The Justice Department has decided it will not prosecute Goldman Sachs or its employees for their role in the financial crisis, following an investigation by senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). The congressional investigation found problems with the credit rating agencies and poor oversight from regulators, and highlighted abuses by Goldman Sachs and other large investment banks. Senator Levin sent a formal referral to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation in April 2011.
The investigative report by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Levin, found that Goldman Sachs "used net short positions to benefit from the downturn in the mortgage market, and designed, marketed, and sold CDOs in ways that created conflicts of interest with the firm's clients and at times led to the bank's profiting from the same products that caused substantial losses for its clients."
A statement from the Justice Department issued late on Thursday evening noted, "Based on the law and evidence as they exist at this time, there is not a viable basis to bring a criminal prosecution with respect to Goldman Sachs or its employees in regard to the allegations set forth in the report."
"The department and its investigative partners conducted an exhaustive review of the report and its exhibits, independently gathered and scrutinized a large volume of other documents, and tenaciously pursued potential evidentiary leads, including conducting numerous witness interviews," the Justice Department's statement continued. "While the department and investigative agencies ultimately concluded that the burden of proof to bring a criminal case could not be met based on the law and facts as they exist at this time, we commend the hard work of those involved in preparing the report and thank the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations for its cooperation in regard to the criminal investigation."
"We are pleased that this matter is behind us," Goldman Sachs spokesman David Wells said when contacted by ABC News.
The Justice Department statement noted that if additional information emerges, the cases could be prosecuted in the future.
This most recent decision follows other high-profile investigations that Justice decided not to prosecute: There was the collapse of AIG and the role of the top executive at AIG Financial Products division, Joseph Cassano, and former Countrywide CEO Anthony Mozillo, who was fined by the SEC in an insider trading case. Citibank and JP Morgan both had multi-million-dollar settlements with the SEC over collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, tied to the U.S. housing market, but Justice has not brought any criminal cases. Freddie Mac was subpoenaed in a grand jury investigation in 2008 but the firm disclosed in an Aug. 8, 2011, SEC filing that the Justice investigation was closed.
Attorney General Eric Holder defended the Justice Department's record in pursuing high profile financial fraud cases. "There have been, I guess, 2,100 or so mortgage-related matters that we have brought here at United State Department of Justice. Our state counterparts have done a variety of things. The notion that there has been inactivity over the course of the last three years is belied by a troublesome little thing called facts."
Goldman has faced stiff penalties from the Securities and Exchange Commission. In April 2010 the SEC filed a civil charge against Goldman Sachs and Fabrice Tourre, a vice president, for making misstatements and omissions from financial records in connection with CDOs that Goldman Sachs marketed to their investors. CDOs played a significant part in the financial crisis in 2008.
ABACUS 2007-AC1 was tied to the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities and was composed of investment choices hedge fund manager John Paulson had a financial interest in selecting, although Tourre never disclosed to potential investors that Paulson & Co. had a short-interest position in seeing ABACUS go down. Investors in ABACUS allegedly lost an estimated $1 billion.
According to the SEC complaint Tourre, who called himself "Fabulous Fab" wrote to a friend in a January 23, 2007, email: "More and more leverage in the system, The whole building is about to collapse anytime now…Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab[rice Tourre] … standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities(sic)."
Goldman Sachs reached a settlement with the SEC in July 2010, paying a $550 million fine for admitting that they should have included information about Paulson's investment position. Tourre is currently in ongoing litigation with the SEC over the case.