August 21, 2013

Attorney Generals Want Securities Cases Against Standard Poor’s To Go Back to State Courts

The attorneys general of Washington, Arizona, South Carolina, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Carolina, Delaware, Missouri, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, Indiana, Tennessee, and Iowa want their securities cases against Standard & Poor’s Rating Services and its parent company The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. sent back to their state courts. They contend that the cases don’t have federal jurisdiction.

The AGs submitted their consolidated brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. They say that the states’ respective complaints are exclusively state law action causes and the credit rating agency can’t use affirmative defenses to put together federal jurisdiction.

It was the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation that moved the 15 state securities lawsuits against Standard & Poor’s to New York’s federal court. Panel chairman Judge Kathryn Vratil, who presides over the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, said that they had determined that the “actions involve common question of fact” and centralizing them would be more convenient and expedient for everyone involved. One common “question of fact” was over whether the credit rater “intentionally misrepresented” that its structured finance securities analysis was unbiased, autonomous, and not impacted by its business ties with securities issuers.

The states, however, believe that transferring the cases to NY, where S & P is located, would be an inconvenience to them, and considering that there has been “cooperation” among AGs, this was not necessary. The AGs believe that comity principals are in favor of the federal court turning down jurisdiction and remanding the securities cases to the state courts.

The majority of the lawsuits were filed on the same day that the US Justice Department filed its own complaint against S & P. The government claims that the credit rating giant inflated the ratings of mortgage investments to “defraud” investors and this contributed to the securities’ failing. The DOJ is accusing S & P of making misrepresentations about the objectivity and independence of these ratings.

Last month, a judge declined to throw out the DOJ’s securities fraud case accusing S & P of submitting a defense that was “puffery.” The company had argued that issuers, investors, legislators, and regulators should not have depended on public statements it made about procedures for offering unbiased credit ratings that were supposedly based on data and free from conflicts of interest.

S & P and other credit raters, such as Moody, have been contending with a number of credit rating fraud lawsuits related to the ratings they issued going back to the financial crisis. Claiming that the agencies concealed risks involved and inflated the ratings, investors want the losses they sustained back. Questions continue to be raised over whether the credit raters put their business interests over investors’ best interests.

AGs urge federal judge to return cases against Standard & Poor’s to state courts, Legal News Online, August 19, 2013

Lawsuits Against S.& P. Sent to One Court, The New York Times, June 6, 2013

More Blog Posts:
US Justice Department Sues Standard and Poor's Over Allegedly Fraudulent Ratings of Collateralized Debt Obligations, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 5, 2013

Liquidators of Bear Stearns Hedge Funds Sue S & P, Moody’s and Fitch for $1.12B, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 6, 2013

Mandatory Securities Arbitration vs. Court? The Debate Rages Past the Quarter-Century Mark, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 4, 2013

August 6, 2013

Liquidators of Bear Stearns Hedge Funds Sue S & P, Moody’s and Fitch for $1.12B

Liquidators are suing Moody’s Investors Service (MCO), Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings over their issuing of allegedly fraudulent and inflated ratings for the securities belonging to two offshore Bear Stearns (BSC) hedge funds. The plaintiffs are seeking $1.12 billion.

The credit raters are accused of misrepresenting their autonomy, the timeliness of their residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) ratings, and the quality of their models. Because of the purportedly tainted ratings for securities that were supposedly “high-grade,” the funds lost $1.12B.

The funds, which were operated by Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi, failed in 2007. The US government later pursued the two men for securities fraud, but they were acquitted. They did, however, settle an SEC securities case over related allegations last year.

Just recently, a US district judge decided that the US Justice Department’s $5 billion securities fraud lawsuit against S & P could proceed. The government is accusing the credit rating agency of misrepresenting its ratings process as independent and free from influence when actually the impetus to make banks and its other clients happy got in the way of its objectivity. This supposedly caused S & P to put out AAA ratings for poor quality mortgage packages between ’04 and ’07, causing federally issued banks and credit unions to sustain huge losses.

If you think that you suffered investment losses because credit rating agencies misrepresented certain securities by giving them higher ratings than they merited, you may have reason to file a CDO lawsuit or an RMBS securities complaint. The SSEK Partners Group represents institutional investors that sustained losses because others in the securities industry were negligent or careless or committed financial fraud.

The funds involved in the liquidators' lawsuit:

• Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage (Overseas) Ltd.
• Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies (Overseas)

Liquidators of failed Bear Stearns funds sue rating agencies, Reuters, July 10, 2013

Bear Stearns Fund Liquidators Sue Credit-Rating Firms, Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2013


More Blog Posts:

DOJ’s $5B Securities Lawsuit Against Standard & Poor’s Can Proceed, Says Judge, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 22, 2013
Texas Money Manager Sued by SEC and CFTC Over Alleged Forex Trading Scam, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 6, 2013

GAO Wants SEC to Look At Other Criteria for Who Qualifies As An Accredited Investor, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 31, 2013

July 22, 2013

DOJ’s $5B Securities Lawsuit Against Standard & Poor’s Can Proceed, Says Judge

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter for the Central District of California has turned down Standard & Poor’s bid to have the Justice Department’s $5 billion securities lawsuit against it dismissed. This affirms Carter’s recent tentative ruling earlier on the matter.

