Federal agencies are intensifying a criminal investigation of the mortgage industry and focusing on whether some lenders turned a blind eye to inflated income figures provided by borrowers.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the criminal division of the Internal Revenue Service have formed a task force to examine mortgages that were made with little or no proof of borrowers’ earnings or assets, a government official briefed on the matter said Sunday.
The group also includes the Office of the Inspector General, which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and federal prosecutors in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas and Atlanta, said the official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
The task force, which was established in January, stepped up its investigation in recent weeks as the financial industry disclosed billions of dollars in additional write-downs from bad mortgage investments. The latest inquiry is broader and deeper than a separate F.B.I. investigation of mortgage lenders that is also under way.
While the new task force is focusing on the role of mortgage lenders and brokers in low- or no-documentation loans, it is also examining how the loans were bundled into securities.
“This is a look at the mortgage industry across the board, and it has gotten a lot more momentum in recent weeks because of the banks’ earnings shortfalls,” the official said.
In January, the F.B.I. began a wide-ranging investigation of 14 unnamed mortgage companies over their lending and business practices. Those smaller inquiries have tended to focus on local foreclosure schemes. That F.B.I.-led inquiry has since expanded to include several more firms.
In March, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. began investigating whether the Countrywide Financial Corporation, the troubled mortgage giant, misrepresented its financial condition and loans in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Countrywide is also under scrutiny by California and Illinois; federal prosecutors in Sacramento; and the United States Trustee, the federal agency that monitors bankruptcy courts. The S.E.C., meanwhile, is examining stock sales by certain Countrywide executives.A spokesman for Countrywide did not return calls for comment on Sunday.
Government Intensifies Mortgage Investigation
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