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Feds begin criminal probe into Goldman - reports

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Federal prosecutors are reportedly looking into whether Goldman Sachs has committed securities fraud.

The Securities and Exchange Committee referred its investigation of Goldman to The Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, according to several media reports, including one by the Wall Street Journal, Thursday night. The reports cited sources familiar with the situation.

Goldman Sachs: 7 power players
Lloyd Blankfein, Fabrice Tourre and 5 other Goldman Sachs managers appeared on Capitol Hill to defend the company's mortgage market moves.

"Given the recent focus on the firm, we are not surprised by the report of an inquiry," said Samuel Robinson, a spokesperson for Goldman. "We would fully cooperate with any requests for information."

The SEC, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney's office all declined to comment.

Shares of Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) fell about 3% in pre-market trading Friday.

Earlier this month, the SEC charged Goldman with securities fraud for failing to tell investors that hedge fund Paulson & Co. helped select securities for a portfolio it was also betting against. Goldman has denied the allegations.

On Tuesday, seven current and former Goldman Sachs executives, including CEO Lloyd Blankfein, faced a blistering cross-examination from lawmakers about the firm's role in the financial crisis in a hearing that lasted more than ten hours.

"[Goldman Sachs'] conduct brings into question the whole function of Wall Street," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which hosted Tuesday's hearing.

Goldman has been accused by Levin's committee of betting aggressively against the nation's housing market, making as much as $3.7 billion in the process.

Documents released by the committee this week also demonstrated that Goldman may have been engaging in other questionable practices.

Goldman has maintained that it too got hit when the U.S. housing market collapsed, losing some $1.2 billion in 2007 and 2008. It has also rejected charges that it bet against American homeowners or against its own clients.

Rather, the company has maintained it merely was trying to insulate itself from other large bets it made on residential real estate.

"We didn't have a massive short against the housing market and we certainly did not bet against our clients," said Blankfein at the hearing Tuesday.

Fabrice Tourre, the 31-year-old French trader who allegedly helped broker the investment deal that is the subject of the SEC's civil lawsuit, also appeared Tuesday. He said he planned to fight the charges brought by the federal government.

Goldman has placed the London-based Tourre on paid leave indefinitely and stripped him of some of his credentials with British regulators, however.

Shares of Goldman Sachs rose in regular trading Thursday before the reports of the criminal probe, but fell 2.6% in after hours trading. The stock has actually gained ground in each of the past three days, but remains well below where it traded earlier this month.

CNNMoney.com's David Ellis and CNN's Kevin Bohn, Carol Cratty, Rob Frehse and Karina Frayter contributed to this report. To top of page

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