S & P is the largest credit rating agency in the world. It is a McGraw Hill Financial Inc. unit.

According to the US government, the credit rater fraudulently misrepresented its ratings process as objective and independent when it was, in fact, stymied from issuing ratings because of its desire to please banks and other clients. Instead, between 2004 and 2007, S & P purportedly issued AAA ratings to certain poor quality mortgage packages, including residential mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and subprime mortgage-backed securities. Now, prosecutors want to recover the losses that credit unions and federally insured banks allegedly suffered because of these inaccurate ratings that it contends upped investor demand for the instruments until the prices soared and the market collapsed, contributing to the global economic meltdown that followed.

S & P contends that it did not cause the financial crisis. It claims that just like the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, and other market participants, the credit rater could not have foreseen the market events that went on to happen in 2008.

Seeking to have the securities case dismissed, S & P argued that its public statements about its objectivity and autonomy that prosecutors identified as purportedly fraudulent misrepresentations, including official policy statements about rating deals and employee conduct codes, are in actuality “puffery” statements that investors were not supposed to take at face value. S & P lawyers said that because of this, the government couldn’t use these statements as grounds for its securities fraud case.

Now, Judge Carter is saying that he finds S & P’s “puffery” defense “deeply… troubling,” especially in light of the implications. He observed that with this defense, S & P is implying that investors, legislators, and regulators shouldn’t have taken seriously any of the public statements the credit rater made about either supposed data-based, unbiased credit ratings or its agency procedures.

As in his earlier, tentative ruling, Carter said that contrary to defendants’ protestations, his court cannot see how all the “must nots” and “shalls” used by S & P in its statements was merely the company’s way to aspire about vague objectives. Rather, he sees these statements as “specific assertions” about polices and they contrast conduct the government is accusing S & P of committing.

Meantime, S & P is battling more than a dozen CDO lawsuits filed by state prosecutors who are accusing the credit rating agency of the same alleged fraud.

Please contact our CDO lawyers at Shepherd Smith Edwards and Kantas, LLP if you believe your losses are due to securities fraud. Your initial case consultation with The SSEK Partners Group is free.

U.S. Federal Judge Calls S&P Defense Troubling, NASDAQ, July 17, 2013

Judge lets U.S. pursue $5-billion fraud lawsuit against S&P, Reuters, July 17, 2013


More Blog Posts:
District Judge Not Inclined to Toss $5B Securities Fraud Case Against Standard & Poor’s, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 4, 2013

Standard & Poor’s Seeks Dismissal of DOJ Securities Fraud Lawsuit Over RMBS and CDO Ratings Issued During the Financial Crisis, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 9, 2013

US Justice Department Sues Standard and Poor's Over Allegedly Fraudulent Ratings of Collateralized Debt Obligations, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 5, 2013

July 4, 2013

District Judge Not Inclined to Toss $5B Securities Fraud Case Against Standard & Poor’s

A U.S. district judge in California has put out a tentative decision in the $5B fraud lawsuit against Standard & Poor’s indicating that he will likely reject a motion to dismiss the civil case against the credit rating agency. Judge David Carter said he needs more time to come up with his final ruling, which is expected on July 15, but for now, he is turning down S & P’s request to toss out the case outright.

Federal prosecutors sued S & P contending that the credit rater chose not to alert investors that the housing market was failing in ‘06 and inflated high-risk mortgage investments’ ratings. The Obama Administration said the ratings agency did not act fast enough to put downgrade a large number of subprime-backed securities despite realizing that home prices were dropping and borrowers were finding it hard to pay back loans. Instead, collateralized debt obligations and mortgage-backed securities continued to receive elevated ratings from the top credit rating agencies, allowing banks to sell trillions of these investments.

Contending that the credit rater committed fraud by making false claims that its ratings were objective, the US Department of Justice wants S & P to pay $5 billion in penalties, The government believes that between 9/04 and 10/07, S & P delayed updating both its ratings criteria and analytical models, which means the requirements were weaker than what analysts say should have been necessary to ensure their accuracy. During this time, S & P credit rated about $1.2 trillion in structured products related to $2.8 trillion worth of mortgage securities and charged up to $750 per rated deal. The government says that this means that S & P saw the investment banks that put out the securities as its primary customers.

Now, S & P wants the MBS case thrown out, contending that the lawsuit is too broad and doesn’t offer enough specific examples of the alleged fraud. The credit rating agency maintains that the statements federal prosecutors say are the allegedly fraudulent misrepresentations are ones that investors were not supposed to take at face value and, therefore, they cannot be grounds for the securities fraud case.

Also, S & P’s legal defense says that just like other market participants, including the US Treasury, the credit rating agency did not have the ability to predict how severe the ensuing “catastrophic meltdown” would be and, if anything, this showed a “lack of prescience” rather than fraud.

