The Securities and Exchange Commission is studying possible fraud charges against the billionaire Hunts of Texas for their part in the collapse of the silver market last year, the SEC disclosed for the first time in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Dallas.

He Hunts on Monday got a temporary restraining order from Judge Robert W. Porter of the Dallas court blocking an SEC investigation of the family's usually-secret finances.

The court order delays for at least 10 days an expected confrontation between SEC investigators and Nelson Bunker Hunt, who had subpoened for three days of questioning starting today.

Bunker Hunt, his brother William Herbert and Lamar and three of their children sued the SEC and obtained the injunction after a Monday afternoon hearing. The SEC now is trying to get the temporary order lifted and is expected to go back to court next week.

In court documents filed in the case, the securities regulatory agency has spelled out in greater detail than ever before the direction of its year-long investigation of the Hunts and their relationship with a group of three dozen banks, brokerage houses and precious-metals dealers.

As the SEC has disclosed previously, "The principal focus of the investigation was the extent to which the Hunt's activities had jeopardized the financial condition of broker-dealers and public companies," the SEC documents say.

The government also is investigating whether the Hunts "employed devices, schemes or artifices to defraud" brokers, banks and other companies, the SEC documents revealed for the first time.

Specifically, the SEC said it is studying "whether the Hunts or any other person have violated the antifraud or reporting provisions" of federal securities laws "by making false or misleading statements concerning the ability and intent [of the Hunts] to meet present and future financial obligations.'"

SEC attorneys have questioned at length executives of Hunt-owned corporations to try to determine how the finances of family members were handled. They have been asking questions about transfers of funds among various Hunt-controlled corporations and members of the family.

The government investigators believe that "the Hunts may have funeled the proceeds of large loans nominally unrelated to silver into the silver-trading activities of various members of the Hunt family," the SEC filing discloses.

In subpoenas demanding Hunt records, the SEC identified 30 financial institutions in the United States, Canada and Europe that are believed to have dealt with the Hunts.

While silver prices were rising, the Hunts apparently borrowed funds to buy additional silver, putting up their original holdings as collateral.

When silver prices suddenly collapsed and plunged back to $10, lenders found themselves holding collateral that was worth only a fraction of amounts they had loaned against it.

As a result of their dealings with the Hunts, several brokers "may have been placed in financial jeopardy," the SEC notes. "The material facts surrounding these events may not have been fully disclosed to investors and the general public at the time and may not have been adequately disclosed even to this day," SEC attorneys said.