Does the world need another film about the subprime mortgage scandal that erupted in 2008?
If it’s “The Con,” a five-part streaming docuseries, the answer is definitely yes.
It’s easy to see why – especially if you live in the heartland.
While “The Con” is as brisk and explanatory as any piece on the topic, it focuses on the less glamorous side: the street-level mortgage insiders who pulled off the scam in cities across the country, and the poor and working-class folks who were their victims.
You might not have known that this side even existed.
Several past movies and documentaries explained the fraudulent loan machine that was fueled by the big Wall Street banks and eventually brought them to their knees. Most famous of these is the Oscar winning film “The Big Short,” which took a serious but breezy look at the big-money scam from the top down.
But “The Con” – which premiered last week – makes northeastern Ohio its Ground Zero. Its perspective is from the bottom, looking up.
The series, nine years in the making, is a passion project for producer Patrick Lovell of Akron, who lost his home in the mortgage scam.
Under the guidance of writer-director Eric Vaughan, the series is a laser-focused exposé of how it was done and who were its victims.
Vaughan lays it out step by step and colors in every detail with interviews, news footage and even animated segments that show how the money flowed. Lovell serves as the narrator.
The subprime mortgage crisis caused a financial collapse that helped push the country into the Great Recession that affected most Americans.
But Episode 1 of “The Con” powerfully puts a face on the victims who could afford it the least by telling the story of the late Addie Polk of Akron. In 2009, the 91-year-old widow put a gun to her chest and killed herself while deputies were knocking on her door to evict her from her home.
Through interviews with Polk’s friends and her pastor, and a very lucid explanation of how she was swindled, “The Con” shows the depth of the greed of those who bamboozled her.
It also uncovers the work that a Summit County law enforcement task force did to point the finger of blame at those who brought Polk to ruin. It was a confederacy of crooked appraisers, mortgage originators, title agents and banks that targeted thousands of working poor and middle class folks.
In a nutshell, they wildly inflated home values and talked naïve homeowners into refinancing with a principal of twice the actual value, keeping payments low at first with balloon payments. Within a few years, the homeowners could no longer afford the payment and the bank foreclosed – in many cases selling the property to a new victim.
The bad mortgages – laden with forged signatures and inflated asset valuations – were bundled and sold to Wall Street banks, which profited until the bubble burst amid an explosion of foreclosures.
Playing a prominent role in Episode 1 is none other than Marc Dann, the former Youngstown lawyer who was Ohio’s attorney general at the time of the scandal.
Dann participated in helping the Akron Task Force bust Evergreen Mortgage, Carnation Banc, title agents and appraisers – the racketeering machine that kept the scam moving in Summit County.
Little did Dann and the task force know at the time that the scam was going on in every state in the union, and was encouraged by the nation’s biggest banks.
Dann, who is now a lawyer in Cleveland, resigned as attorney general in 2008 amid his own scandal. But that is another story.
In one of his segments in “The Con,” Dann says there were thousands of victims like Addie Polk throughout Akron, Youngstown and the region. He also says – in no uncertain terms – that the perpetrators’ actions were illegal. The federal government, which bailed out the banks, contended their actions were merely unethical.
There are other Youngstown connections in “The Con.” Melanie Clarke-Penella and Cindy DiRusso of the Youngstown area are producers.
Future episodes will include re-enactment scenes in the offices of the banks that were shot in the 20 Federal Place building in downtown Youngstown, using dozens of local actors.
Adam Bronfman of Park City, Utah, a scion of the Seagram’s liquor fortune, is executive producer.
To watch the trailer and the first episode, go to TheCon.tv and register. The first episode is also being streamed on the TheConSeries Facebook page for free. The remaining four episodes will be released Aug. 21 and can be viewed for a fee at any streaming platform, including Google Play and iTunes.
Each episode is an hour long.
Pictured: Dante DiRusso plays a police officer in “The Con.” His wife, Cindy, is associate producer. The Canfield couple were photographed on the set.