LOS ANGELES-The US Justice Department filed civil charges against Standard & Poor’s on Monday alleging the credit rating firm gave inaccurate appraisals on mortgage-backed securities that fueled the national recession.

In the first enforcement action brought against a credit rating agency, the government charged that S&P misled investors by stating that its ratings were objective and “uninfluenced by any conflicts of interest.” It said S&P’s desire to make money and gain market share caused S&P to ignore risks posed by the investments between September 2004 and October 2007, according to published reports.

S&P issued a statement saying it expected the lawsuit and denies any culpability. In a statement released prior to the filing of the lawsuit, S&P said that holding financial firms accountable for the crisis “would be entirely without factual or legal merit.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, focuses on S&P’s ratings of mortgage-backed bonds in 2007, the year prior to the defaults of many financial instruments that caused the housing market collapse/

“S&P’s desire for increased revenue and market share … led S&P to downplay and disregard the true extent of the credit risks … in order to favor the interests of large investment banks and others… who selected S&P to provide credit ratings,” the government charged in the lawsuit filed against S&P’s parent, McGraw-Hill Companies. See story in USA Today.