By Daniel Wagner, AP Business Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The fraud charges against Goldman Sachs & Co. that rocked financial markets Friday are no slam dunk, as hazy evidence and strategic pitfalls could easily trip up government lawyers.
Yet that hardly matters, experts say, because the allegations will kick off a new era of litigation that could entangle Goldman and other banks for years to come.
The charges against Goldman relate to a complex investment tied to the performance of pools of risky mortgages. In a complaint filed Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Goldman marketed the package to investors without disclosing a major conflict of interest: The pools were picked by another client, a prominent hedge fund that was betting the housing bubble would burst.
Goldman said the charges are "unfounded in law and fact." In a written response to the charges, the bank said it had provided "extensive disclosure" to investors and that the largest investor had selected the portfolio — not the hedge fund client. Goldman said it lost $90 million on the deal.
That doesn't contradict the SEC complaint, which says the largest investor selected the mortgage investments from a list provided by the hedge fund. And the fact that Goldman lost money has no impact on the fraud charges.
The charges will unleash a torrent of lawsuits, and likely signal that the government is prepared to file more lawsuits related to the overheated market that preceded the financial crisis, experts said.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said James Hackney, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law. "There are a lot of folks out there in different deals who played similar roles, and once it starts building steam, plaintiffs' lawyers will figure out this is where the money is and there should be a lot of action."