Articles Posted in Pension Funds

According to Reuters, Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc (RBS) has settled a mortgage-backed securities fraud case brought by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) for $125M. The settlement resolves claims alleging that the bank made misrepresentations when selling MBSs to the pension funds, which contend that they sustained millions of dollars in losses as a result.

According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a probe by his office determined that the descriptions the firm provided to investors “failed to accurately disclose the true characteristics” of many of the mortgages backing the securities, but that RBS, which knew about the alleged misrepresentations, did nothing to remedy them. The state AG’s investigation also found that RBS did not conduct the necessary due diligence to eliminate the loans that were of “poor quality.” Becerra contends that RBS purposely misled CalPERS and CalSTRS to enrich itself. He noted that the MBS fraud settlement gives back the money to the pension funds that the bank “wrongfully took” from them.

Already, The California AG’s office has gotten back more than $1B over securities that were sold to the state’s public pension funds, which sustained losses during the economic crisis of 2008. Last year, $150M was recovered from Moody’s, the credit rating agency. In 2015, $210M was recovered from another credit rating agency, Standard & Poor’s. Other banks to have settled include Citigroup (C) for $102M, Bank of America for $300M and J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) for $300M.

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In South Dakota federal court, a number of public employee retirement funds are suing US Bank NA (USB) for not identifying certain “red flags” as the signs of a tribal bond fraud. The plaintiffs say they lost $25M in the offering scam and they believe that the bank decided to ignore the warnings that something was amiss.

The plaintiffs in the tribal bond fraud lawsuit include the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission Employees’ Retirement Plan, which invested $4.1M, the Water Works Board of the City of Birmingham, which invested $4.3M, and the Omaha School Employees’ Retirement System affiliates, which invested $16.2M. According to the pension funds, their investment advisers were bought by fraudsters who put their money in bonds that a Native American tribe had issued.

US Bank served as the tribal bond offerings’ indenture trustee. This meant that it was the bondholder and handled the funds. The plaintiffs want damages for a number of violations, including negligence and breach of contract.
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In the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, preliminary settlements have been submitted in which Deutsche Bank (DB) will pay $48.5M and Bank of America (BAC) will pay $17M to resolve investor lawsuits accusing them of manipulating the agency bond market for years. A judge must still approve the settlements.

Despite settling, both banks maintain they did not engage in any wrongdoing. The lead plaintiff investors include the Sheet Metal Workers Pension Plan of Northern California and the Iron Workers Pension Plan of Western Pennsylvania, and KBC Asset Management NV.

According to court papers and as reported by Reuters, Bank of America and Deutsche Bank are two of the 10 banks accused of rigging the $9 trillion agency bond market for supranational, sub-sovereign and agency bonds, also known as SSA bonds. The plaintiffs contend that from 2005 to 2015 the banks shared price information with one another, worked as a “super-desk” together, and allowed traders to coordinate strategies in the name of profit. Meantime, customers had to accept bond prices that were unfair to them.

Deborah Kelley, an ex-Sterne Agee managing director and broker, has pleaded guilty to honest-services wire fraud and securities fraud. Kelley, admitted that she gave perks to former NY state pension fund manager Navnoor Kang in return for him directing trading business toward her firm. She could be sentenced to up to five years in prison. A second broker, Gregg Schonhorn, has already pleaded guilty to related criminal charges against him.

Kang, who was the portfolio manager of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, is accused of awarding the two brokers’ firms over $2B of business in return for drugs, strippers, vacations, and lavish jewelry.

As a result, contend prosecutors, the retirement fund’s domestic bond transactions to her firm went from $0 at the end of March 2014 to $179M in 2016. FTN Financial, which is where Schonhorn worked, ended up garnering $2.3B of business from working with the NY pension fund. The two brokers were paid 35-40% of the millions of dollars of commissions made by their brokerage firms.

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Voya Accused of Not Disclosing Revenue Received for Mutual Fund Sales
The US Securities and Exchange Commission said that Voya Financial Advisors (VOYA) would pay approximately $3.1M to regulators and investors for not telling customers about revenue the firm was paid related to a mutual fund program that didn’t bill transaction fees. Voya’s clearing broker-dealer paid the firm a percentage of the money made from the mutual fund sales. This was information that should have been shared with investors.

Also, since 2014, Voya and the third-party brokerage firm were involved in a separate agreement under which Voya provided certain administrative services in return for a percentage of service fees involving certain mutual funds. The regulator said that these payments were a conflict because they gave Voya incentive to preference these funds over other investments, which could have impacted what the firm recommended to advisory clients. As part of the settlement, Voya will pay about $2.6M of disgorgement, approximately $175K of interest, and a $300K penalty. The firm is not, however, denying or admitting to the SEC’s findings.

Fired Waddell & Reed Broker is Barred from the Securities Industry
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has barred an ex-Waddell & Reed Inc. broker from the industry. Paul D. Stanley was fired from the firm last year for allegedly violating its policies regarding supervision, compensation, and conduct.

