The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against hedge fund manager Walter A. Morales and his Baton Rouge-based firm Commonwealth Advisors with allegedly defrauding investors by concealing the millions of dollars in losses sustained from investments linked to residential mortgage-backed securities during the economic crisis. The SEC wants a jury trial and it is seeking permanent enjoinment, penalties, disgorgement, and prejudgment interest.
According to the Commission’s RMBS lawsuit, Morales and his financial firm caused the hedge funds that they oversaw to purchase Collybus, which were the most risky and lowest tranches of a collateralized debt obligation. They then sold MBS into the CDO at prices they had received four months prior while being fully aware that during this time the RMBS market had declined. As the CDO investments continued to not do well, Morales allegedly told firm employees to engage in cross-trades by conducting manipulative trades with the hedge funds they advised so that a $32 million loss sustained by one of the funds in the Collybus investment could be hidden. Morales and his firm then allegedly lied to investors, which included individuals and pension funds, about the worth and quantity of the mortgage-backed assets in the funds and created bogus internal documents so that their false valuations could be justified.
Also, even though Morales and Commonwealth likely knew that the losses would continue for some time, the SEC contends that the two of them conducted over 150 cross-trades between two hedge funds they provided advice to and another one of their hedge funds at prices under Commonwealth’s valuation for those securities in June 2008. After the trades were made, Morales is said to have instructed an employee to designate the securities as having fair market value, creating a $19 million gain for the acquiring hedge fund that was fraudulent and at cost to the funds that were sold. The cross-trades were conducted even though Morales had represented that it would not make such trades.
The SEC also claims Morales deceived a prime brokers by representing the transactions as legitimate and at current market prices, as well as its largest investor by misrepresenting the latter’s exposure to the CDO. Although he had promised that the investor’s exposure to Collybus would be limited, by the middle of 2008 its exposure was almost double. Morales also allegedly made up false minutes after the investor found out that Commonwealth was not going along with its valuation procedures that it had stated.
Read the SEC Complaint (PDF)
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If you suffered RMBS losses and you believe it was because your financial representative mishandled your account, please contact our securities fraud law firm to request a free case evaluation.