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Another Benefit of TARP: Uncovering Bank Fraud

SIGTARP investigations have already led to $4.3 billion in assets being returned to fraud victims or the government.

The agency also has investigated fraud activity tied to the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, since "Homeowners with HAMP modifications from 2009 are redefaulting at an alarming rate of 46%, 38% for 2010 modifications." SIGTARP made several recommendations to clean up HAMP.

The TARP fraud that probably received the most coverage was that of former Taylor, Bean and Whitaker chairman Lee Farkas, who is cooling off for 30 years after being convicted in 2011 of a 10-year $2.9 billion fraud that also involved employees of Colonial Bank of Montgomery, Ala., which had roughly $25 billion in total assets and failed in August 2009.

The troubled Colonial Bank had applied for $570 million in TARP money, and announced government approval to receive the funds on Dec. 2, 2008, without disclosing, until Jan. 27, 2009, that the Treasury was requiring the bank to raise $300 million on its own, before getting any TARP money.

Colonial Bank then announced on March 31, 2009 that it had made a deal for a preferred investment of $300 million by Taylor, Bean and Whitaker. There were some breathless headlines saying Colonial Bank had beaten its regulatory deadline to raise the capital, but the money was never received. This illustrates why investors need to dig a bit further when news headlines describe business agreements as done deals.

SIGTARP said in its report that "Beginning in 2002, Farkas and his co-conspirators at TBW and Colonial Bank -- one of the 25 largest banks in the U.S. at the time -- started a scheme to steal billions of dollars from the bank to hide TBW's steep operating losses. The scheme soon escalated to selling and pledging billions in fake mortgage assets to plug holes in the company's balance sheets, and to cover their tracks."

Farkas's scheme had nothing to do with TARP, but according to the Inspector General, the "scam began to collapse when SIGTARP investigators initially identified suspicious activity in connection with Colonial BancGroup's (Colonial Bank's parent) $570 million TARP application, which contained false and misleading information provided by Farkas and his co-conspirators to deceive the Government."

A Particularly Egregious Community Bank Fraud

An application to receive TARP money uncovered a "massive fraud scheme" at Bank of the Commonwealth of Norfolk, Va., which had roughly $902 million in total assets and 21 branches.

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