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Articles Posted in Pension Funds

Morgan Stanley (MS) has agreed to a $150M settlement with the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) to resolve claims that it misled investors about the risks involved in mortgage-backed securities, which both pension funds purchased from 2003 to 2007. CalSTRS and CalPERS lost millions of dollars from investing in these MBSs prior to the 2008 financial crisis.

In a news release, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra accused Morgan Stanley of placing profits over the pension funds’ public employees and teachers when the firm didn’t fully disclose the MBSs’ risks. These complex investments package together thousands of mortgage loans, and not all of the loans share the same level of quality.

Mr. Becerra’s office, which conducted a probe into Morgan Stanley’s handling of MBS sales, found that the brokerage firm did not “accurately” portray many of the underlying mortgages’ “true” traits. Meanwhile, the broker-dealer allegedly overstated the quality of certain subprime loans, including those from New Century Financial, which eventually went bankrupt. Morgan Stanley is accused of knowing about these misrepresentations but doing nothing to remedy the matter.

The Puerto Rico Government Employees and Judiciary Retirement Systems Administration, a pension plan for retirees of the U.S. territory’s government, has filed a proposed securities class action in federal court against Bank of America (BAC), Goldman Sachs (GS), Citigroup (C), Barclays Capital, Inc. (BARC), BNP Paribas Securities Corp., Bank of America Securities, Credit Suisse Securities, FTN Financial Securities, Deutsche Bank Securities, JP Morgan Securities, Morgan Stanley (MS), Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, and UBS Securities. The retirement fund is accusing the defendants of rigging bond prices to keep the prices up on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bonds.

Freddie and Fannie, both U.S. government-sponsored entities (GSEs), offer bonds to raise money for loans. According to the Puerto Rico pension plan’s bond fraud case, the trading desks of the various banks worked together to artificially raise the prices of the GSE bonds when the market took a hit after the 2008 financial crisis and Fannie and Freddie started reducing the number of bonds issued for sale. This decrease led to a loss in profits for those underwriting and trading in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds. The plaintiff contends that instead of the banks opting to lower the difference between their purchasing and selling prices and competing for clients, they worked together to fix the bond prices so they could “maximize” their profits at the expense of customers.

The Puerto Rico retirement plan’s complaint comes weeks after another proposed class action was brought by two other pension funds also accusing banks of rigging the price of GSE bonds. The pension fund plaintiffs in that fraud case are the Trust and Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 19 Pension Fund and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Employees’ Defined Benefit Retirement Plan. The defendants are Bank of America NA, Barclays Capital, Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., BNP Paribas Securities Corp., Deutsche Bank Securities, JPMorgan Securities, HSBS Bank Plc, HSBC Securities, JP Morgan Chase Bank, TD Securities, Nomura Securities International Inc., and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.

$20M Ponzi Scam Results in Guilty Plea for Kiddar Capital Founder

Todd Hitt, Kiddar Capital’s founder and a member of a prominent commercial real estate family in Virginia, has pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges accusing him of operating a $20M Ponzi fraud that involved several schemes. According to prosecutors, Hitt solicited about $30M from investors and then proceeded to use most of the money to fund his lavish lifestyle while using newer investors’ funds to pay older investors. He also allegedly made “false statements and material omissions” to investors when he didn’t tell them that their money was comingled with unrelated projects and not just the real estate and venture capital investments for which their funds were supposedly designated.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia contends that because of Hitt’s “fraudulent conduct,” investors lost about $20M. He is facing up to 20 years behind bars and is expected to pay a fine of millions of dollars. He previously settled related civil fraud charges filed against him by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investors Alleging Negligence and Mishandling of Their Retirement Funds Win FINRA Case

A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) panel arbitration is ordering First Allied Securities and financial adviser Larry Glenn Boggs to pay claimants and early retirees Nita and Mike Snow over $578K in compensatory damages, $500,000 in punitive damages, $350K in attorney’s fees, and $60K in other costs related to losses they sustained. Boggs had worked with the Snows on their early retirement plan, which included investing in the Sun America Life-issued variable annuity the Polaris Advantage II and other investments.

In their securities arbitration claim, the Snows sought compensation from Boggs, First Allied Securities, First Allied Advisory Securities, and American Retirement Solutions of Louisiana, LLC. All of them denied wrongdoing.


ICFBCFS and Chardan Capital Markets Accused of Anti-Money Laundering

FINRA has fined the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Financial Services LLC (ICBCFS) $5.3M for “systemic anti-money laundering compliance failures.”  The self-regulatory organization contends that when clearing and settling the liquidation of over 33 billion penny stock shares between 1/2013 and 9/2015, the firm did not have in place an anti-money laundering program that was reasonable enough to identify and report possibly suspect transactions, especially when penny stocks were involved.  ICBCFS is settling the case without denying or admitting to the self-regulatory authority’s findings. It has, however, consented to an entry of the findings.