However, Judge Carter in his tentative ruling, did say that S & P’s statements in employee conduct codes and official policy statements about its standards and processes for ratings deals aren’t just “mere aspirational musings,” but instead are “specific assertions of policies… in stark contrast” to conduct that the government is alleging occurred.

Please contact The SSEK Partners Group and ask for your free, no obligation case assessment with one of our experienced securities lawyers today.

Ruling Undermines S&P's Defense in U.S. Lawsuit, The Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2013

Judge unlikely to dismiss suit against S&P, The Tribune, July 8, 2013

U.S. government slams S&P with $5 billion fraud lawsuit, Reuters, February 5, 2013


More Blog Posts:

US Justice Department Sues Standard and Poor's Over Allegedly Fraudulent Ratings of Collateralized Debt Obligations, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 5, 2013

Standard & Poor’s Seeks Dismissal of DOJ Securities Fraud Lawsuit Over RMBS and CDO Ratings Issued During the Financial Crisis, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 9, 2013

Standard & Poor’s Misled Investors By Giving Synthetic Derivatives Its Highest Ratings, Rules Australian Federal Court, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 8, 2012

May 9, 2013

Standard & Poor’s Seeks Dismissal of DOJ Securities Fraud Lawsuit Over RMBS and CDO Ratings Issued During the Financial Crisis

In the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC is asking for the dismissal of a US Department of Justice securities fraud lawsuit accusing the ratings firm of knowing that it was issuing faulty ratings to collateralized debt obligations and residential mortgage-backed securities during the financial crisis. S & P is contending that the claims are against judicial precedent and don’t establish wrongdoing.

The government sued the credit rating giant and its parent company McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. (MHP) earlier this year. It claims that S & P took part in a scheme to bilk investors by wrongly representing that its ratings for collateralized debt obligations and residential mortgage backed securities were independent and objective, purposely giving artificially high ratings to specific securities, and ignoring the risks involved. Submitted under the 1989 Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, this is the first federal legal action filed against a rating agency related to the economic crisis.

Now, however, S & P is arguing that the DOJ’s RMBS lawsuit does not succeed in alleging fraud. The credit rater says that it shouldn’t be blamed for not having been able to foresee the financial crisis of 2008.

S & P believes that the statements prosecutors rely upon in their case are not actionable, seeing as other courts have struck down similar challenges in past federal cases. The credit rating agency cited the example of Boca Raton Firefighters and Police Pension Fund v. Bahas, in which U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision affirmed the tossing out of a pension fund’s securities case against S & P after finding that statements about the “credibility and objectivity” of the agency’s ratings were the type of “puffery” that previously was not considered actionable.

Also, S & P claims the allegations it misled investors about its ratings’ objectivity and accuracy don’t succeed in this CDO lawsuit. Rather, they demonstrate that during what proved to be the start of an economic meltdown, there was debate within the agency about how complex financial instruments might fare moving forward.

Read the Complaint (PDF)

Boca Raton Firefighters and Police Pension Fund v. Bahash


More Blog Posts:
US Justice Department Sues Standard and Poor's Over Allegedly Fraudulent Ratings of Collateralized Debt Obligations, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 5, 2013

Standard & Poor’s Misled Investors By Giving Synthetic Derivatives Its Highest Ratings, Rules Australian Federal Court, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 8, 2012

April 24, 2013

Standard Poors Wants DOJ’s Mortgage Debt Lawsuit Against It Tossed

Standard Poors is asking a judge to dismiss the US Justice Department’s securities lawsuit against it. The government claims that the largest ratings agency defrauded investors when it put out excellent ratings for some poor quality complex mortgage packages, including collateralized debt obligations, residential mortgage-backed securities, and subprime mortgage-backed securities, between 2004 and 2007. The ratings agency, however, claims that the DOJ has no case.

Per the government’s securities complaint, financial institutions lost over $5 billion on 33 CDOs because they trusted S & P’s ratings and invested in the complex debt instruments. The DOJ believes that the credit rater issued its inaccurate ratings on purpose, raising investor demand and prices until the latter crashed, triggering the global economic crisis. It argues that certain ratings were inflated based on conflicts of interest that involved making the banks that packaged the mortgage securities happy as opposed to issuing independent, objective ratings that investors could rely on.

Now, S & P is claiming that the government’s lawsuit overreaches in targeting it and fails to show that the credit rater knew what the more accurate ratings should have been, which it contends would be necessary for there to be grounds for this CDO lawsuit. In a brief submitted to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles, S & P’s lawyers argue that there is no way that their client, the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, or other market participants could have predicted how severe the financial meltdown would be.

S & P is also fighting over a dozen other CDO lawsuits filed by state attorneys general that make similar securities fraud allegations. The states are generally invoking their consumer-protection statutes, which carry a lower burden of proof, and the credit rating agency is seeking to have their securities lawsuits moved to federal court.

