Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, a Bank of America (BAC) unit will pay Tutor Perini Corp. $37M to settle a securities case accusing the broker-dealer of selling the construction company millions of dollars of auction-rate securities (ARS) without giving it the heads up that the market was likely to experience a “spectacular crash.” Despite settling, neither party is admitting to wrongdoing.
Tutor Perini, which brought its ARS fraud case in 2011, claims that the brokerage firm, then called Banc of America Securities LLC, purposely directed it to buy ARS in 2008 even while knowing that the investments were problematic. By December 2007, the construction company had invested about $196M in ARSs. After the market failed Tutor Perini said that it had no choice but to sell the securities at a huge discount in a secondary market.
A district judge initially granted the broker-dealer summary judgment based on the determination that the construction company did not demonstrate misconduct by the Bank of America unit when the latter sold student loan-backed ARSs. Last year, however, the First Circuit partially reversed that ruling after finding that a jury could potentially determine that at least some of the ARSs bought by the construction company were a result of assessments that proved inaccurate because the broker-dealer did not examine certain key developments. Reviving the lawsuit, the federal appeals court said that dismissing certain Massachusetts state securities fraud claims and federal claims was a mistake.