U.S. law enforcement is going after investment fraud.

From Aug. 16, 2010, an interagency task force has conducted Operation Broken Trust. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today announced that the initiative has so far resulted in 231 criminal cases and 60 civil enforcement actions, causing 87 defendants to receive prison sentences, with several sentences of more than 20 years.

Holder called the operation a critical step forward in law enforcement's work to protect American investors, to ensure the strength of our markets, and to prevent financial fraud schemes.

The task force includes various Department of Justice agencies, the FBI, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Secret Service and the National Association of Attorneys General.

With this operation, the task force is sending two messages, Holder said. A message to the public: be alert for these frauds, take appropriate measures to protect yourself, and report such schemes to proper authorities when they occur.   And a second message to anyone operating or attempting to operate an investment scam: we will use every tool at our disposal to find you, to stop you, and to bring you to justice.

Holder outlined some of the cases.

Many of the scam artists we've identified were preying on their own neighbors - and on the most vulnerable members of their communities, he said. Several of those prosecuted during this operation solicited victim investors from their own churches.   One man in Texas allegedly targeted his fellow parishioners, asking them to invest with him and claiming that his success in foreign exchange trading was 'a blessing from God.'

In Florida, one defendant was convicted for his role in an investment scam that specifically targeted the local Haitian community.   In Ohio, a former police officer operating a Ponzi scheme solicited investments from active and retired police officers and firefighters.   In Chicago, another Ponzi scheme resulted in more than $30 million in losses to hundreds of victims - many of them elderly, Italian immigrants.  The man who operated that scheme has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison, Holder said.

Many of the criminals we've identified used investor funds to support lavish lifestyles, Holder said, adding that a man operating a $880 million Ponzi scheme in Florida used his loot for floor seats at pro basketball games, and payments on a Mercedes and yacht and beach house.

A New Jersey man charged with operating an investment scam allegedly used investor funds to make payments on three different luxury cars and to pay fees at two country clubs, Holder said.

Fraud by well-known companies or high-profile executives gets the biggest headlines, but other scams are equally devastating to hard working families and retirees, said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement.

Victims want justice and don't much care who the fraudster is or how unique the fraud. Today's actions underscore that law enforcement agrees and will pursue fraud in whatever form, Khuzami said.

The schemes may change, but the underlying greed does not, said FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry.

Operation Broken Trust is the latest initiative taken up by the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which was created by President Obama in November 2009 and charged with combatting investor fraud in all its forms.

Since inception, the task force has been responsible for law enforcement actions against 343 criminal defendants and 189 civil defendants for fraud schemes that harmed more than 120,000 victims throughout the country. The operation's criminal cases involved more than $8.3 billion in estimated losses and the civil cases involved estimated losses of more than $2.1 billion, authorities said.

These losses represent hard-earned money and even life savings, Holder said. They represent needs that may not be met and dreams that may not be fulfilled.