U.S. adds muscle to financial fraud investigations
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Obama administration task force probing misconduct that fueled the financial crisis is increasing its ranks, adding five financial analysts and 10 new federal prosecutors spread across the country, according to a senior Justice Department official.
The increased staffing reflects a new push by the administration to aggressively pursue cases against firms and individuals who contributed to the 2007-2009 financial crisis, especially ahead of the November election.
The U.S. Justice Department has so far brought few cases against high-profile targets since the crash.
The department closed criminal investigations without bringing charges against firms whose names are closely tied to the 2008 crash, including AIG and Countrywide.
Individual Wall Street players have largely escaped prosecution, after the Justice Department lost its first criminal case against two former Bear Stearns hedge fund managers in 2009.
U.S. enforcement authorities have asked for patience, saying financial crisis cases are complex and though the behavior may look bad, it doesn't always amount to outright fraud.
The task force formed earlier this year represents a more coordinated effort than prior investigations, the Justice Department official said in an interview on Thursday. Prosecutors are reviewing documents for both federal and state law violations.
In addition to the 50 positions the department previously announced, the DOJ is hiring 10 new assistant U.S. attorneys in districts that include Massachusetts and Colorado, according to job listings on the agency's website.
The department is also hiring five financial analysts and auditors to help understand and identify evidence, the official, who declined to be named, said.
It is also focused on civil laws, including a little-used federal statute called FIRREA, which may make such cases easier to bring.
President Barack Obama announced the creation of the task force during his State of the Union address in January. He said it would "help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans."
Questions remain whether the cases that come out of these investigations involve lower-ranking people or whether they are able to bring larger, systematic cases.
The task force to date has received around two terabytes of data from at least 16 subpoenas sent to financial firms, and is interviewing witnesses, the official said.
For comparison, the Library of Congress web archive, which archives websites, collects around 5 terabytes per month.
According to one of the job postings, the department is looking for attorneys to help investigate "and pursue those responsible for misconduct in the packaging, selling, and valuing of residential mortgage-backed securities and similar financial instruments."
In another sign the department is looking to pursue these cases through courtroom litigation, it said it is looking for someone who can "handle matters in court persuasively on behalf of the United States."
(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Andrew Hay)
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