With end of TARP, investigations into fraud take center stage

September 21, 2010

SUMMIT-WASHINGTON/BAROFSKYWhile the much maligned $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has officially ended, not everything has wrapped up — auditors are just starting to hit their stride investigating scores of cases of possible malfeasance.

Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the program, nicknamed SIGTARP, said his office has more than 120 criminal investigations underway. They are looking into whether the money loaned to financial institutions and automakers was used properly or not, if there was fraud in applications for TARP financial backing and other wrongdoing.

“Our focus on investigations is growing and that’s an area where we are definitely in a ramp-up phase,” Barofsky told the Reuters Washington Summit. “The crimes that have been committed were committed in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The most common statute of limitation for fraud is five years and there’s a reason for that, it takes a while for these type of sophisticated while collar investigations … to hit, for fraud to be discovered and it takes a while to investigate them.”

Barofsky lamented that finding experienced people willing to come to work for a temporary agency was proving to be a challenge.

“We’re looking for experienced, white collar investigators who want to come over to a temporary agency, that is not the deepest of pools, to be honest with you, if I could find more I would hire more,” he said.

GM/Additionally, Barofsky plans to launch an after-action audit of the U.S. Treasury Department’s role in General Motors’ initial public offering, which would include examining the decision-making process and whether it maximized the return for taxpayers.

“I expect it will be a broad inquiry that goes into this. In many ways, this is a pretty unprecedented activity for a government to be selling its shares to the public in an IPO like this,” he said, adding that he expected other such audits of other companies that the federal government has stakes in and plan to go public.

While all of these audits and investigations will likely take a few years, Barofsky demurred on whether he would stay in his role, describing himself as an “at-will” employee.

“I serve at the pleasure of the president. To the extent that I cause him too much displeasure, I imagine that you’ll be talking to my replacement,” he said.

- Photo credits: Kevin Lamarque (Barofsky); Jeff Kowalsky (GM headquarters).

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