in Virginia, 117 in Maryland and 17 in the District. At least 20 of those appear to be military personnel, and at least 10 appear to be government employees or contractors, The Post's Valerie Strauss reported. Of 9,612 names listed, 5,212 are without state identification.

Thousands of Florida Mortgage Brokers Have Criminal Convictions

An eight-month investigation by the Miami Herald found that a state regulatory office that polices mortgage brokers let 4,000 applicants slip by despite having criminal convictions, such as fraud and racketeering.

The three-part series, "Borrowers Betrayed," was the result of more than 200,000 individual background checks of mortgage brokers in Florida using an array of federal, state and county criminal databases, licensing records, civil-court filings and bankruptcy records.

The Herald found that of the 222,844 mortgage professionals who entered the industry this decade, 10,529 -- 4.7 percent -- committed crimes before or during their time in the business.

In many cases, state regulators allowed thousands of ex-convicts to enter a profession that gave them access to the most sensitive and personal financial information: credit cards, bank accounts and Social Security numbers. They later refused to fully check out applicants despite pleas from industry leaders.The Herald found that those criminals went on to commit nearly $85 million in mortgage fraud.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has asked that the state Financial Regulation Office toughen its licensing standards for mortgage brokers. The governor also asked his own inspector general to investigate the agency.

By Derek Kravitz |  August 1, 2008; 11:17 AM ET Top Picks
Previous: Executive Privilege and the Fired Attorneys | Next: A Stealth Investigation

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