S.&P. Seeks Dismissal of U.S. Civil Suit Over Rating of Mortgage Debt, NY Times, April 22, 2013

U.S. Sues S&P Over Ratings, The Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2013


More Blog Posts:

US Justice Department Sues Standard and Poor's Over Allegedly Fraudulent Ratings of Collateralized Debt Obligations, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, February 5, 2013

Standard & Poor’s Misled Investors By Giving Synthetic Derivatives Its Highest Ratings, Rules Australian Federal Court, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, November 8, 2012

November 8, 2012

Standard & Poor’s Misled Investors By Giving Synthetic Derivatives Its Highest Ratings, Rules Australian Federal Court

A ruling by the Australian Federal Court against Standard & Poor’s could give 13 NSW councils about A$30M in compensation for their about A$16M in synthetic derivative losses. According to the court, the ratings firm misled investors by giving its highest ratings to complex investment instruments that ended up failing during the worldwide economic crisis. The councils can now claim compensation from S & P and co-defendants Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)- owned ABN Amro Bank and the Local Government Financial Services, Ltd. The three had sold the councils constant proportion debt obligation notes, promoted as Rembrandt notes, six years ago.

Specifically to this case, Australian Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot said that Standard & Poor’s took part in conduct that was “deceptive” when it gave AAA ratings to constant proportion debt obligations that were created by ABN Amro Bank NV. The Australian townships were among those that invested what amounted to trillions of dollars in the CPDOs, as well as in collateralized debt obligations.

The projected A$30M in compensation includes not just councils’ losses, but also interest and costs. The councils are also entitled to receive compensation for breach of fiduciary duty from LGFS, which succeeded in its own claim against Standard and Poor’s and ABN Amro for Rembrandt notes that it sold to its parent company after the notes were downgraded from their triple-A rating to triple-B+.

This ruling, issued on Monday, is considered a landmark one in that it is the first judgment to be issued against a ratings firm since the worldwide financial crisis over the way it rated complex securities. The decline of synthetic derivatives during the economic collapse played a huge role in the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The decision could be an opening for similar cases elsewhere around the globe.

Yesterday, back in the United States, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan won a ruling in circuit court allowing her to move forward with litigation against Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. She is also accusing the rating firm of misleading investors while the economic meltdown was happening. Madigan claims that S & P sought to favor banker clients and up profits through the assignation to MBS of its highest ratings. The securities later failed. Madigan said that this ruling was key in that it was the first obstacle to pursuing the case and it has now been overcome. She said that this is a statement that S & P isn’t going to be able to use legal measures to escape the “fact that they committed fraud.”

For years, rating firms have overcome lawsuits in the US by claiming that the ratings they issue are opinions and have First Amendment protection. This Illinois lawsuit, however, appears to get around this by concentrating not on the actual ratings but on public statements S & P made about how its ratings process is autonomous and objective. Circuit Court Judge Mary Anne Mason said that First Amendment protections aren’t applicable to this case, because constitutions, both state and federal, don’t protect practices that are “false, misleading, or deceptive.”

A Casino Strategy, Rated AAA, The New York Times, November 8, 2012

Illinois Clears Legal Hurdle in Suit Against S&P, The Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2012


More Blog Posts:

Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s Were Exercising Their 1st Amendment Rights When They Gave Inaccurate Subprime Ratings to SIVs, Says Court, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, December 30, 2010

Standard & Poors Receives SEC Wells Notice Over CDO Rating, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 30, 2011

Make Credit Rating Agencies Collectively Liable for Inaccuracies, Proposes Lawmaker, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 7, 2009

August 23, 2012

2nd Circuit Affirms Dismissal of $18.5M Auction-Rate Securities Lawsuit Against Merrill Lynch Filed by Anschutz Corp.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s ruling to dismiss the ARS lawsuit filed against Merrill Lynch (MER), Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner, and Smith Inc. ( MLPF&S), Moody’s Investor Services (MCO), and the McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. (MHP). Pursuant to state and federal law, plaintiff Anschutz Corp., which was left with $18.95 million of illiquid auction-rate securities when the market failed, had brought claims alleging market manipulation, negligent misrepresentation, and control person liability. The case is Anschutz Corp. v. Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.

According to the court, Merrill Lynch underwrote a number of the Anchorage Finance ARS and Dutch Harbor ARS offerings in which Anschutz Corp. invested. To keep auction failures from happening, Merrill was also involved as a seller and buyer in the ARS auctions and had its own account. Placing these support bids in both ARS auctions allowed Merrill to make sure that they would clear regardless of the orders placed by others. The financial firm is said to have been aware that the ARS demand was not enough to “feed the auctions” unless it too made bids and that its clients did not know of the full extent of these practices.

Per its securities complaint, Anschutz contends that the description of Merrill’s ARS practices, which were published on the financial firm’s website beginning in 2006, were misleading, untrue, and “inadequate.” The plaintiff accused the credit rating agency defendants of giving the ARS offerings ratings that also were misleading and false and should have been lowered (at the latest) in early 2007 when Merrill knew or should have known that the ratings they did receive were unwarranted.

Last year, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the ARS lawsuit, concluding that Merrill’s disclosures on its Web site had been “sufficient” to make Anschutz aware of Merrill’s ARS “support bidding practices.” In regards to the claims against the credit rating agency, the court found that the plaintiff did not succeed in alleging that there was any actionable misstatement under California or New York law because the challenged ratings were only “statements of opinion.”

