I would not be accused of hyperbole for writing thatthere were a number of organizations who turned in a better performanceover the past year and a half than the Securities and Exchange Commission.
It was excoriated for ignoring more than a decade's worthof warnings about Bernard Madoff and his company's consistent and unrealisticreturns. Later, it was accused of flubbingseveral chances to pursue Texas financier R. Allen Stanford,who is charged with running a Ponzi scheme similar to Madoff's. More recently ascathing 2,000-plus-page report stated that the SEC basically sat on its handsduring the 2008 accounting fraud at Lehman Brothers.
And in a humiliating in-house scandal, it was forced toreveal that a number of its employees and managers spent more time surfing theWeb for porn than pursuing white-collar criminals.
Thus it was against those episodes of suspect competenceand oversight that the SEC received an opportunity to repair a shreddedreputation and get another turn at bat, this time against Goldman Sachs, whichback in April it had accused of
Structuring and marketing something called Abacus2007-AC1, collateralized debt obligations linked to the performance of subprimemortgage-backed securities. Goldman allegedly didn't disclose importantinformation about the CDO, especially that a major hedge fund, Paulson &Co., had helped select the risky portfolio and then shorted it, in essencebetting that its value would sink.
It was, in a lot of people's opinion, a make-or-breakcase for the regulator, which had it stumbled, could have resulted incareer-threatening consequences for SEC Chair Mary Schapiro and her enforcementchief, Robert Khuzami.
Fortunately, Goldman agreed to pay a record penalty of$550 million and reform its business practices, admitting that its
marketing materials for the subprime product containedincomplete information.
Of the $550 million to be paid by Goldman in thesettlement, $250 million would be returned to investors through a Fair Funddistribution and $300 million would be paid to the U.S. Treasury.
The settlement also requires remedial action by Goldmanin its review and approval of offerings of certain mortgage securities as wellas increased education and training of its employees in that unit of the firm.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Goldman andfirms like it have been perceived as an anti-Christ to those on Main Street andsurely there were some that felt a half-billion in fines was basically a pillowstrike for a firm that posted $613 million in profit for its most recentquarter - andincredibly, thatrepresented an 82-percent decline from the prior year.
But it's a much-needed win for an agency that wasstarving for a victory.
The next one may not be that easy.
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