Unsealed Documents in $54.4M FINRA Arbitration Case Reveal that Citigroup Did Not Disclose Municipal Bond Risks to Investors

Last month, a US judge refused Citigroup‘s request to overturn a $54.1M arbitration award that a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel had ordered the financial firm to pay investors Gerald D. Hosier, Jerry Murdock Jr. and Brush Creek Capital. The award was the largest amount ever granted to individuals in a securities arbitration proceeding.

Following Citigroup’s request that a United States district court toss out the award, details from what were confidential proceedings have been unsealed. According to the New York Times, documents viewed by the arbitrators show that on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 signifying the highest risk (usually only assigned to products that potentially carried the risk of an investor losing everything), Citigroup rated these investments as having a 5 rating for risk. Is it no wonder then that investors could and would go on to lose 80% of what they had investments.

The investments, which were municipal arbitrage portfolios, are known as ASTA/MAT. Citigroup Global Markets sold them through MAT Finance LLC.

Per internal e-mails, after the investments began declining in value in early 2008, when Citigroup wealth management head Sallie Krawcheck asked for the MAT’s risk rating,” She was told that it was “3-5.” Also, customers were never told about the 5 rating that their investments were previously given. The Times also reported that during a conference call involving brokers whose clients had sustained losses, the portfolio manager was directed to not discuss internal guidelines, which contained different information than what was in the prospectus that investors had received.

Citigroup eventually would offer to buy back the investments at a discount price but only if investors agreed to not file a securities fraud lawsuit against the financial firm. (Brokers have said they felt pressured by Citigroup to get investors on board with this. For example, a memo with the heading “Fund Rescue Options “noted that if the broker’s client let Citigroup repurchase the instruments, this would not be noted in his/her U-5 regulatory record. If, however, the client chose to sue, then this would appear in the broker’s U-5.)

In their securities fraud case, Claimants accused Citigroup of failure to supervise, fraud, and unsuitability. After the FINRA arbitration panel ordered them to pay the investors, Citigroup argued that panel members had ignored the law and contended that despite verbal statements made to investors, the latter had signed agreements acknowledging that the risk of losing everything was a possibility. Judge Christine Arguello would go on to affirm the FINRA panel’s decision. While the majority of the award was compensation for the claimants’ investment losses, about $17 million was for punitive damages.

Secrets of a Sales Machine, NY Times, January 14, 2012
Citigroup Slammed With $54 Million Award by FINRA Arbitrators in MAT/ASTA Case, Forbes, April 12, 2011

More Blog Posts:
Citigroup Request to Overturn $54.1M Municipal Bond Arbitration Ruling Denied by Judge, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 27, 2011
Citigroup Global Markets Settles for $725,000 FINRA Fine Over Failure to Disclose Conflicts of Interest, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, January 20, 2012
Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Sues Two Saudi Investors in an Attempt to Block Their FINRA Arbitration Claim Over $383M in Losses, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 22, 2012
Throughout the US, Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas LTD LLP represents stockbroker fraud victims in recovering their financial losses.

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