Courtesy of JESSE’S CAFÉ AMÉRICAIN
This is beyond a doubt the story of the week. Neil Barofsky has been a thorn in the side of the Treasury Department and the Fed since he first took office.
I doubt there will be criminal charges filed against Turbo Tim personally, since in his case the clueless CEO defense may have some traction. Unless, that is, they have wiretaps and/or emails showing collusion with some of the bailed out banks, in either insider trading or the manipulation of assets for extraordinary gains.
It is a boiling scandal, but emblematic of the corruption that has pervaded financial regulation in Washington for the past ten years at least. It did not start with Obama, but it may still bring down key members of his Administration.
Reform the financial system, and audit the Fed.
Barofsky Says Criminal Charges Possible in Alleged AIG Coverup
By Richard Teitelbaum
28 April 2010
April 28 (Bloomberg) — …That tense relationship [between Treasury and Barofsky] has grown out of Barofsky’s mandate to monitor and root out fraud and waste in the management of TARP, the $700 billion program passed in October 2008 to remove toxic debt from the banks. The special inspector general, in a series of reports, interviews and congressional hearings, has heaped criticism on the Treasury Department’s operation of the program.
Barofsky’s most recent broadside came on April 20, when a SIGTARP report labeled a housing-loan modification program funded with $50 billion of TARP money as ineffectual.
…The TARP watchdog has also criticized Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in reports and in congressional testimony for his handling of the process by which insurance giant American International Group Inc. was saved from insolvency in 2008, when Geithner was head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The secrecy that enveloped the deal was unwarranted, Barofsky says, adding that his probe of an alleged New York Fed coverup in the AIG case could result in criminal or civil charges.
In Senate Finance Committee testimony on April 20, Barofsky said SIGTARP would investigate seven AIG-linked mortgage-related securities similar to Abacus 2007-AC1, the instrument underwritten by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that is at the center of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit filed against the investment
bank on April 16.
…Barofsky and Geithner’s offices have gone toe-to-toe over AIG, alleged lax oversight of TARP funds and even over the question of whom Barofsky reports to.
Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor who was once the target of a kidnapping plot by Colombian drug traffickers, says he’s also looking into possible insider trading connected to TARP. He says his agency would want to know if bankers bought stock in their companies before it was made public that their institutions would get TARP
money, for example.
“There was a time when, if you got that word the stock price would go up, and if you were to trade on that information prior to the public announcement, that would be classic insider trading,” Barofsky says.
A Democrat named by a Republican president, Barofsky says missteps by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations are to blame for TARP’s failures.
“There’s a reason there are Tea Partiers out there, and when you look at it, anger at the bailout is one of the first things they talk about,” says Barofsky, referring to the anti- Obama political movement. “This Treasury Department and the previous Treasury Department bear some of the responsibility for not being straightforward with the American people.”
Barofsky criticized Geithner’s predecessor, Paulson, in an October 2009 report, saying Paulson publicly described the initial nine TARP bank recipients as healthy when he knew that at least one of them risked failure.
…SIGTARP has more than 40 agents, including former Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service investigators, who sport blue windbreakers emblazoned with the SIGTARP seal.
They are authorized by Congress to carry guns — Barofsky does not –make arrests, and subpoena and seize records.
In its late-January report, SIGTARP said that the banks rescued by TARP remained “too big to fail.” They still have an incentive to make risky wagers in order to generate the profits that will reward their executives, the report says.
“The definition of insanity is repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting a different result,” Barofsky says. “If the goal of TARP was to make sure we don’t have another financial collapse, well, obviously it’s made the likelihood of that much, much greater.”
….In a December report, Barofsky showed how insurance giants Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and Lincoln National Corp. bought tiny thrifts — one with just $7 million in assets — to qualify for the TARP Capital Protection Program, which is designed to encourage bank lending. Hartford and Lincoln used the more than $4.3 billion in TARP funds they received almost entirely to finance insurance operations, according to the report.
“Treasury didn’t have to approve that,” Barofsky says.
Allison wrote SIGTARP that buying troubled assets from insurance companies was part of TARP.
Janet Tavakoli, founder of Chicago-based Tavakoli Structured Finance Inc., says Barofsky hasn’t been aggressive enough. She says SIGTARP should be running criminal probes of the bankers who underwrote and managed the collateralized debt obligations that were at the center of the financial meltdown.
CDOs are bundles of mortgage-backed bonds and other debt sold to investors. Tavakoli says the CDO managers sometimes replaced relatively high-quality securities with new ones that were more likely to default.
“It is securities fraud if you take securities and package them and knowingly pass them off with phony labels,” she says.
Barofsky says investigations related to the underwriting and sale of CDOs are ongoing.
…Barofsky says he’s battling an entrenched culture of secrecy in the Treasury and elsewhere.
“One of the important lessons that I hope will be learned from this entire financial crisis is that the reflexive reaction against transparency, that disclosure will bring terrible things, has not been proven true,” he says.
He offers the AIG bailout as an example. For more than a year, the New York Fed kept key aspects of the AIG bailout secret, including details of its own involvement and its decision to have AIG pay the insurer’s bank counterparties 100 cents on the dollar on the credit protection they’d bought against about $62 billion in CDOs.
In a November report, SIGTARP criticized Geithner’s failed efforts to obtain discounts from the banks.
After the banks had been paid in late 2008, a lawyer from the New York Fed sought to have AIG keep the banks’ identities under wraps, as well as data about the CDOs that would have revealed which firms had underwritten the toxic bonds and which ones had managed them.
“There’s a lot of things about AIG that were not disclosed, based on the assumption that the sky would fall,” Barofsky says. “Transparency does a lot more good than bad.”
Barofsky says the question of whether the New York Fed engaged in a coverup will result in some sort of action.
“We’re either going to have criminal or civil charges against individuals or we’re going to have a report,” Barofsky says. “This is too important for us not to share our findings.”
He won’t say whether the investigation is targeting Geithner personally.
In a statement, the New York Fed said: “Allegations that the New York Fed engaged in a coverup of its intervention in AIG are not true. The New York Fed has fully cooperated with the Special Inspector General.”