JPMorgan Faces Criminal Probe over Mortgage Bonds

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(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Justice Department is investigating JPMorgan Chase over mortgage-backed investments the bank sold in the run-up to the financial crisis. The New York-based bank said in a regulatory filing that it is responding to investigations by the civil and criminal divisions of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California. In May, the civil division informed JPMorgan that it had “preliminarily concluded” that the bank had violated federal securities laws in connection with certain mortgage-backed investments it sold from 2005 to 2007. A JPMorgan spokeswoman declined to comment. The disclosure is just the latest in a swirl of mortgage-related lawsuits and investigations that have hammered big U.S. banks in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The banks have been accused of improperly foreclosing on homeowners, discriminating against others and knowingly making loans to people who couldn’t afford them. Other probes, including the one disclosed by JPMorgan, have focused on mortgage-backed securities, where the banks bundled together their mortgages and sold them in slivers to investors. (MORE:  President Obama, Defender of the 30-Year, Fixed-Rate Mortgage) JPMorgan didn’t give details on what the Justice Department is investigating. But previous lawsuits and investigations, against both JPMorgan and other big banks, have said that the banks misled investors about the quality of the loans they were buying. When the real estate bubble burst, many of the mortgage-backed securities soured and the investors who bought them lost billions. If the investigations result in criminal or civil action by the Justice Department against JPMorgan, it would be the most high-profile government move against the bank to date. JPMorgan, which came through the financial crisis stronger than most of its competitors and was lauded for wise risk management practices, has lately faced a slew of sanctions by federal regulators. (MORE:  Freddie Mac Earns $5 Billion in 2nd Quarter)

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