Moody’s Investor Service is under investigation by the Justice Department for issuing favorable ratings to securities backed with the risky subprime loans that fueled the 2008 financial collapse. Justice Department officials have met with former Moody’s executives in recent months to gather information on the credit rating firm’s practices leading up the recession that began in December 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
From 2004 to 2007, Moody’s gave securities built on high-risk subprime mortgages favorable ratings, sometimes up to triple-A ratings, prompting thousands of investors to buy what appeared to be safe securities. When homeowners defaulted on those mortgages, the negative return left investors out billions of dollars. The Justice Department has been looking into Moody’s practices since 2010, the Journal said.
It is unclear if the Justice Department will opt to sue Moody’s for fraud like it did Standard & Poor’s Financial Services in 2013 for engaging in similar practices before the subprime mortgage collapse. When the Justice Department sued S&P, it did so, it said, for defrauding investors to get business from investment banks. The Justice Department is wrapping up that lawsuit against S&P and the two will likely reach a settlement that sees S&P pay around $1.37 billion in the coming weeks.
In S&P’s case, top execs at the company admitted their ratings on those securities were wildly inaccurate, but denied the ratings were a conscious effort to defraud investors. The firm also accused the Justice Department of pursuing a case against it because S&P was the only credit rating firm to downgrade the government’s debt credit rating in 2011. Early last year the firm asked the Justice Department to give it internal documents that would explain why Justice sued S&P but not Moody’s, which S&P said did exactly the same thing, Reuters reported. Neither company has issued a statement about the investigation.