Now, in affirming the district court’s decision to dismiss the ARS lawsuit, the appeals court has found that the “generalized and conclusory allegations” made by the plaintiff are not enough to plead that a violation of securities law occurred. The 2nd Circuit also affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the California statutory claims against Merrill on the basis that Anschutz did not allege that the harm it suffered occurred in that state or that the financial firm committed any behavior there that was relevant.

As for the claims against the credit ratings agency, the appeals court held that the plaintiff did not have any alleged contact or relationship with the defendants that would “remotely” meet the standard under New York law, which mandates that to make a negligent misrepresentation claim a plaintiff has to allege that because of “a special relationship” it was the defendant’s duty to provide the correct information.

If your losses are a result of a failed ARS and you believe that misconduct or negligence on the part of a financial firm or one of its advisers was a factor, please contact one of our auction-rate securities lawyers today.

Anschutz Corp. v. Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.


More Blog Posts:

Raymond James Settles Auction-Rate Securities Case with Indiana Securities Division for $31M, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 27, 2011

The 11th Circuit Revives SEC Fraud Lawsuit Against Morgan Keegan Over Auction-Rate Securities, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 8, 2012

Securities Fraud Lawsuit Against UBS Securities LLC by Detroit Pension Funds Won’t Be Remanded to State Court, Says District Court, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, January 17, 2011

July 12, 2012

Institutional Investor Roundup: Evergreen Ultra Short Investor Lawsuit Settled for $25M, FINRA Launches Pilot Program for Huge Claims, Ex-AmeriFirst Funding Manager’s Conviction Appeal is Rejected, & EU Regulator Examines Credit Raters’ Bank Downgrade

Evergreen Investment Management Co. LLC and related entities have consented to pay $25 million to settle a class action securities settlement involving plaintiff investors who contend that the Evergreen Ultra Short Opportunities Fund was improperly marketed and sold to them. The plaintiffs, which include five institutional investors, claim that between 2005 and 2008 the defendants presented the fund as “stable” and providing income in line with “preservation of capital and low principal fluctuation” when actually it was invested in highly risky, volatile, and speculative securities, including mortgage-backed securities. Evergreen is Wachovia’s investment management business and part of Wells Fargo (WFC).

The plaintiffs claim that even after the MBS market started to fail, the Ultra Short Fund continued to invest in these securities, while hiding the portfolio’s decreasing value by artificially inflating the individual securities’ asset value in its portfolio. They say that they sustained significant losses when Evergreen liquidated the Ultra Short Fund four years ago after the defendants’ alleged scam collapsed. By settling, however, no one is agreeing to or denying any wrongdoing.

Meantime, seeking to generally move investors’ claims forward faster, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has launched a pilot arbitration program that will specifically deal with securities cases of $10 million and greater. The program was created because of the growing number of very big cases.

Under the voluntary program, parties would be able to “customize” the arbitration process. The SRO says it wants parties to have a “formal” approach that gives them greater control and flexibility over their claims, including “additional control” over choosing arbitrators and “expanded” discovery.

In other securities news, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has turned down ex-AmeriFirst Funding Inc. manager Jeffrey Bruteyn’s appeal to his criminal conviction. Bruteyn was convicted of 9 counts of securities fraud in 2010 for running a scam that used the sale of secured debt obligations to defraud investors of millions of dollars.

The SDO’s were sold to raise capital for AmeriFirst Funding, which financed used car buys. Bruteyn is accused of making the sales by generating promotional materials that overstated insurance coverage while understating investor risk and falsely telling investors that that his family, which owned Hess Corp. (HES) would cover any losses sustained. Bruteyn was ordered to pay $7.3M in restitution and sentenced to 25 years in prison and three years of supervised release.

In Europe, regulators are examining the recent decisions made by credit rating agencies Moody’s (MCO), Fitch, and Standard & Poor's to downgrade banks affected by the eurozone sovereign debt crisis and the economic contraction. The European Securities and Markets Authority says it wants make sure that “transparent” and “rigorous” analyses were part of the credit raters’ decision-making process. ESMA is especially interested in a “block” rating that Moody’s issued to a number of Spanish banks last month.

ESMA is allowed to fine credit rating agencies for not following correct methodology or applying proper resources. It can also force a credit rater’s “de-registration.”

Throughout the US, our institutional investment fraud lawyers are committed to helping our clients recoup their losses from securities fraud.

