Municipal Bond Fraud Litigation and FINRA Arbitration Attorney, Russell L. Forkey, Esq.
SEC Charges Wachovia With Fraudulent Bid Rigging in Municipal Bond Proceeds
Wachovia Agrees to $148 Million Settlement With SEC and Other Authorities
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently charged Wachovia Bank N.A. with fraudulently engaging in secret arrangements with bidding agents to improperly win business from municipalities and guarantee itself profits in the reinvestment of municipal bond proceeds.
The complaint alleges that Wachovia generated millions of dollars in illicit gains during an eight-year period when it fraudulently rigged at least 58 municipal bond reinvestment transactions in 25 states and Puerto Rico. Wachovia won some bids through a practice known as “last looks” in which it obtained information from the bidding agents about competing bids. It also won bids through “set-ups” in which the bidding agent deliberately obtained non-winning bids from other providers in order to rig the field in Wachovia’s favor. Wachovia facilitated some bids rigged for others to win by deliberately submitting non-winning bids.
Wachovia agreed to settle the charges by paying $46 million to the SEC that will be returned to affected municipalities or conduit borrowers. Wachovia also entered into agreements with the Justice Department, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Internal Revenue Service, and 26 state attorneys general that include the payment of an additional $102 million. The settlements arise out of long-standing parallel investigations into widespread corruption in the municipal securities reinvestment industry in which 18 individuals have been criminally charged by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.
“Wachovia won bids by playing an elaborate game of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,’ rather than engaging in legitimate competition to win municipalities’ business.” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
Elaine C. Greenberg, Chief of the SEC’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit, added, “Wachovia hid its fraudulent practices from municipalities by affirmatively assuring them that they had not engaged in any manipulative conduct. This settlement will result in significant payments to municipalities harmed by Wachovia’s unlawful actions.”
Wachovia Bank is now Wells Fargo Bank following a merger in March 2010.
When municipal securities are sold to investors, portions of the proceeds often are not spent immediately by municipalities but rather temporarily invested in municipal reinvestment products until the money is used for the intended purposes. These products are typically financial instruments tailored to meet municipalities’ specific collateral and spend-down needs, such as guaranteed investment contracts (GICs), repurchase agreements (repos), and forward purchase agreements (FPAs). The proceeds of tax-exempt municipal securities generally must be invested at fair market value, and the most common way of establishing that is through a competitive bidding process in which bidding agents search for the appropriate investment vehicle for a municipality.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, Wachovia engaged in fraudulent bidding of GICs, repos, and FPAs from at least 1997 to 2005. Wachovia’s fraudulent practices and misrepresentations not only undermined the competitive bidding process, but negatively affected the prices that municipalities paid for reinvestment products. Wachovia deprived certain municipalities from a conclusive presumption that the reinvestment instruments had been purchased at fair market value, and jeopardized the tax-exempt status of billions of dollars in municipal securities because the supposed competitive bidding process that establishes the fair market value of the investment was corrupted.
Without admitting or denying the allegations in the SEC’s complaint, Wachovia has consented to the entry of a final judgment enjoining it from future violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and has agreed to pay a penalty of $25 million and disgorgement of $13,802,984 with prejudgment interest of $7,275,607. The settlement is subject to court approval.
In order to obtain a complete understanding of the allegations made by the SEC, please follow the highllighted link, which will direct you to a copy of the complaint.