JPMorgan Chase (JPM) must pay the trust of oil heiress Carolyn S. Burford $18 million for the “grossly negligent and reckless” way that the financial firm handled the account. In Tulsa County District Court in Oklahoma, Judge Linda G. Morrissey said that beneficiary Ann Fletcher was persuaded to invest in derivatives that were unsuitable for the trust, causing it to sustain significant losses. The judge is also ordering punitive damages to be determined at a later date, as well as repayment of the trust’s legal expenses.
Fletcher, now 75, is the daughter of Burford, who passed away in 1996. The trust was set up in 1955 by Burford’s parents. Burford’s dad is the founder of Kelly Oil and her mother had connections to another oil company.
Between 2000 and 2005, the trust and JPMorgan, which gained management over the trust after a number of bank mergers and oversaw it until 2006, got into a number of variable prepaid forward contracts. These derivatives were pitched to the trust as way for it to make more income. However, according to the court, Fletcher was cognitively impaired and experiencing medical problems when the bank recommended that the trust buy the derivatives. A year before, she even expressed in a written letter to the bank that she was scared about getting involved in “puts & calls.” She eventually chose to trust their recommendation that she buy them.
Judge Morrisey believes that the bank failed to properly explain the product to its client while neglecting to reveal that it stood to benefit from the transaction. She also says that when JPMorgan invested the contracts’ proceeds in its own investment products, which she described as “double dipping,” it was in breach of fiduciary duty. JPMorgan also billed the trust transaction investment fees and corporate trustee fees.
Morrisey said that because the bank gives employees incentives to make it revenue, this creates a conflict of interest for those that are advising and managing fiduciary accounts. She said that the financial misconduct that occurred in this securities case exhibits JPMorgan’s disregard of its clients, especially when it knew, or if it didn’t then was reckless in not knowing, that such conduct was occurring.
Investors that purchase variable prepaid contracts generally consent to give a number of the stock shares to the brokerage firm in the future. Such a deal can protect investors from certain losses and can be accompanied by tax benefits. However, they can also lead to additional fees. With Burford’s trust, however, the trustee is not allowed to sell its original stocks. The court said that JPMorgan failed to tell Fletcher that getting involved in the contracts could lead to the sale of that stock.
JPMorgan says it disagrees with the court’s ruling and it may appeal.
JPMorgan Must Pay $18 Million to Heiress Over Derivatives, Bloomberg, October 10, 2012
JP Morgan Ordered to Pay $18 Million to Oil Heiress’s Trust, New York Times, October 10, 2012
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