SEC Charges Banc of America Securities With Fraud in Connection With Improper Bidding Practices Involving Investment of Proceeds of Municipal Securities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2010 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Banc of America Securities, LLC (BAS) with securities fraud for its part in an effort to rig bids in connection with the investment of proceeds of municipal securities.
To settle the SEC's charges, BAS has agreed to pay more than $36 million in disgorgement and interest. In addition, BAS and its affiliates have agreed to pay another $101 million to other federal and state authorities for its conduct.
"This ongoing investigation has helped to expose wide-spread corruption in the municipal reinvestment industry," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "The conduct was egregious — in return for business, the company repeatedly paid undisclosed gratuitous payments and kickbacks and affirmatively misrepresented that the bidding process was proper."
When investors purchase municipal securities, the municipalities generally invest the proceeds temporarily in reinvestment products before the money is used for the intended purposes. Under relevant IRS regulations, the proceeds of tax-exempt municipal securities must generally be invested at fair market value. The most common way of establishing fair market value is through a competitive bidding process, whereby bidding agents search for the appropriate investment vehicle for a municipality.
In its Order, the SEC found that the bidding process was not competitive because it was tainted by undisclosed consultations, agreements, or payments and, therefore, could not be used to establish the fair market value of the reinvestment instruments. As a result, these improper bidding practices affected the prices of the reinvestment products and jeopardized the tax-exempt status of the underlying municipal securities, the principal amounts of which totaled billions of dollars.
According to the Commission's Order, certain bidding agents steered business from municipalities to BAS through a variety of mechanisms. In some cases, the agents gave BAS information on competing bids (last looks), and deliberately obtained off-market "courtesy" bids or purposefully non-winning bids so that BAS could win the transaction (set-ups). As a result, BAS won the bids for 88 affected reinvestment instruments, such as guaranteed investment contracts (GICs), repurchase agreements (Repos) and forward purchase agreements (FPAs).
In return, BAS steered business to those bidding agents and submitted courtesy and purposefully non-winning bids upon request. In addition, those bidding agents were at times rewarded with, among other things, undisclosed gratuitous payments and kickbacks. The Commission also found that former officers of BAS participated in, and condoned, these improper bidding practices.
BAS is now known as Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated following a merger.
Elaine C. Greenberg, Chief of the SEC's Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit, added "This conduct threatened the integrity of the municipal marketplace, affecting not only the municipal issuers who were directly defrauded, but also the thousands of investors nationwide who purchased their tax-exempt municipal securities."
Without admitting or denying the SEC's findings, BAS consented to the entry of a Commission Order which censures BAS, requires it to cease-and-desist from committing or causing any violations and any future violations of Section 15(c)(1)(A) of the Exchange Act of 1934, and to pay disgorgement plus prejudgment interest totaling $36,096,442 directly to the affected entities.
In determining to accept BAS' offer, which does not include the imposition of a civil penalty, the Commission considered the cooperation of and remedial actions undertaken by BAS in connection with the Commission's investigation as well as investigations conducted by other law enforcement agencies. Among other things, BAS self-reported the bidding practices to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice.
In a related action, the Commission barred Douglas Lee Campbell, a former officer of BAS, from association with any broker, dealer or investment adviser, based upon his guilty plea to a criminal information on Sept. 9, 2010, in United States v. Douglas Lee Campbell (Criminal Action No. 10-cr-803) charging him with two counts of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. The criminal information charged, among other things, that Campbell engaged in fraudulent misconduct in connection with the competitive bidding process involving the investment of proceeds of tax-exempt municipal bonds. The Commission is not imposing a civil penalty against Campbell based on his cooperation in the Commission's investigation.
Deputy Chief Mark R. Zehner and Assistant Municipal Securities Counsel Denise D. Colliers of the SEC's Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit conducted the investigation out of the agency's Philadelphia Regional Office under the leadership of Unit Chief Elaine C. Greenberg, Regional Director Daniel M. Hawke and Assistant Regional Director Mary P. Hansen.
The SEC thanks the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their cooperation and assistance in this matter. The SEC is bringing this action in coordination with the Internal Revenue Service, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and 20 State Attorney Generals.
The SEC's investigation is continuing.
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For more information, contact:
Elaine C. Greenberg, Chief, Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit and Associate Regional Director
Daniel M. Hawke, Regional Director
Mark R. Zehner, Deputy Chief, Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit
Mary P. Hansen, Assistant Regional Director
SEC's Philadelphia Regional Office