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Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles -- In the first major disclosure of corruption in the $750-billion financial bailout program, federal investigators said Monday they have opened 20 criminal probes into possible securities fraud, tax violations, insider trading and other crimes.
The cases represent only the first wave of investigations, and the total fraud could ultimately reach into the tens of billions of dollars, according to Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general overseeing the bailout program.
The disclosures reinforce fears that the hastily designed and rapidly changing bailout program run by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve is going to carry a heavy price of fraud against taxpayers -- even as questions grow about its ability to stabilize the nation's financial system.
Barofsky said the complex nature of the bailout program makes it "inherently vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse, including significant issues relating to conflicts of interest facing fund managers, collusion between participants, and vulnerabilities to money laundering."
The report said little about who is under investigation and how the fraudulent schemes work, but investigators are already on alert for a long list of potential scams. Such schemes could include obtaining bailout money under false pretenses, bilking the government with phony mortgage modifications, and cheating on taxes with fraudulent filings.