House ethics panel asked to probe discounted loans to four lawmakers

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Four House lawmakers received VIP discounted loans from the former Countrywide Financial Corp., the lender whose subprime mortgages was largely responsible for the nation’s foreclosure crisis, according to congressional investigators.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, declined to name the four but has told the House ethics panel that it should investigate the lawmakers.

Congressional sources said three of the four are Republicans. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation.

In 2009, Democratic Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York was identified in the media as having two loans that went through the Countrywide VIP program. On Monday, Mr. Towns insisted he was not involved in a VIP program of the lender and did not receive benefits that weren’t available to every customer of the lender.

Mr. Issa, in a letter dated Friday and released Monday, said there could be additional lawmakers who received discounted loans.

The most favored customers of Countrywide were known as “Friends of Angelo,” who were given discounts in a VIP section under control of the company’s CEO, Angelo Mozilo. However, Mr. Issa said his investigators discovered that other sections of Countrywide also processed VIP loans to public officials and others in position to help the company.

Countrywide was taken over by Bank of America, which has given Mr. Issa’s committee 100,000 documents in response to subpoenas.

Mr. Issa’s letter to ethics Chairman Jo Bonner of Alabama and ranking Democrat Linda T. Sanchez of California said that between 1996 and 2008, “Countrywide used the VIP program to build relationships with government officials and others positioned to advance Countrywide’s business interests.

It was previously revealed that Sens. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, and Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, while still in office received VIP loans from Countrywide. Both said they did not know they were getting unique deals and Mr. Dodd maintained he received no preferential treatment.

Others named as recipients of the VIP program were James Johnson, former head of Fannie Mae who later stepped down as an adviser to Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, and Franklin Raines, who also headed Fannie Mae. Still other “friends” included retired athletes, a judge, a congressional aide and a newspaper executive.

The Senate’s ethics committee looked at the Dodd and Conrad cases and cleared them of wrongdoing, but warned that they should have exercised better judgment.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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