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Who Protects Investors from Regulators?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 19, 2009 2:44 PM |

Is there anything worse than being violated by an individual in a position of trust? Crimes perpetrated by regular citizens are one thing, but crimes perpetrated by individuals in a position of public trust, in my opinion, are the most heinous. I am speaking of members of the clergy, teachers, law enforcement, and public servants.

When engaged in private business, individuals typically remain on guard from fraudulent and criminal behavior. That innate defense mechanism is usually relaxed when engaged with a public or quasi-public official. Given that vulnerability, the violation is far more painful due to the emotional damage even if the actual financial costs are minimal.

As I go down this path, let me emphasize the obvious – that is, the presumption of innocence and due process.

1. Today we learn that as part of the case against Allen Stanford, an indictment has also been handed down against Antiguan financial regulator Leroy King. Bloomberg reports that King not only took bribes from Stanford but also showed Stanford information relating to the government’s developing case.

If in fact these allegations are true, King aided and abetted the fraud which is speculated to be of a magnitude of $1-7 billion dollars.

2. In regard to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, we have no evidence to indicate criminal intent or activity on behalf of anybody at the SEC. That said, the SEC – by its own admission – failed to perform its duties. For those impacted by the Madoff fraud, the lack of accountability by the SEC is no less damaging than if there were criminal activity. Why is that? The length of time over which Madoff perpetrated the scheme along with the amount of evidence provided by Harry Markopolos was so overwhelming and should have minimized the damage, both financial and emotional.

3. We do have evidence of potential culpability on behalf of FINRA in the Auction-Rate Securities fraud. FINRA was headed by Mary Schapiro, current head of the SEC. This fraud is MANY MULTIPLES the size of the fraud perpetrated by Allen Stanford. Professionals, both inside and outside of the financial industry, have estimated that there are anywhere from $80 billion to $175 billion ARS (of a $330 billion market) still outstanding.

Let’s take the midpoint of those estimates, $125 billion, as a best guess of outstanding ARS positions. These securities do not actively trade, like government bonds, but in speaking with Kevin O’Connor of Second Market, he shared that bonds trade around 75 cents on the dollar. Thus, we are looking at approximately $30 billion in losses on a mark-to-market basis.

FINRA’s potential culpability stems from the fact that they liquidated their own ARS holdings in 2007. I have asked repeatedly and will put forth once again, for the benefit of those thousands of investors and billions of dollars:

-what was the exact trade date of FINRA’s ARS liquidation?
-through whom did they liquidate their ARS position?
-what price were they paid for their ARS position?
-did they possess material non-public information about the ARS market failing and act upon it?

The U.S. attorney and SEC are investigating executives from Lehman (Gia Rys, Alex Kirk) for potentially front running the ARS market in 2007. Will we ever find out if FINRA did the same? FINRA is charged with protecting investors. They certainly failed to protect investors in Auction-Rate Securities.

4. Given the fraud involved in the marketing and distribution of ARS, I am blown away by the fact that the SEC, now headed by Ms. Schapiro, blessed the marketing and distribution of the new version of municipal ARS, known as x-Tender, or henceforth called Porky Pig here at Sense on ¢ents. Please see my post earlier today, An Auction-Rate Pig by Any Other Name Is Still a Pig.

Sad but true, as we enter the Brave New World of the Uncle Sam economy, investors need to remain diligent and should not assume that regulators are necessarily protecting them.

LD

  • Bill

    Larry, this is right on. Who will watch the watchers?

  • TeakWoodKite

    Great read Mr. Doyle.






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