New docuseries shows how 2008 mortgage crisis spurred suicides

By SMJ Alt

The Con is a thoughtful five-piece docuseries that features borrowers who were hornswoggled into mortgages that blew up during the infamous economic crisis of 2008.  These unsuspecting homeowners in Ohio travailed the foreclosure process into broken marriages, financial ruin, and suicide.  The filmmakers sift through the layers of chicanery only to discover that it was the federal government that orchestrated the Great Recession.  "Tragedy" is too weak a word for the destruction many people endured while the bankers, bundlers, and swappers who played "sleight of hand" with their mortgages became billionaires and walked away unscathed.  Another ace in the 3-Card Monty, more smoke in the house of mirrors that was not exposed in The Con but was also fully manifest in Ohio, was the criminal prosecutions of local realtors in the aftermath.

Ostensibly to protect their citizens, the State of Ohio received a chunky federal grant payment to prosecute banks for predatory lending practices that The Con correctly identifies as the propagation mechanism for creating fraudulent mortgages.  However, the Cuyahoga County Mortgage Fraud Task Force formed in Cleveland indicted thousands of local realtors for using the subprime loan programs they were paid to investigate.  Using state theft statutes, which require a victim, the prosecutors quickly claimed that the banks were the victims and ordered millions in restitution that was diverted to the county probation department, where it seems to have evaporated, because the banks didn't get it.

At the same time, to add insult to injury, this same gang of political bandits formed the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to cash in on the massive number of foreclosures.  By upending the service at the county clerk's office and denying judges access to court dockets to complete the foreclosure to transfer the title, this "blight by design" resulted in years of parlaying delinquent tax sale certificates into cash and cash-equivalent assets for this land bank.  

These silk-stocking crooks are about as sleazy as it gets, but hey, Cuyahoga County nailed this mortgage thing!  The corruption came full circle — during the boom by collecting inflated tax revenues on inflated property values, during the bust by pocketing restitution for fabricated victims, and during the aftermath by seizing the properties themselves.

While The Con does a fine job fleshing out the multi-strata scam from the mortgage-makers to the mortgage-bundlers to the bundle-buyers to the Wall Street bundle-swappers, the filmmakers neglected the tier of a the small counties that exploited their local governments and judicial system to catch as catch can.  Watch for the new TV drama called Liar Loans ( to learn more about what really goes on behind the scenes in the mortgage business.

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