In November 2010, the Roosevelt Institute hosted an event in Washington taking a hard look at a strange phenomenon in U.S. housing. Banks, it appeared, were fabricating documents to pursue foreclosures under outrageous, chaotic circumstances ― not accepting mortgage payments, miscalculating debts, rewriting loan terms without consulting homeowners and trying to evict people who hadn’t missed payments. The event wasn’t a glitzy Washington spectacle. The guests of honor were stressed-out homeowners who showed up to detail their financial nightmares for a handful of journalists.

Sitting in the back and nodding along calmly was Eric Schneiderman, a promising young politician who had just been elected attorney general of New York. Afterward, he made the rounds shaking hands. This was an important issue, he told the reporters. He wasn’t a housing expert, but he didn’t trust the banks. Something had to be done.

It would soon become clear that his masterly performance was a total con. There is perhaps no reputation in American politics over the past generation more undeserved than the acclaim that has surrounded Schneiderman as a principled, tough-on-white-collar-crime Democrat.