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Archive for August, 2015


Citigroup Affiliates to Pay $180 Million to Settle Hedge Fund Fraud Charges — The ASTA/Mat Aftermath

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that two Citigroup affiliates have agreed to pay nearly $180 million to settle charges that they defrauded investors in two hedge funds by claiming they were safe, low-risk, and suitable for traditional bond investors. The funds later crumbled and eventually collapsed during the financial crisis.

Citigroup Global Markets Inc. (CGMI) and Citigroup Alternative Investments LLC (CAI) agreed to bear all costs of distributing the $180 million in settlement funds to harmed investors.

An SEC investigation found that the Citigroup affiliates made false and misleading representations to investors in the ASTA/MAT fund and the Falcon fund, which collectively raised nearly $3 billion in capital from approximately 4,000 investors before collapsing. In talking with investors, they did not disclose the very real risks of the funds. Even as the funds began to collapse and CAI accepted nearly $110 million in additional investments, the Citigroup affiliates did not disclose the dire condition of the funds and continued to assure investors that they were low-risk, well-capitalized investments with adequate liquidity. Many of the misleading representations made by Citigroup employees were at odds with disclosures made in marketing documents and written materials provided to investors.

“Firms cannot insulate themselves from liability for their employees’ misrepresentations by invoking the fine print contained in written disclosures,” said Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “Advisers at these Citigroup affiliates were supposed to be looking out for investors’ best interests, but falsely assured them they were making safe investments even when the funds were on the brink of disaster.”

According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding:

*  The ASTA/MAT fund was a municipal arbitrage fund that purchased municipal bonds and used a Treasury or LIBOR swap to hedge interest rate risks.

*  The Falcon fund was a multi-strategy fund that invested in ASTA/MAT and other fixed income strategies, such as CDOs, CLOs, and asset-backed securities.

*  The funds, both highly leveraged, were sold exclusively to advisory clients of Citigroup Private Bank or Smith Barney by financial advisers associated with CGMI. Both funds were managed by CAI.

*  Investors in these funds effectively paid advisory fees for two tiers of investment advice: first from the financial advisers of CGMI and secondly from the fund manager, CAI.

*  Neither Falcon nor ASTA/MAT was a low-risk investment akin to a bond alternative as investors were repeatedly told.

*  CGMI and CAI failed to control the misrepresentations made to investors as their employees misleadingly minimized the significant risk of loss resulting from the funds’ investment strategy and use of leverage among other things.

*  CAI failed to adopt and implement policies and procedures that prevented the financial advisers and fund manager from making contradictory and false representations.

CGMI and CAI consented to the SEC order without admitting or denying the findings that both firms willfully violated Sections 17(a)(2) and (3) of the Securities Act of 1933, GCMI willfully violated Section 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and CAI willfully violated Section 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rules 206(4)-7 and 206(4)-8. Both firms agreed to be censured and must cease and desist from committing future violations of these provisions.

The SEC’s investigation has been conducted by Olivia Zach, Kerri Palen, David Stoelting, and Celeste Chase of the New York Regional Office, and supervised by Sanjay Wadhwa.

SEC Charges Houston-Area Businessman in Ponzi Scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Houston-area businessman with operating a $114 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors, some of whom were told that their money would fund technology to prevent accidents caused by drowsy driving.

The SEC’s case filed in federal court in Houston charged Frederick Alan Voight of Richmond, Texas with defrauding more than 300 investors in multiple offerings of promissory notes issued by two partnerships he owns, F.A. Voight & Associates LP and DayStar Funding LP.  While Voight’s latest offering promised investors returns as high as 42 percent a year from loans to small public companies, most of the funds went to pay earlier investors, the complaint alleges.  Approximately $22 million of Voight’s allegedly ill-gotten gains remain unaccounted for to date.

“Voight wooed investors with promises of outsized returns and once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunities.  But, like all Ponzi schemes, we allege that this one collapsed when Voight couldn’t find enough new money to keep up with his false promises,” said David L. Peavler, Acting Regional Co-Director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Voight recently raised $13.8 million that he said would be loaned to a startup named InterCore Inc. to fund its deployment of a “Driver Alertness Detection System,” or DADS.  Starting in October 2014, Voight allegedly wrote to prospective investors about a “tremendous” opportunity to help InterCore install the DADS technology into “several million trucks and buses,” which he said was enough for the company to pay the 30 to 42 percent annual interest rates on the promissory notes “many, many times over.”

Voight knew the claims were false because he served on InterCore’s board and was aware that the Delray Beach, Florida public company was financially troubled and had no means to pay back the loans, the complaint alleges.  The SEC alleges that Voight used funds from the DADS investors to make Ponzi payments to earlier investors or funneled them to InterCore through two of his other partnerships, Rhine Partners LP and Topside Partners LP.  The complaint alleges that InterCore sent the funds to its Montreal-based subsidiary, InterCore Research Canada, Inc., where the funds seemingly disappeared.  By routing funds through Rhine and Topside, Voight is alleged to have garnered benefits – including fees and InterCore stock warrants – that he never disclosed to the DADS investors.

The SEC’s complaint charges Voight and DayStar with securities fraud and with conducting unregistered securities offerings.  Voight and Daystar, without admitting or denying the allegations, agreed to settle the SEC’s complaint by consenting to permanent injunctions against committing these violations in the future.  They also agreed to asset freezes and other emergency relief, and to pay civil penalties and return allegedly ill-gotten gains with interest in amounts to be set later by the court.  Voight also consented to being barred from serving as a public company officer or director and to be barred permanently from participating in the offer, purchase, or sale of any security except for his own personal account.

The SEC named F.A. Voight & Associates, Rhine, Topside, InterCore, and InterCore Research Canada as relief defendants for the purpose of recovering any allegedly ill-gotten gains they received from the fraud.  F.A. Voight & Associates, Rhine, and Topside have agreed to asset freezes and other emergency relief and to return allegedly ill-gotten gains in amounts to be set by the court.  The SEC will litigate its claims against relief defendants InterCore and InterCore Research.

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