Goldman Sachs Criminal Probe May Allow Use of Powerful New York State Law

The criminal investigation of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has at its disposal a 90-year-old New York law that makes it easier for state prosecutors to bring charges than their federal counterparts.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. subpoenaed Goldman Sachs, the fifth-biggest U.S. bank by assets, for records on its activities leading into the credit crisis, two people familiar with the matter said. Vance may bring charges under the state’s Martin Act, which lawyers call a potent tool for New York prosecutors probing investment frauds, Ponzi schemes and other white-collar crime.

To prove securities fraud in federal court, U.S. prosecutors must show that a defendant intended to defraud victims and that the investors relied on misstatements or omissions. Under the Martin Act, New York prosecutors aren’t required to prove intent, said Michael Perino, a law professor at St. John’s University in New York.

“The reason why New York prosecutors love it so much and Wall Street firms hate it so much is that it is a much, much easier case to bring,” Perino said in an interview. “All a prosecutor has to show under the Martin Act is a material misstatement in connection with a securities offering.”

Vance’s subpoena of New York-based Goldman Sachs related to the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on Wall Street’s role in the collapse of the financial markets, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiry isn’t public.

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