May 15, 2009

Isn't it great, how our SEC is such an ardent watchdog of Wall Street's wrongdoing?

CBS News has learned that two attorneys at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are under "active" criminal investigation by the FBI for trading stocks based on inside information.

Accusations against the two lawyers - a man and a woman whose names have not been released - are detailed in a report by the SEC inspector general obtained exclusively by CBS News.

The report, based on a review and analysis of "more than two years of e-mail and brokerage records," puts increased pressure on a commission that has come under fire lately for failing to detect the $60 billion Bernard L. Madoff Ponzi scheme, and turning a blind eye to the Wall Street financial crisis.

"We ought to be outraged if there is one insider trading information that’s leading to personal profit," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, told CBS News.

In response to the IG report, Grassley sent a letter to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro expressing that outrage and requesting detailed information about the stock holdings and trading practices of all SEC employees.

"It’s hard to imagine a more serious violation of the public trust than for the agency responsible for protecting investors to allow its employees to profit from non-public information about its enforcement activities," Grassley said in his letter to Schapiro.

According to the report, the male attorney under investigation by the FBI works in the Office of the SEC's Chief Counsel and "has access to a tremendous amount of nonpublic information."

The report alleges both the male attorney and female attorney - who works in the enforcement division - "traded in the stock of a large financial services company" despite being told by another SEC employee of ongoing "investigations of that company." The report calls this is a direct violation of SEC rules.

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