Over two dozen bankers at Wall Street investment firms have been listed as co-conspirators in a bid-rigging scheme to pay lower than market interest rates to the federal and state governments over guaranteed investment contracts. The banks named as co-conspirators include JP Morgan Chase & Co, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Bear Stearns Cos., Bank of America Corp, Societe General, Wachovia Corp (bought by Wells Fargo), former Citigroup Inc. unit Salomon Smith Barney, and two General Electric financial businesses.
The investment banks were named in papers filed by the lawyers of a former CDR Financial Products Inc. employee. The attorneys for the advisory firm say that they “inadvertedly” included the list of bankers and individuals and asked the court to strike the exhibit that contains the list. The firms and individuals on the co-conspirators list are not charged with any wrongdoing. However, over a dozen financial firms are contending with securities fraud complaints filed by municipalities claiming conspiracy was involved.
The government says that CDR, a local-government adviser, ran auctions that were scams. This let banks pay lower interests to the local governments. In October, CDR, and executives David Rubin, Evan Zarefsky, and Zevi Wolmark were indicted. They denied any wrongdoing. This year, three other former DCR employees pleaded guilty.
While the original indictments didn’t identify any investment contract sellers that took part in the alleged conspiracy, Providers A and B were accused of paying kickbacks to CDR after winning investment deals that the firm had brokered. The firms were able to do this by allegedly paying sham fees connected to financial transactions involving other companies.
Per the court documents filed in March, the kickbacks were paid out of fees that came out of transactions entered into with Royal Bank of Canada and UBS. The US Justice Department says the kickbacks ranged from $4,500 to $475,000. Financial Security Assurance Holdings Ltd divisions and GE units created the investment contracts that were involved.
Approximately $400 billion in municipal bonds are issued annually. Schools, cities, and states use money they get from the sale of these bonds to buy guaranteed investment contracts. Localities use the contracts to earn a return on some of the funds until they are needed for certain projects. The IRS, which sometimes makes money on the investments, requires that they are awarded on the basis of competitive bidding to make sure that the government gets a fair return.
Related Web Resources:
JPMorgan, Lehman, UBS Named in Bid-Rigging Conspiracy, Business Week, March 26, 2010
U.S. Probe Lays Out Bid Fixing, Bond Buyer, March 29, 2010
Read the letter to District Judge Marrero (PDF)
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