NEW YORK (Reuters) - The liquidators of two Bear Stearns hedge funds filed a lawsuit on Monday against the three major U.S. rating agencies, accusing them of fraudulently assigning inflated ratings to securities in the run-up to the financial crisis.
The lawsuit seeks to recover damages from Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings in connection with more than $1 billion in losses sustained by the hedge funds.
The complaint, which was filed in New York state court in Manhattan, cites messages and emails by employees of the ratings agencies to help build a case that the agencies misrepresented their independence and objectivity.
"It could be structured by cows and we would rate it," the 141-page lawsuit quotes an S&P employee as messaging a colleague.
Some of the same emails were cited in a civil fraud lawsuit brought by the Justice Department against S&P earlier this year. Fitch and Moody's were not named in that lawsuit.
The latest case was brought by the liquidators of Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies (Overseas) Ltd and Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage (Overseas) Ltd.
All three rating agencies said in statements that the allegations were "without merit."
The liquidators filed a summons in the case in July, after a federal judge in California signaled that he would allow the U.S. Justice Department to pursue its $5 billion lawsuit against S&P.
The losses cited in Monday's lawsuit were tied to funds managed by former Bear Stearns managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin, who were acquitted in 2009 of federal criminal charges that they misled investors. Last year, the men agreed to pay about $1 million to settle a related U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil case.
S&P is owned by McGraw Hill Financial Inc
The case is Varga et al v. McGraw Hill Financial Inc et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 652410/2013.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Andrea Ricci)