$25 Million Settlement Submitted In Re Evergreen Ultra Short Opportunities Fund Securities Class Action, Yahoo Finance, July 2, 2012

FINRA Announces Pilot Program for Large Cases, FINRA, July 2, 2012

US v. Bruteyn

EU market regulator is suspicious of rating agencies, RT, July 2, 2012


More Blog Posts:

CFTC Accuses Peregrine Financial Group of Securities Fraud Related to $200M Customer Funds Shortfall, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 10, 2012

Will the JOBS ACT Will Expand Private Offerings But Hurt Public Markets?, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, July 6, 2012

SEC to Push for Money Market Mutual Fund Reform Provisions Despite Opposition, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, July 6, 2012


June 7, 2012

Institutional Investor Securities Roundup: SEC Sues Investment Adviser Over $60M Ponzi Scam, Michigan Investment Club Manager Gets Prison Term for Defrauding Over 900 Investors, & IOSCO Seeks Comments on Report About Credit Raters’ Conflicts & Controls

The SEC is suing investment adviser John Geringer for allegedly running a $60M investment fund that was actually a Ponzi scheme. Most of Geringer’s fraud victims are from the Santa Cruz, California area.

According to the Commission, Geringer used information in his marketing materials for GLR Growth Fund (including the promise of yearly returns in the double digits) that was allegedly “false and misleading” to draw in investors. He also implied that the fund had SEC approval.

While investors thought the fund was making these supposed returns by placing 75% of its assets in investments connected to major stock indices, per the SEC claims, Geringer’s trading actually resulted in regular losses and he eventually ceased to trade. To hide the fraud, Geringer allegedly paid investors “returns” in the millions of dollars that actually came from the money of new investors. Also, after he stopped trading in 2009, he is accused of having invested in two illiquid private startups and three entities under his control. The SEC is seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, financial penalties, preliminary and permanent injunctions, and other relief.

In an unrelated securities case, this one resulting in criminal charges, Michigan investment club manager Alan James Watson has been sentenced to 12 years behind bars for fraudulently soliciting and accepting $40 million from over 900 investors. Watson, who pleaded guilty to the criminal charges, must also forfeit over $36 million.

Watson ran and funded Cash Flow Financial LLC. According to the US Justice Department, he lost all of the money on risky investments—even as he told investors that their money was going to work through an equity-trading system that would give them a 10% return every month. In truth, Watson only put $6 million in the system, while secretly investing the rest in the undisclosed investments. He would go on to also lose the $6 million when he moved this money into risky investments, too.

Watson ran the club as a Ponzi scam so investors wouldn’t know what he was doing. He is still facing related charges in a securities case brought by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

In other institutional investments securities news, the International Organization of Securities Commissions' technical committee is asking for comments about a new consultation report describing credit rating agencies’ the internal controls over the rating process and the practices they employ to minimize conflicts of interest. The deadline for submitting comments is July 9.

The report was created following the financial crisis due to concerns about the rating process’s integrity. 9 credit rating agencies were surveyed about their internal controls, while 10 agencies were surveyed on how they managed conflict.

IOSCO’s CRA code guides credit raters on how to handle conflict and make sure that employees consistently use their methodologies. Two of the report’s primary goals were to find out how get a “comprehensive and practical understanding” of how these agencies deal with conflict when deciding ratings and find out whether credit ratings agencies have implemented IOSCO’s code and guiding principals.

Read the SEC's complaint against Geringer (PDF)

Investment Club Manager Sentenced To 12 Years In Prison For $40 Million Fraud, Justice.gov, May 24, 2012

Credit Rating Agencies: Internal Controls Designed to Ensure the Integrity of the Credit Rating Process and Procedures to Manage Conflicts of Interest, IOSCO (PDF)

More Blog Posts:
FINRA Initiatives Addressing Market Volatility Approved by the SEC, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, June 5, 2012

Several Claims in Securities Fraud Lawsuit Against Ex-IndyMac Bancorp Executives Are Dismissed by Federal Judge, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 30, 2012

Leave The 2nd Circuit Ruling Upholding Madoff Trustee’s “Net Equity” Method for Investor Recovery Alone, Urges SEC to the US Supreme Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 5, 2012

Continue reading "Institutional Investor Securities Roundup: SEC Sues Investment Adviser Over $60M Ponzi Scam, Michigan Investment Club Manager Gets Prison Term for Defrauding Over 900 Investors, & IOSCO Seeks Comments on Report About Credit Raters’ Conflicts & Controls" »

March 24, 2012

Institutional Investor Fraud Roundup: Decline in Securities Class Action Settlements, ESMA Recognizes US Credit Rating Agency Framework, and Court Dismisses Securities Lawsuit Against Mecox Lane

According to a report published by Cornerstone Research, there has been a decline not just in the number of securities class action settlements that the courts have approved, but also in the value of the settlements. There were 65 approved class action settlements for $1.4 billion in 2011, which, per the report, is the lowest number of settlements (and corresponding dollars) reached. That’s 25% less than in 2010 and over 35% under the average for the 10 years prior. The report analyzed agreed-upon settlement amounts, as well as disclosed the values of noncash components. (Attorneys’ fees, additional related derivative payments, SEC/other regulatory settlements, and contingency settlements were not part of this examination.)

The average reported settlement went down from $36.3 million in 2010 to $21 million last year. The declines are being attributed to a decrease in “mega” settlements of $100 million or greater. There was also a reported 40% drop in media “estimated damages,” which is the leading factor in figuring out settlement amounts. Also, according to the report, over 20% of the cases that were settled last year did not involve claims made under the 1934 Securities Exchange Act Rule 10b-5, which tends to settle for higher figures than securities claims made under Sections 11 or 12(a)(2).

