Jefferson County, Alabama Officials Want JP Morgan Chase & Other Wall Street Creditors to Accept Proposal that Would Eliminate Almost Half of Its $3.2 Billion Sewer Debt

Jefferson County, Alabama officials have presented a proposed settlement to Wall Street creditors that could get rid of almost half of its $3.2 billion sewer debt, create a $30 million relief fund for ratepayers that have a hard time paying their sewer bills, and limit sewer rate increases to approximately 2.5% annually. The county wants to solve its sewer bet crisis before the current County Commission leaves in November.

A significant number of investors have to agree to the proposal. JPMorgan Chase and Co. owns most of the county warrants. However, the other banks, including State Street Bank of Boston, Lloyds Bank of Scotland, the Bank of Nova Scotia in Canada, and Societe Generale of Paris would also have to approve it. Getting all of them to agree could prove challenging. Not all creditors may end up with half of what is owed. Some creditors want the settlement discussions to slow down while efforts are made to determine if more money can be obtained from the county.

“Our firm is handling a number of multi-million dollar Jefferson County-related securities claims and other ARS claims, which included claims for ‘consequential damages,” says Stockbroker Fraud Lawyer William Shepherd. “In these cases damages have been incurred by businesses and others when they denied access to their funds for months or years. Meanwhile, they had been told that the funds were placed into ‘money market’ type investments and were readily available on short notice. Some business completely failed because their cash flow was interrupted when the funds were suddenly tied up in these illiquid investments.”

In 1994, the county started a sewer restoration and rehabilitation program after individuals and the Cahaba River Society won their lawsuit demonstrating that the county had polluted rivers and creaks with untreated waste. In a consent decree in 1996, the county agreed to fix the sewer system. Initially estimated to cost $1 billion, it became a $3.2 billion project.

In 2002, a number of financial advisers, including bankers from JP Morgan, convinced county officials to replace traditional fixed-rate bonds with notes that came with floating interest rates, such as ARS. Following the credit crisis in 2008, and as borrowing costs rose, the complex financing scheme that the county was using failed. The county has been trying to figure out how to pay back the money it borrowed and is attempting to restructure its debt. In 2009, JP Morgan settled SEC charges related to an illegal payment scam that enabled the broker dealer to obtain business (involving swap agreement transactions and municipal bond offerings) in Jefferson County for a $75 million penalty. JP Morgan also agreed to forfeit $647 million in swap termination fees.

“Our securities claims are not against Jefferson County, but against the securities firms that sold our clients these securities,” says Shepherd. “Thus, the amounts not recovered by investors in the settlement are losses we are also seeking for our clients based on misrepresentations and omissions in the sales process.”

Related Web Resources:
Jefferson County officials proposing that creditors accept half of $3.2 billion sewer debt, AL.com, September 26, 2010

Jefferson County Sewer debt at $3.2 billion and growing, NBC13, September 7, 2010

Jefferson County, Alabama

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