I’m in the process of watching The Wire all the way through again, mostly because I’m doing a lot of air travel and I’m too lazy to read all the books I should be reading during that time. One of the more interesting aspects of the show is how often its creator, David Simon, used real people from the Baltimore streets instead of trained actors. The most commonly-cited example was Snoop, who actually killed someone on the streets prior to acting on the show, but there are at least six Baltimore cops, including two former commissioners, who are on the show in one role or another.
During the first season, a fellow named Ed Norris plays a wisecracking cop who keeps saying that someone needs to fix the department. It’s an inside joke; Norris was actually the police commissioner at the time. After his time on “The Wire”, Norris did six months in jail thanks to a prosecutorial technique known as the “headshot”.
I didn’t know what the headshot was until this morning. I kind of wish I still didn’t know. If you’re ever owned a home or a rental property, you’ll want to, as they say, read all about it.
David Simon goes into full detail in a 2012 blog posting but as usual I’ll excerpt the relevant parts here:
The only federal charge that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington could bring against Mr. Brown was for bank fraud. He falsified statements to a federally-insured bank while seeking a loan, claiming more income than he had received.
Now lying to a bank on a loan application or providing false information in a loan application is wrong of course. It is also wrong to give your child any money as a loan and then let the child claim those assets as his or her own income or saving to an FSLIC- or FDIC-backed institution in support of a loan application. Or to accept a loan from a parent and do so yourselves. The possible penalty for such an affront: Thirty years.
Federal prosecutors in Baltimore used to call this statute — and its overwhelming and intimidating penalty — the Head Shot. If the rest of your case was insubstantial, if you couldn’t make the case you wanted to make, but you were on the spot for investigating a high profile target, then check the loan documents on that sucker’s house first. See if he made a false claim. Even if he was paying off the bank loan, or had paid the loan, even if there was no actual monetary loss, check the loan documents. It’s amazing how many Americans put more than their best foot forward when they are trying to convince a bank to back their mortgage.
The federal prosecutor in Baltimore, a fellow named DiBiagio, really didn’t like the former police commissioner of Baltimore city. The commissioner, a fellow named Norris, had publicly criticized DiBiagio for his priorities, calling a press conference, telling television cameras that the federal prosecutor wasn’t bringing enough gun cases, wasn’t doing the necessary things to reduce crime in Baltimore. Norris made an enemy.
What to do? Check the loan documents on the house where Mr. Norris lives! And lo and behold, he had borrowed money from his father and then claimed those assets as of his own origin in order to get his home loan. There had been no default on the bank loan. In terms of monetary loss, there was no victim. But Mr. Norris was exposed, for as much as thirty years: “You go to trial,” a federal prosecutor told him, “you won’t see your kids grow up.”
Like Mr. Brown, Mr. Norris took a plea. He would not have a day in court to argue the original substance of the federal investigation, much to the relief of federal authorities in Baltimore. And the Head Shot is always in the arsenal for the government. It was there for Henry Cisneros. It’s been there in Wall Street investigations in which U.S. Attorneys have failed to prove substantial charges against financiers, and have instead, as leverage sent their sons to jail for bank fraud.
I bolded the last part because it almost defies belief. It was rare for the freakin’ Mafia to go after peoples’ adult children. Apparently when you’re a federal prosecutor you don’t have to live up to Mafioso ethics.
When I read about this I dragged up my last mortgage application just to make sure that I’d been right on the money, which I had. But I live in the Midwest, a land of cheap housing, and I’ve never had any desire to own a “showcase home” or to take a really serious stab at owning rental property. If I lived in NorCal or New York I imagine that I would be highly incentivized to get creative on my application.
What’s the moral of the story? Not much, except for this: never assume that your opponent is willing to play by your own rules. And never assume that the government wears the white hat.