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3 ex-Countrywide execs to plead guilty

June 27, 2007|E. Scott Reckard | Times Staff Writer

Three former Countrywide Financial Corp. executives agreed Tuesday to plead guilty to trading on their inside knowledge that the giant mortgage company's earnings in the third quarter of 2004 would fall well short of expectations.

Meanwhile, the Calabasas-based lender's stock Tuesday fell 96 cents, or 2.6%, to $36.31, a two-month low, on rumors that the FBI had raided its offices as part of an investigation related to sub-prime mortgages.

In a statement, Countrywide denied that a raid had occurred but didn't address the general subject of an investigation.

"Even if there were [such a probe], it's company policy not to comment on anything to do with our regulators," a spokesman said.

In the insider trading case, the former executives -- Alan Cao, 38, of Woodland Hills; Jun Shi, 43, of Moorpark; and Quan Zhu, 43, of Santa Monica -- admitted in plea agreements that they had made tens of thousands of dollars by selling Countrywide shares, including some stock they had borrowed to profit from a price drop in a technique known as short selling, and by buying options giving them the right to sell Countrywide shares.

Countrywide reported Oct. 20, 2004, that its third-quarter profit was 7 cents a share lower than analysts had forecast. The company also cut its earnings forecast. Its stock sank 11.5% that day.

Prosecutors said the illegal profits amounted to $47,668 for Cao, who was Countrywide Financial's vice president of financial planning; $35,547 for Zhu, executive vice president of portfolio risk management; and $19,995 for Shi, first vice president of planning at Countrywide Bank.

Cao and Shi settled a related Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit in March 2006 by returning their earnings plus interest and paying a fine equal to their profit, the SEC said.

In the plea agreements, prosecutors said they would recommend home confinement and probation if pre-sentencing reports turn up no other wrongdoing. No one else is expected to be charged in the case, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Beong-Soo Kim in Los Angeles, the prosecutor in the case.

In a statement about the trading case, Countrywide said it was "committed to the highest ethical standards."

"The company's policies prohibiting illegal insider trading are strictly enforced," Countrywide said.

The company described the three executives as "mid-level managers" and said it had cooperated fully with regulators and prosecutors in the case.

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scott.reckard@latimes.com

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