Three years after five Wisconsin school districts filed their securities fraud lawsuit against Stifel, Nicolaus & Company and the Royal Bank of Canada, the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against the brokerage firm and former Stifel Senior Vice President David W. Noack over the same allegations. The charges stem from losses related to the sale of $200 million in high-risk synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to the Wisconsin school districts of West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, the School District of Whitefish Bay, the Kimberly Area School District, the School District of Waukesha, and the Kenosha Unified School District No. 1.
The SEC says that not only were the CDOs inappropriate for the school districts that would not have been able to afford it if the investments failed, but also the brokerage firm did not disclose certain material facts or the risks involved. The school districts are pleased that the SEC has decided to file securities charges.
Robert Kantas, partner of Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP, is one of the attorneys representing the school districts in their civil case against Stifel and RBC. Attorneys for the school districts issued the following statement:
“It is our belief that the five Wisconsin school districts and the trusts established to make these investments were defrauded by Stifel, Royal Bank of Canada and the other defendants. Contrary to the way they were represented, the $200 million CDOs that were devised, solicited, and sold by the defendants to our clients in 2006 were volatile, complex, extremely high risk, and totally inappropriate for them. To protect residents and taxpayers, the districts later hired lawyers and others to investigate the investments and their fraud risk. Unfortunately, the failure of the investments did result in losses for the school districts, which in 2008 filed their Wisconsin securities fraud complaint in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The school districts’ goal was to obtain full recovery of the monies lost in this scheme, while protecting and maintaining the districts’ valuable credit ratings. The districts’ lawyers have already examined three million pages of documents regarding in this matter. Meantime, the districts have taken the proper steps to report to the SEC the nature and extent of the wrongdoing uncovered. In the past year, the districts have given the SEC volumes of documents and information for its investigation.”
The school districts had invested the $200 million ($162.7 million was borrowed) in notes that were tied to the performance of synthetic CDOs. This was supposed to help them fund retiree benefits. According the SEC, however, Stifel and Noack set up a proprietary program to facilitate all of this even though they knew that they were selling products that were inappropriate for the school districts and their investment needs.
Stifel and Noack allegedly told the school districts it would take “15 Enrons” for the investments to fail, while misrepresenting that 30 of the 105 companies in the portfolio would have to default and that 100 of the world’s leading 800 companies would have to fail for the school districts to lose their principal. The SEC claims that the synthetic CDOs and the heavy use of leverage actually exposed the school districts to a high risk of catastrophic loss.
By 2010, the school districts’ second and third investments were totally lost and the lender took all of the trusts’ assets. In addition to losing everything they’d invested, the school districts experienced downgrades in their credit ratings because they didn’t put more money in the funds that they had set up. Meantime, despite the fact that the investments failed completely, Stifel and Noack still earned significant fees.
The SEC is alleging that Noack and Stifel violated the:
• The Securities Act of 1933 (Section 17(a))
• Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Section (10b))
• The Securities Act of 1934 (Section 15(c)(1)(A))
The Commission wishes to seek disgorgement of ill-gotten gains along with prejudgment interest, permanent injunctions, and financial penalties.
Related Web Resources:
SEC Charges Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and Executive with Fraud in Sale of Investments to Wisconsin School Districts, SEC.gov, August 10, 2011
SEC Sues Stifel Over Wisconsin School Losses Tied to $200 Million of CDOs, Bloomberg, August 10, 2011
Read the SEC Complaint
School Lawsuit Facts
More Blog Posts:
Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and Former Executive Faces SEC Charges Over Sale of CDOs to Five Wisconsin School Districts, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 10, 2011
JP Morgan Settles for $153.6M SEC Charges Over Its Marketing of Synthetic Collateralized Debt Obligation, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, June 18, 2011
Wells Fargo Settles SEC Securities Fraud Allegations Over Sale of Complex Mortgage-Backed Securities by Wachovia for $11.2, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, April 7, 2011