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U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer says that Volkswagen AG (VW) and ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn must face an investor lawsuit related to its diesel emissions cheating scandal. Breyer turned down VW brand chief Herbert Diess’s request that the proposed securities fraud cases be dismissed from a California court. The company is still under criminal investigation by the US Justice Department.

The plaintiffs are primarily municipal pension funds that invested in Vokswagen via American Depositary Receipts. An ADR is a type of equity ownership in a non-US company that represents the company’s foreign shares that are kept on deposit by a bank in the home country of that company.

Volkswagen believes that the investor complaints at issue should be heard in Germany. Judge Breyer, however, ruled that since the US is invested in protecting investors from this country against securities fraud, the complaints should proceed in the US. Investors believe that the German automaker and its executives misled the public when it assured them that its diesel vehicles fulfilled all emission standards while downplaying the liabilities that would result because the company was not, in fact, complying with these standards.

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Federal Prosecutors in Manhattan have filed criminal charges against Navnoor Kang, a former investment manager at the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and broker Deborah Kelley. The two of them are accused of directing over $2B in business to two broker-dealers in return for bribes, including money, expensive jewelry, cocaine, Paul McCartney concert tickets, prostitutes, and other lavish expenses. This is the latest “pay-to-play” scam involving the state’s pension fund, which is the third largest in the US.

Kang, who previously served as managing director at Sterne Agee Group Inc., allegedly accepted over $100K in bribes for purportedly leveraging his role as director of fixed income for the pension fund to send up to $2.5B in state business to Kelley and another broker, Gregg Schonhorn of FTN Financial Securities Corp. As a result of Kang sending this business their way, Kelley and Schonhorn made millions of dollars in commissions.

Schonhorn has already pleaded guilty to his involvement in the pay-to-play scam. According to prosecutors, in 2014, Schonhorn’s firm did $1.5M in business with the NY pension fund. By 2016, that figure was at over $2.3B. Kelly’s broker-dealer, meantime, went from having no business with the New York pension fund in 2014 to $179M in business this year.

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Former Fannie Mae CEO Settles SEC Charges for $100K
Daniel Mudd has agreed to pay $100K to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the ex-Fannie Mae CEO of misleading investors about the degree to which the mortgage company was exposed to subprime loans leading up to the 2008 economic crisis. The regulator had filed its civil case against Mudd and two other Fannie Mae executives in 2011. The latter two settled with the Commission last year.

Mudd maintains he did nothing wrong.

WL Ross Resolves Fee-Allocation Disclosure Charges
WL Ross & Co. will reimburse specific WL Ross funds about $11.8M to resolve SEC charges related to its fee allocation practices and disclosures. The firm will also pay a $2.3M civil penalty.

According to the SEC, WL Ross was given transaction fees by portfolio companies. This lowered the management fees that funds had to pay the firm. The regulator points to WL Ross’s limited partnership agreements that were unclear regarding fee offsets when multiple funds and other co-investors share ownership.

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$64M Pension Fund Fraud Settlement Reached Against Dana Holding Corp. Executives
Plaintiffs in the shareholder class action case brought against Michael Burns and Robert Richter have reached a $64M out-of-court settlement with the two ex-Dana Holding Corp. executives. The union pension funds include lead plaintiffs SEIU Pension Plans Master Trust, Plumbers & Pipefitters National Pension Fund, and the West Virginia Laborers Pension Trust Fund.

They accused Bornes and Richter, the company’s ex-CEO and CFO, respectively, of purposely misleading investors about Dana Holding’s financial woes in the months prior to its filing for bankruptcy in 2006. Although the securities fraud case was initially dismissed by a district court on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to show that the two men and Dana knew they were engaging in wrongdoing, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed that decision, saying evidence showed otherwise.

Federal Reserve Gives Banks More Time to Meet Volcker Rule Requirements
The U.S. Federal Reserve has extended the deadline for banks to rid themselves of ownership in certain legacy investments and cut ties with funds that are barred under the Volcker Rule. The rule, part of the Dodd-Frank Act, aims to stop banks with government-backed deposits from betting on Wall Street for their benefit. It doesn’t allow insured banks and their subsidiaries to own or be affiliated in any way with a private equity fund or hedge fund or take part in proprietary trading. Lenders are not allowed to trade using their own capital and are restricted from investing in funds.

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A U.S. district court judge has approved a settlement reached at the end of last year between JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and pension funds related to trades made by Bruno Iksil, who earned the nickname “London Whale” because of his huge market-moving positions in credit derivatives. In their class action securities case, the plaintiffs accused the firm of using its chief investment office in London as a secret hedge fund and hiding up to $6.2M in losses.

Even though the office was supposed to be primarily for managing risk, the plaintiffs believe that it was making high-risk trades for profit, including trading in complex credit derivatives. Depositors’ money was purportedly used in secret for making certain trades. Shareholders claim that JPMorgan knew about the increased risks it was taking and hiding them.

JPMorgan has not admitted to wrongdoing by settling this deal. However, it was also fined over $1B by regulators in the U.K. and the U.S. for management deficiencies related to the London Whale scandal.

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