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Goldman Sachs Faces Trading Scrutiny

Stocks in this article: GS JPM BAC

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) may face charges from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) related to how one of its customers handled client money, according to filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The focus of the CFTC investigation is Goldman Sachs Execution & Clearing (GSEC), which provides clearing and trade execution services for a wide range of Goldman clients, including hedge funds, companies, mutual funds and central banks.

One of those clients, a broker-dealer registered with the SEC maintained accounts at Goldman that "were actually accounts belonging to customers of the broker-dealer client and not the client's proprietary accounts," according to Goldman's characterization of the CFTC's allegations.

Goldman "knew or should have known," about this discrepancy and may now face "aiding and abetting, civil fraud and supervision-related charges," according to the allegations of the CFTC staff, which will recommend charges be brought, the Goldman filing states.

A CFTC spokesman declined to comment and a Goldman spokesman declined to elaborate on the filing.

The investigation marks a major shift at the CFTC, which has expanded authority and an apparent new sense of purpose under Chairman Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs executive appointed by President Obama.

"It has been very rare that the (CFTC) enforcement division has gone after such a big financial institution. My observation was in the prior administration a lot of enforcement actions were brought, but they were brought against mom and pop types of futures institutions and that there were very few actions brought against institutions in the futures market that are household names," says Michael Greenberger, former director of trading and markets at the CFTC and a law professor at the University of Maryland.

Under the Commodity Exchange Act of 1936 broker-dealers or their rough equivalent in the futures markets, futures commission merchants (FCMs) have an obligation to segregate accounts of customers so if a bankruptcy occurs the assets of the bankrupt company can be identified as easily as possible, Greenberger says, adding that the Dodd Frank Act may expand the segregation requirement beyond the regulated futures market to include the much larger market for derivatives as a whole.

"It sounds like when they're saying Goldman aided and abetted that they helped a broker dealer or FCM mask what should have been a customer's account and disguise it as a proprietary account," Greenberg says. Greenberg adds that the Dodd-Frank Act attempts to expand

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