Our securities fraud law firm represents institutional investors with individual claims against broker-dealers, investment advisors, and others. Filing your own securities arbitration claim/lawsuit and working with an experienced stockbroker fraud lawyer gives you, the claimant, a better chance of recovering more than if you had filed with a class.

In other securities fraud news:
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York tossed out the securities lawsuit related to an IPO offering of common stock in Chinese internet company Mecox Lane Ltd. (MCOX). Per the court, the plaintiffs, who sued Mecox, its leading officials, and underwriters Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC and UBS AG (UBS), failed to adequately allege any materially false or misleading statements in the registration statement or prospectus for the 2010 IPO. (The plaintiffs, who bought the common stock after the IPO, claimed that the offering materials did not provide full disclosure regarding Mecox Lane’s financial state. When this information was disclosed in fourth quarter data, share prices dropped.)

Earlier this month, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) decided to recognize the U.S. regulatory framework on credit rating agency supervision. This will let financial firms in the EU keep using credit ratings that were issued in this country.

ESMA’s moves follows intense dialogue with the SEC and the Department of Treasury. If ESMA had chosen otherwise, companies throughout the EU would have had to obtain other ratings.

ESMA also gave mutual recognition to the regulatory frameworks for CRAs of Hong Kong, Canada, and Singapore because their respective models are equal in stringency to the EU. It will also decide whether to do the same for the regulatory frameworks of Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.

Settlement Values, Estimated Damages, and the Number of Cases Settled in 2011 Experience Historic Declines, Cornerstone Research

Court Tosses 1933 Act Suit Over Chinese Firm's IPO, Bloomberg/BNA, March 16, 2012

EU watchdog allows U.S. ratings use in Europe, 4-Traders, March 15, 2012

More Blog Posts:
SEC Chairman Schapiro Says Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act Needs Better Investor Protections, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, March 21, 2012

As the US House Passes Package of Bills to Open Capital Market Flow to Small Businesses, the Senate Prepares Similar Legislation, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, March 13, 2012

US Army Staff Sergeant Held in Afghan Civilian Massacre Was Once Accused of Securities Fraud, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 20, 2012

September 30, 2011

Standard & Poors Receives SEC Wells Notice Over CDO Rating

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has received a Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission notifying the credit rating agency that it ma be subject to possible enforcement action over alleged violations of federal securities laws. The allegations involve S & P’s ratings for the Delphinus CDO 2007-1, a collateralized debt obligation.

The $1.6 billion hybrid CDO was downgraded just a few months after it received AAA ratings from both S & P and Moody’s Investor Services—the two biggest credit rating agencies in the country—by the end of 2008 its securities that were rated AAA had been downgraded to junk status. S & P’s parent company McGraw-Hill says that the credit rating agency is cooperating with the Commission’s examination into this matter. If the SEC were to file an enforcement action against S & P, it would be its first one against a credit rating agency for the rating of a mortgage-backed security.

Just today, the SEC staff expressed concern that despite changes that were implemented at credit rating agencies to better their operations, the Commission is still concerned about certain deficiencies. The SEC voiced its concerns in its first yearly report on Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations. Alleged deficiencies include:

• Not always following ratings procedures or methodologies.
• Failure to make accurate and timely disclosures.
• Improper management of conflict of interest.
• Lack of effective internal control structures for the rating process.


The new annual reports was mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection, which is seeking better oversight and regulation of credit rating agencies. 10 credit rating agencies registered as NRSROs were examined. The names of the NRSROs weren’t published.

It was just earlier this year that the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued its bipartisan report noting that the most “immediate cause” of the financial crisis three years ago was the “mass ratings downgrades” of securities in 2007 that were made by Moody’s and S & P. Per the report, credit rating agencies were aware that their ratings wouldn’t “hold” and held back on putting up more strict ratings criteria. When they did modify their risk models that noted there were high-risk mortgages being issued, the revised models were not applied to existing securities. All of this allowed investment banks to push out high-risk investments before the tougher criteria were implemented.


Credit ratings changes can impact not just a company’s bond prices but also its stock price. The market can also be impacted.

For the time ever, S & P downgraded the US credit rating a notch lower than AAA. The credit agency expressed concern about the federal government’s ability to take care of its finances. S & P noted that the bipartisan agreement to look for at least $2.1 trillion in budget savings was not enough to quell the nation’s debt in the long run. Now, the SEC is looking into whether news of S & P’s downgrade of the country’s debt was leaked and the info used for trading before it was officially made known.

