updated 5/26/2004 8:04:55 PM ET 2004-05-27T00:04:55

Treasury Secretary John Snow, a strong advocate for tighter government controls over the biggest players in the nation's mortgage industry, has discovered that he inadvertently owned more than $10 million in debt issued by those government-sponsored enterprises, the Treasury Department said Wednesday.

Snow, who found the entire incident "very regretable," has sold the holdings at a loss of $478,000 even though a Treasury Department ethics officer has ruled there was no conflict of interest, Snow spokesman Robert Nichols said.

Nichols said that the mistake occurred because of a misunderstanding between Snow and his investment adviser.

Snow, who took the Treasury post last year after heading up railroad giant CSX Corp., told his adviser to investment in Treasury bonds to avoid any conflict of interest.

However, the adviser believed he had the power to invest in the bonds of such companies as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks as well as U.S. Treasury bonds. The investor purchased $10.87 million bill of the corporation's bonds for Snow's portfolio without Snow's knowledge.

While Snow has been receiving periodic financial statements over the past year showing that he owned the mortgage company bonds, Nichols said Snow did not bother to open the statements.

The fact that he owned the bonds was only discovered during a routine Treasury Department review of his financial disclosure statement.

Snow immediately ordered that the holdings be sold. A Treasury ehtics officer ruled that Snow's holdings did not constitute a conflict of interest. But Snow has requested that the department's inspector general also look into the case.

"He finds this very regrettable," Nichols told reporters during a briefing late Wednesday. "He is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct and he is upset."

Snow, who led CSX Corp. for 14 years, received $60.8 million in cash, stock and pension money when he resigned to join the Bush Cabinet in February 2003, according to a filing last year CSX made with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Snow used an investment adviser to restructure his portfolio so that there would be no conflict of interest with his holdings and his new job as treasury secretary, Nichols said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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