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Senators cleared in Countrywide ethics probe

Sens. Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad, who were in the lender's VIP program, 'should have exercised more vigilance' to avoid the appearance of preferential treatment, Ethics Committee says.

August 08, 2009|Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Two U.S. senators who received "VIP" mortgages from Countrywide Financial Corp. have been cleared of ethics violations, the Senate Ethics Committee said Friday.

The committee said it found "no substantial credible evidence" that Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) had broken Senate ethics rules, concluding a yearlong investigation.

The senators had been accused of accepting improper discounts by refinancing their homes through Countrywide's informal "Friends of Angelo" program, named for former Chief Executive Angelo R. Mozilo.

In two separate letters issued Friday, the panel said Dodd, who is the Senate Banking Committee chairman, and Conrad "should have exercised more vigilance in your dealings with Countrywide in order to avoid the appearance that you were receiving preferential treatment based on your status as a senator."

The committee, made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, found that the VIP loans the two received had also been made available to borrowers with similar financial profiles and who had never met or befriended Mozilo.

Throughout the investigation, both senators maintained that they didn't think they were getting any special treatment through the refinancing process.

Dodd has said he knew he was in a VIP program but thought it included better customer service -- not special mortgage deals.

"I hope that today's dismissal will go a long way towards restoring the bond of trust and confidence that I've worked long and hard to build with the people of our state," Dodd said in a statement.

Conrad said he was under the same impression, thinking the VIP loan status was "merely an employee and customer relations effort," according to the Senate committee.

Conrad issued a statement Friday on the panel's findings, saying they confirmed "what I have said all along."

"I did not ask for or receive any preferential pricing on my loans. . . . The committee has concluded I did nothing unethical, and that is the truth," Conrad said.

The committee heard testimony and investigated about 18,000 pages of documents from Countrywide to reach its conclusions.

The investigation came after a June 13, 2008, complaint from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington accusing the two senators of violating Senate restrictions on accepting gifts.

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nathan.olivarezgiles@ latimes.com

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