A federal grand jury has indicted the head of what was once among the largest privately held mortgage lending companies for allegedly scheming to steal over half a billion dollars from the government's Troubled Assets Relief Program.
The indictment in Virginia alleges that Lee Bentley Farkas and co-conspirators carried out the scheme at their company, Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Corp. of Ocala, Fla., where Farkas was chief executive.
The attempt to get TARP funds was just one part of a scheme that was "truly stunning in its scale and complexity" and that resulted in losses of more than $1.9 billion, Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for the criminal division, told a news conference.
The co-conspirators even gave a name to their alleged effort to defraud the TARP: they called it Project Squirrel, said Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for TARP, told reporters that investigators uncovered the alleged conspiracy over TARP funds before the theft could occur.
Farkas was arrested Tuesday night while working out in a gym that he owns in Ocala, Fla., said Shawn Henry, head of the FBI's Washington, D.C., field office.
Besides conspiracy, Farkas is charged with bank fraud, wire fraud and securities fraud.
TBW, which originated and purchased billions of dollars in new residential loans annually, began to experience cash flow problems in 2002.
In an effort to cover the shortfalls, the company devised a scheme to misappropriate funds from Colonial Bank and from Ocala Funding LLC, controlled by TBW and financed by large banks, according to the indictment. Colonial's parent company, ColonialBancGroup headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., filed for bankruptcy last August.
The indictment alleges that Farkas and co-conspirators caused ColonialBancGroup to submit false information to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and to the Securities and Exchange Commission when applying for funds from the Troubled Assets Relief Program.
In separate civil charges, the SEC said Farkas sold Colonial Bank more than $1.5 billion in bad mortgage loans and securities to Colonial Bank.
In regard to TARP, Farkas was responsible for a bogus equity investment that caused Colonial Bank to misrepresent that it had satisfied a requirement to qualify for TARP funds, the SEC said.
When the bank announced it had received preliminary approval for TARP funds, its stock price jumped 54 percent in two hours of trading, according to the SEC.