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Feds Interview Countrywide Whistleblower

POSTED: 06:21 PM ET, 10/30/2008 by Derek Kravitz

Federal investigators have interviewed a former loan officer with Countrywide Financial, the fallen home lender that allegedly gave high-profile clients discounts on their personal home mortgage loans, NBC News reports today.

The whistleblower, Robert Feinberg, apparently spent six hours last week with a six-person team from the Justice Department, including prosecutors from the public integrity section, which handles public corruption investigations, the report says.

Feinberg's attorney, Anthony Salerno, said the Justice Department was starting a "very serious inquiry" into possible wrongdoing involving several public officials.

Salerno said investigators appeared interested in "whether the preferential treatment given to VIP customers was part of an effort by Countrywide to buy influence - as well as on the conduct of each public official who received a mortgage from Countrywide."

Former Countrywide chief executive Angelo Mozilo allegedly personally priced loans to certain powerful clients, according to Conde Nast Portfolio's Dan Golden, who broke the story about the special VIP program this summer.

Among those reportedly getting the discounts were Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.); Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), former Fannie Mae chief executive Franklin Raines, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and former U.N. ambassador and assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, as well as congressional staffers involved in housing issues.

"People are referred into that department as 'very important people.' You're told that your loan is priced from Angelo. As the 'Friends of Angelo department,' (the department) has to give them a sense of importance and explain the reduction of fees and the rate as a result of being a 'Friend of Angelo,'" Feinberg told The Wall Street Journal.

Among the public officials that allegedly benefited from the deal, Dodd has come under the most intense scrutiny. His approval ratings have fallen since a Senate ethics inquiry was announced in June. The Hartford Courant noted that the polling dip is a problem for Dodd considering he is "a key player in the federal response to the financial services crisis, who is gearing up to seek re-election in 2010 for a record sixth term."

By Derek Kravitz |  October 30, 2008; 6:21 PM ET Economy Watch
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