Mortgage Servicing Fraud
occurs post loan origination when mortgage servicers use false statements and book-keeping entries, fabricated assignments, forged signatures and utter counterfeit intangible Notes to take a homeowner's property and equity.
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Nye Lavalle
The Subprime Cleanup Intensifies
Did UBS Improperly
Book Mortgage Prices?
Several Probes Expand
By KARA SCANNELL, ANITA RAGHAVAN and AMIR EFRATI
February 2, 2008; Page B1
Federal criminal prosecutors in New York are investigating whether UBS AG misled investors by booking inflated prices of mortgage bonds it held despite knowledge that the valuations had dropped, according to people familiar with the matter.

The investigation, by the U.S. attorney in New York's Eastern District in Brooklyn, is preliminary. The U.S. attorney's office frequently works closely with the Securities and Exchange Commission to coordinate efforts to gather information. The New York prosecutors haven't issued subpoenas, according to people familiar with the matter.

The SEC, deepening its own set of investigations into whether Wall Street firms improperly mispriced mortgage securities, recently upgraded probes of UBS and Merrill Lynch & Co. into formal investigations, people familiar with the matter say. This step, which requires approval of the full commission, gives the SEC broad subpoena power, or the authority to require firms and individuals to produce information.

Spokesmen for both UBS and Merrill declined to comment.

The investigations could raise the stakes for Wall Street in the multiple probes examining whether financial firms deliberately misvalued, or "mismarked," massive holdings of mortgage securities. Most of the current investigations into mortgage matters involve civil authorities; the U.S. attorney launches criminal investigations and has a history of prosecuting Wall Street-related matters. Last summer, federal criminal prosecutors began investigating the collapse of two internal hedge funds at Wall Street firm Bear Stearns Cos.

There is also a broader effort by the Justice Department to look into whether there was fraud in originating, packaging and selling mortgage-related products. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said it has opened criminal inquires into 14 companies as part of an investigation of the subprime-mortgage crisis. The FBI wouldn't identify the companies under investigation.

Although prosecutors have expressed an interest in subprime matters, the criminal investigations might not result in the filing of any charges. Securities-valuation cases involve a fair amount of judgment based on an opaque market. To bring fraud charges, "prosecutors need proof to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the banks made materially misleading statements about securities, and proof that they did it with the intent to deceive," says Christopher J. Clark, a New York white-collar lawyer and former assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan in the securities and commodities fraud unit. To obtain an indictment, prosecutors would need probable cause, he adds.

Other regulators led by the SEC are examining whether financial firms should have told investors earlier about the declining value of such securities and how they priced them on their books, people close to the matter say.

In its investigations, the SEC also is delving into whether Wall Street firms placed higher values on securities they own than those they placed in customer holdings, the people say. The SEC previously has said it has opened roughly three dozen investigations tied to the downturn of the subprime market, which primarily is tied to borrowers with poor credit histories.

In the SEC's UBS investigation, the agency is examining, among other things, a situation last year in which a trader at a now-defunct hedge fund of UBS's Dillon Read unit was confronted and then ousted after he valued mortgage securities at prices below the value assigned to the same securities elsewhere at UBS. In late October, the SEC interviewed the Dillon Read trader following a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal detailing the incident, according to a person close to the situation. The SEC has issued subpoenas in the UBS probe since, according to a person familiar with the matter.

During the past several months, financial firms have announced more than $100 billion in write-downs on mortgage-related assets. Just this week, UBS took its third write-down in four months, bringing its total to an estimated $18.4 billion for 2007.

The disclosures of fresh write-downs could hurt UBS Chairman Marcel Ospel just as the bank is preparing for a crucial shareholders meeting on Feb. 27 to approve an $11.5 billion capital infusion from Asian and Middle Eastern investors. Since July, a parade of UBS executives have departed amid the subprime turmoil, including the former chief executive, the chief financial officer, the head of investment banking and the bank's fixed-income chief. In recent months, meantime, Merrill has announced write-downs of mortgage-securities assets totaling $22.4 billion.

--Kate Kelly, Susan Pulliam and Carrick Mollenkamp contributed to this article.

Write to Kara Scannell at kara.scannell@wsj.com, Anita Raghavan at anita.raghavan@wsj.com and Amir Efrati at amir.efrati@wsj.com
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