Petitions demand Obama action on banks

Outrage over comments by Attorney General Holder provoked campaign, activists say.

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Rose McGee, a Golden Valley resident facing foreclosure, was a focus of signs of support Tuesday at a rally of housing activists at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE Star Tribune ,

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Housing activists boasting of having 330,000 signatures marched petitions to Justice Department offices across the country on Tuesday, saying they’re trying to pressure President Obama to break up the nation’s largest banks and prosecute lawbreaking executives.

In Minneapolis, petitions signed by an estimated 2,600 Minnesotans were delivered to the office of B. Todd Jones, U.S. attorney for Minnesota. The delivery was folded into a rally at the Hennepin County Government Center to support Rose McGee, a 61-year-old Golden Valley woman fighting Fannie Mae over her pending eviction.

Similar petitions were delivered in Charlotte, N.C., San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Calif., Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis and Little Rock, Ark., organizers said.

The actions represent the latest backlash provoked by Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments in March about some banks being too big to jail. One of the petitions says Holder should step down if the administration doesn’t take action.

“This is absolutely a step up, and the response was off the charts,” said Dan Petegorsky, policy director for Campaign for a Fair Settlement, a coalition of organizations focused on helping harmed homeowners. “The Holder comments, putting on the record the fact that the Justice Department and attorney general see the biggest banks as beyond the law, just was the last straw for so many people.”

Petegorsky said most of the signatures were collected online in one week.

The top five U.S. banks hold more than $8 trillion in assets, equal to about half the size of the U.S. economy. Industry associations, including the American Bankers Association, have argued that globally active U.S. companies find value in banks with big scale and diverse services.

The petition drive reflects frustration among some that so few financial institutions or their employees have been criminally prosecuted in the wake of the country’s financial meltdown.

The comment by Holder

Holder, the nation’s top cop, made his now-infamous comment while responding to questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee March 6 about why criminal charges weren’t filed against British bank HSBC, which was fined $1.9 billion for laundering money from Mexican drug cartels, among other things.

Holder said he was concerned that some banks were so large that “it does become difficult for us to prosecute them” because of the risks it would pose to the economy.

Five similar petitions were circulated by a range of groups including California-based Credo Action, a for-profit mobile networker that funds liberal causes, and nonprofits such as MoveOn.org, Jewish Community Action, Home Defenders League and Occupy Homes Minnesota.

“We’re tired of seeing homeowners like Rose being dragged in and out of court,” said Twin Cities organizer Anthony Newby, waving a copy of the petitions at the Hennepin County Government Center before activists walked to the federal courthouse.

One of the signers: Rose McGee.

McGee, who was married to William McGee, Hennepin County’s chief public defender until his death in 2000, said she was angry that she appears to have been dual-tracked, meaning her foreclosure proceeded at the same time she was trying to arrange a loan modification. (Dual-tracking will be restricted starting in 2014 under recent changes from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.)

‘I will indeed keep my home’

Addressing a crowd of about 30 people gathered inside the Hennepin County Government Center to support her before her latest court hearing, McGee said she’s not backing down.

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