S&P downgrades U.S. credit rating for first time, Washington Post, August 5, 2011

S.E.C. Faults Credit Raters, but Doesn’t Name Them, NY Times, September 30, 2011

SEC Staff Issues Summary Report of Commission Staff's Examinations of Each Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organization, SEC, September 30, 2011


More Blog Posts:

Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s Were Exercising Their 1st Amendment Rights When They Gave Inaccurate Subprime Ratings to SIVs, Says Court, Institutional Investment Fraud Blog, December 30, 2010

Standard and Poor’s Ratings Lawsuit to Go Forward, Says Judge, Institutional Investment Fraud Blog, September 16, 2010

SEC’s Handling of Credit Rating Agencies Oversight and Failure to Detect Madoff and Stanford Ponzi Scams Questioned at Senate Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, May 8, 2010

Continue reading "Standard & Poors Receives SEC Wells Notice Over CDO Rating" »

December 30, 2010

Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s Were Exercising Their 1st Amendment Rights When They Gave Inaccurate Subprime Ratings to SIVs, Says Court

According to California Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer Fitch Inc., Standard and Poor’s parent (MHP) McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., Fitch, Inc., and Moody's Corp. (MCO), were merely exercising their First Amendment right to free speech when they gave their highest rating to three structured investment vehicles (SIVs) that collapsed when the mortgage market failed in 2008 and 2007. The ruling, in California Public Employees' Retirement System v. Moody's Corp. now leaves the plaintiffs with a steep burden of proof. The plaintiff, the largest pension fund in the US, is seeking more than $1 billion in securities fraud damages stemming from the inaccurate subprime ratings.

Per the securities complaint, CAlPERS is accusing the defendants of publishing ratings that were “unreasonably high” and “wildly inaccurate” and applying “seriously flawed” methods in an “incompetent” manner. The plaintiff contends that the high ratings that were given to the SIVs contributed to their collapse during the economic crisis.

BNA was able to get court transcripts that indicate that the ruling came on a motion under California’s anti- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute, which offers a special procedure to strike a complaint involving the rights of free speech and petition. If a defendant persuades the court that the cause of action came from a protected activity, the plaintiff must prove that the claims deserve additional consideration. Now CalPERS must show a “probability of prevailing.”

Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, there is no longer any protection from private litigation for ratings agency misstatements. Now, an investor only has to prove gross negligence to win the case. However, per Wayne State University Law School Peter Henning, in BNA Securities Daily, Dodd-Frank’s provision may not carry much weight if a ratings agency’s First Amendment rights are widely interpreted.

Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP Founder and Stockbroker fraud lawyer William Shepherd had this to say: “There have long been many restrictions on 'speech,' including life threats, trademarks, defamation, conspiracy, treason and threats of blackmail. But the age-old standard restriction is 'you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater.' The reason is that strangers might rely on the words and be injured by your 'speech.' How is this different than shouting 'AAA- rated,' knowing that strangers will rely on the words and be harmed by this 'speech?' The difference is that Wall Street can say anything it wants, while the rest of us have to just sit down and shut up."

CalPERS has until March 18, 2011 to respond to the court.

Related Web Resources:
Ratings by Moody’s, Fitch, S&P Ruled to Be Protected Speech, BusinessWeek, December 11, 2010

Calpers Sues Rating Companies Over $1 Billion Loss, Bloomberg, July 15, 2010

CalPERS

California Public Employees' Retirement System v. Moody's Corp., Justia Dockets

Calif. Court Concludes Credit Ratings Entitled to First Amendment Protection, BNA Securities Law Daily, December 10, 2010

Credit Ratings Agencies, Stockbroker Fraud Blog

California Anti-SLAPP Project

Continue reading "Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s Were Exercising Their 1st Amendment Rights When They Gave Inaccurate Subprime Ratings to SIVs, Says Court " »

September 16, 2010

Standard and Poor’s Ratings Lawsuit to Go Forward, Says Judge

A superior court judge has turned down Standard & Poor's motion to dismiss Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s lawsuit against it. Blumenthal, who filed companion complaints against Moody’s Corp, and Fitch Inc., is accusing the credit rating agency of issuing artificially low ratings to municipalities. He claims that this ended up costing taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary bond insurance and high interest rates.

S & P’s parent company McGraw-Hills Cos. had moved to dismiss for improper venue by claiming that a mandatory exclusive forum provision in the S&P Terms and Conditions barred the case from being filed in Connecticut. McGraw-Hills argued that the internal laws of the State of New York are supposed to govern the agreement and that the courts there are to serve as the exclusive forums for any disputes stemming from the agreement.

Superior Court Judge Robert Shapiro, however, denied the motion to dismiss. He said that under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, the state has a number of sovereign powers and that one of them lets the commission of consumer protection request that the state’s attorney general enforce CUTPA in state superior court.

Blumenthal called Shapiro’s decision a victory, while saying that credit rating agencies will likely continue to avoid being held accountable for misconduct. Meantime, a spokesperson for S & P told BNA last month that the lawsuit against the credit ratings agency has no factual merit.

The ratings lawsuits against Moody’s, S & P, and Fitch will now go forward in state court.


Related Web Resources:
Ratings case against S&P to proceed, MarketWatch, August 21, 2010

Richard Blumenthal, CT AG, Sues Moody's, S&P, Says They Knowingly Falsified Debt Ratings, Huffington Post, March 10, 2010

Continue reading " Standard and Poor’s Ratings Lawsuit to Go Forward, Says Judge" »

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