The SEC is charging Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and its former Senior Vice President David W. Noack with securities fraud over the sale of unsuitable, high-risk complex investments to 5 Wisconsin school districts. Stifel and Noack allegedly misrepresented the risks involved in investing $200 million in synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and did not disclose certain material facts. The investments proved a “complete failure.”
The Five Wisconsin School Districts:
• Kimberly Area School District • Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 • School District of Waukesha • School District of Whitefish Bay • West Allis-West Milwaukee School District
All five school districts are suing Stifel and Royal Bank of Canada in civil court. Robert Kantas, partner of Shepherd Smith Edwards & Kantas LTD LLP, is one of the attorneys representing the school districts in their civil case against Stifel and RBC. Attorneys for the school districts issued the following statement:
“We believe that Stifel, Royal Bank of Canada and the other defendants defrauded the five Wisconsin school districts, along with trusts set up to make these investments. In 2006, these defendants devised, solicited and sold $200 million ‘synthetic collateralized debt obligations’ (CDOs), which were both volatile and complex, to these districts and trusts. While represented as safe investments, these were in fact very high risk securities, which were wholly unsuitable for the districts and trusts. In an attempt to protect taxpayers and residents, the districts hired attorneys and other professionals to investigate the investments and the potential for fraud. Then, with a goal of seeking full recovery of the monies lost in this scheme, a lawsuit was filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2008 to seek fully recovery of the losses and maintain and protect valuable credit ratings of these districts. To date, more than 3 million pages of documents have been obtained and examined by the attorneys for the districts. The districts also properly reported to the SEC the nature and extent of the wrongdoing uncovered. Over the past year, they have provided the SEC with volumes of documents and information to facilitate its investigation.”
In its complaint filed in federal court today, the SEC says that Stifel and Noack set up a proprietary program to assist the school districts in funding retiree benefits through the investments of notes linked to the performance of CDOs. The school districts invested $200 million with trusts they set up in 2006. $162.7 million was paid for with borrowed funds.
The SEC contends that Stifel and Noack, who both earned substantial fees even though the investments failed completely, took advantage of their relationships with the school districts and acted fraudulently when they sold financial products that were inappropriate for the latter. The brokerage firm and its executive also likely were aware that the school districts weren’t experienced or sophisticated enough to be able to evaluate the risks associated with investing in the CDOs. Both also likely knew that the school districts could not afford to suffer such catastrophic losses if their investments were to fail. Despite this, says the SEC, Noack and Stifel assured the school districts that for the investments to collapse there would have to be “15 Enrons.” They also allegedly failed to reveal certain material facts to the school districts, including that:
• The first transaction in the portfolio did poorly from the beginning.
• Within 36 days of closing, credit rating agencies had placed 10% of the portfolio on negative watch.
• There were CDO providers who said they wouldn’t participate in Stifel’s proprietary program because they were worried about the risks involved.
The SEC claims that Stifel and Noack violated the:
• Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Section (10b))
• The Securities Act of 1933 (Section 17(a))
• The Securities Act of 1934 (Section 15(c)(1)(A))
The Commission is seeking, permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, financial penalties, and prejudgment interest.
Related Web Resources:
SEC Charges Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. and Executive with Fraud in Sale of Investments to Wisconsin School District, SEC.gov, August 10, 2011
SEC Sues Stifel Over Wisconsin School Losses Tied to $200 Million of CDOs, Bloomberg, August 10, 2011
Read the SEC Complaint (PDF)
School Lawsuit Facts
More Blog Posts:
Wisconsin School Districts Sue Royal Bank of Canada and Stifel Nicolaus and Co. in Lawsuit Over Credit Default Swaps, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, October 7, 2008
SEC Inquiring About Wisconsin School Districts Failed $200 Million CDO Investments Made Through Stifel Nicolaus and Royal Bank of Canada Subsidiaries, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 11, 2010 Continue reading