Goldman Sachs Charged with Fraud by SEC

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Goldman, Sachs & Co and one of its vice presidents for defrauding investors by misstating and omitting key facts about a financial product tied to subprime mortgages as the U.S. housing market was beginning to falter.

The SEC alleges that Goldman Sachs structured and marketed a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that hinged on the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). Goldman Sachs failed to disclose to investors vital information about the CDO, in particular the role that a major hedge fund played in the portfolio selection process and the fact that the hedge fund had taken a short position against the CDO.

“The product was new and complex but the deception and conflicts are old and simple,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the Division of Enforcement. “Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party.”

Kenneth Lench, Chief of the SEC’s Structured and New Products Unit, added, “The SEC continues to investigate the practices of investment banks and others involved in the securitization of complex financial products tied to the U.S. housing market as it was beginning to show signs of distress.”

The SEC alleges that one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Paulson & Co., paid Goldman Sachs to structure a transaction in which Paulson & Co. could take short positions against mortgage securities chosen by Paulson & Co. based on a belief that the securities would experience credit events.

According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the marketing materials for the CDO known as ABACUS 2007-AC1 (ABACUS) all represented that the RMBS portfolio underlying the CDO was selected by ACA Management LLC (ACA), a third party with expertise in analyzing credit risk in RMBS. The SEC alleges that undisclosed in the marketing materials and unbeknownst to investors, the Paulson & Co. hedge fund, which was poised to benefit if the RMBS defaulted, played a significant role in selecting which RMBS should make up the portfolio.

Goldman Sachs has arguably been the most successful firm on Wall Street for decades, with some of the world’s biggest private equity and hedge funds and investment bankers and traders who practically minted money. The bank was humbled along with the rest of Wall Street in 2008 when the financial markets crashed, turning itself into a commercial bank holding company and surviving the meltdown with federal assistance. In 2009 it led the Street’s resurgence and was the first to seek to pay back its bailout money. But its hardball tactics and supersized profits drew new scrutiny and criticism. And in April 2010 the bank was accused of securities fraud in a civil suit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission that claimed the bank created and sold a mortgage investment that was secretly devised to fail.

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