Wells Fargo Sued Over ARS Sales by California Attorney General for $1.5 Billion

California Attorney General Edmund G Brown, Jr. is suing Wells Fargo Investments LLC, Wells Fargo Institutional Securities, and Wells Fargo Brokerage Services for $1.5 billion. Brown is accusing the Wells Fargo affiliates of violating state securities laws and misleading California investors with false statements about auction-rate securities.

According to the California Attorney General’s securities fraud lawsuit, the Wells units engaged in fraud and deception to sell the securities, neglected to properly train and supervise the agents that sold the ARS, marketed the securities to investors that shouldn’t have been investing in them, and regularly misrepresented the securities when marketing them.

Brown says that nearly 40% of the ARS that the Wells defendants sold are owned by Californians. ARS investors included individuals, non-profits, small businesses, and others that were never fully informed about the risks of investing in theses securities.

ARS sales pitches by Wells Fargo representatives reportedly continued even though there were warnings as early as 2005 from the Financial Accounting Standards Board and others that auction-rate securities should not be considered cash-like equivalents. In November 2007, a Wells Fargo Bank’s Trust Department reportedly sent a memo warning against buying ARS.

Following the collapse of the $330 billion ARS market in February 2008, some 2,400 Californians, who were told that their ARS were liquid like cash, were unable to access their investments that ranged in worth from $25,000 to millions.

Brown says he is suing the Wells units because unlike Citigroup, UBS, Wachovia, and Merrill Lynch, the affiliates have not been able restore the securities’ cash value. The California Attorney General wants Wells Fargo to restore the securities’ value, disgorge any associated profits, and pay civil penalties at $25,000/violation.

Wells Fargo Chief Executive Officer Charles W. Daggs says the investment bank is disputing the claims made in the California Attorney General’s lawsuit. He also noted that Wells was among the first in the investment bank industry to voluntarily give clients with frozen securities significant liquidity. Daggs says that since April 2008, these clients have been able to access 90% of their ARP holdings’ par value via non-recourse loans with favorable rates.

Related Web Resources:
Calif. AG sues Wells Fargo for $1.5 billion, News Daily, April 23, 2009
Read the Attorney General’s Complaint Against Wells Fargo (PDF)

Our securities fraud law firm continues to work with investors that have suffered losses because of the ARS market collapse. Contact our stockbroker fraud lawyers today.