- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 16, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 more than half a billion dollars from the $700 billion financial bailout.

The indictment in Virginia says that Lee Bentley Farkas and co-conspirators carried out the alleged plot at their company, Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Corp. of Ocala, Fla., where Farkas was chief executive.

The attempt to get bailout money 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 Wednesday.

The co-conspirators even gave a name to their alleged effort to defraud the Treasury: they called it Project Squirrel, said Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.

Neil Barofsky, special inspector general for the bailout fund, said his office’s investigators uncovered the alleged conspiracy before the theft could occur.

Once his office started examining the company, “it quickly became evident we were seeing something that went beyond the central fraud” related to bailout money, Mr. Barofsky said in an interview. He said his office told Treasury not to release the $553 million it planned to send to a bank affiliated with TBW.

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 conspirators referred to the solution to covering the shortfalls as “Plan B,” according to the indictment.

In separate civil charges, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Farkas sold Colonial Bank more than $1.5 billion in fabricated or bad mortgage loans and securities.

Colonial Bank’s failure was the biggest of 2009, and the sixth-largest in U.S. history. It is expected to cost the government-backed fund that insures bank deposits $3.8 billion.

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