ICBCFS also agreed to pay an $860K penalty to settle a US Securities and Exchange Commission case alleging anti-money laundering violations and the failure to report billions of suspect penny stock sales.

According to Reuters, Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (RBS) has settled a mortgage-backed securities fraud case brought by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) for $125M. The settlement resolves claims alleging that the bank made misrepresentations when selling MBSs to the pension funds, which contend that they sustained millions of dollars in losses as a result.

According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a probe by his office determined that the descriptions the firm provided to investors “failed to accurately disclose the true characteristics” of many of the mortgages backing the securities, but that RBS, which knew about the alleged misrepresentations, did nothing to remedy them. The state AG’s investigation also found that RBS did not conduct the necessary due diligence to eliminate the loans that were of “poor quality.” Becerra contends that RBS purposely misled CalPERS and CalSTRS to enrich itself. He noted that the MBS fraud settlement gives back the money to the pension funds that the bank “wrongfully took” from them.

Already, The California AG’s office has gotten back more than $1B over securities that were sold to the state’s public pension funds, which sustained losses during the economic crisis of 2008. Last year, $150M was recovered from Moody’s, the credit rating agency. In 2015, $210M was recovered from another credit rating agency, Standard & Poor’s. Other banks to have settled include Citigroup (C) for $102M, Bank of America for $300M and J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) for $300M.

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In South Dakota federal court, a number of public employee retirement funds are suing US Bank NA (USB) for not identifying certain “red flags” as the signs of a tribal bond fraud. The plaintiffs say they lost $25M in the offering scam and they believe that the bank decided to ignore the warnings that something was amiss.

The plaintiffs in the tribal bond fraud lawsuit include the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission Employees’ Retirement Plan, which invested $4.1M, the Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham, which invested $4.3M, and the Omaha School Employees’ Retirement System affiliates, which invested $16.2M. According to the pension funds, their investment advisers were bought by fraudsters who put their money in bonds that a Native American tribe had issued.

US Bank served as the tribal bond offerings’ indenture trustee. This meant that it was the bondholder and handled the funds. The plaintiffs want damages for a number of violations, including negligence and breach of contract.
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In the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, preliminary settlements have been submitted in which Deutsche Bank (DB) will pay $48.5M and Bank of America (BAC) will pay $17M to resolve investor lawsuits accusing them of manipulating the agency bond market for years. A judge must still approve the settlements.

Despite settling, both banks maintain they did not engage in any wrongdoing. The lead plaintiff investors include the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Plan of Northern California and the Iron Workers Pension Plan of Western Pennsylvania, and KBC Asset Management NV.

According to court papers and as reported by Reuters, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank are two of the 10 banks accused of rigging the $9 trillion agency bond market for supranational, sub-sovereign and agency bonds, also known as SSA bonds. The plaintiffs contend that from 2005 to 2015 the banks shared price information with one another, worked as a “super-desk” together, and allowed traders to coordinate strategies in the name of profit. Meantime, customers had to accept bond prices that were unfair to them.

Deborah Kelley, an ex-Sterne Agee managing director and broker, has pleaded guilty to honest-services wire fraud and securities fraud. Kelley, admitted that she gave perks to former NY state pension fund manager Navnoor Kang in return for him directing trading business toward her firm. She could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. A second broker, Gregg Schonhorn, has already pleaded guilty to related criminal charges against him.

Kang, who was the portfolio manager of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, is accused of awarding the two brokers’ firms over $2B of business in return for drugs, strippers, vacations, and lavish jewelry.

As a result, contend prosecutors, the retirement fund’s domestic bond transactions to her firm went from $0 at the end of March 2014 to $179M in 2016. FTN Financial, which is where Schonhorn worked, ended up garnering $2.3B of business from working with the NY pension fund. The two brokers were paid 35-40% of the millions of dollars of commissions made by their brokerage firms.

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Voya Accused of Not Disclosing Revenue Received for Mutual Fund Sales
The US Securities and Exchange Commission said that Voya Financial Advisors (VOYA) would pay approximately $3.1M to regulators and investors for not telling customers about revenue the firm was paid related to a mutual fund program that didn’t bill transaction fees. Voya’s clearing broker-dealer paid the firm a percentage of the money made from the mutual fund sales. This was information that should have been shared with investors.

Also, since 2014, Voya and the third-party brokerage firm were involved in a separate agreement under which Voya provided certain administrative services in return for a percentage of service fees involving certain mutual funds. The regulator said that these payments were a conflict because they gave Voya incentive to preference these funds over other investments, which could have impacted what the firm recommended to advisory clients. As part of the settlement, Voya will pay about $2.6M of disgorgement, approximately $175K of interest, and a $300K penalty. The firm is not, however, denying or admitting to the SEC’s findings.

Fired Waddell & Reed Broker is Barred from the Securities Industry
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred an ex-Waddell & Reed Inc. broker from the industry. Paul D. Stanley was fired from the firm last year for allegedly violating its policies regarding supervision, compensation, and conduct.

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