Finra orders Citigroup to pay $51M to muni fund investors

Apr 12, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

Citigroup Inc., the third-biggest U.S. bank, was ordered to pay more than $51 million to a group of investors in its MAT and ASTA municipal-bond hedge funds, which regulators began examining more than two years ago.

The ruling by arbitrators at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which oversees U.S. brokerages, includes $17 million in punitive damages, according to a copy of the panel's decision on Finra's website. It's the third-largest arbitration award by Finra and predecessor NASD since 1988, according to Securities Arbitration Commentator Inc., a Maplewood, New Jersey-based legal publishing and research firm.

“We are disappointed with the decision, which we believe is not supported by the facts or law, and we are reviewing our options,” Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman for the New York-based bank, said in an e-mailed statement.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has questioned former Citigroup brokers as part of a probe into whether the bank misled investors about risks associated with certain debt funds, people familiar with the matter said last year. Citigroup disclosed the inquiry into the MAT and ASTA funds in August 2008, after the funds tumbled to values ranging from 10 cents to 60 cents on the dollar amid souring credit markets early that year.

Arbitrators didn't explain the reasoning behind their ruling. They ordered Citigroup to pay $21.7 million to patent attorney Gerald Hosier, $8.5 million to Brush Creek Capital LLC, which is owned by Hosier's family, and $3.9 million to venture capitalist Jerry Murdock Jr., the ruling shows. Among their claims, plaintiffs had accused the bank of breaching a fiduciary duty, contract violation, fraud, breaking Finra rules and supervisory failures.

‘Very Significant Award'

“It's a very significant award,” said Phil Aidikoff, a partner at Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari, a Beverly Hills, California-based law firm that helped represent the claimants. “The panels are clearly recognizing that even though all of these customers were wealthy sophisticated people, they've been lied to about this particular investment.”

The funds used short-term borrowings to fund purchases of long-term municipal bonds, said Craig McCann of the Securities Litigation & Consulting Group, a Virginia consulting firm, who worked as an expert witness for the plaintiffs.

“It was sold as having just a little bit more risk than an unlevered municipal bond portfolio,” said McCann. “It wasn't just a little bit more risky, it was a lot more risky.”

Citigroup said in a regulatory filing last month that “several” investors in funds including MAT and ASTA had filed lawsuits and arbitration claims against the bank, and that many of the disputes are already resolved. The SEC is examining the marketing, management and accounting treatment of the funds, the company said, adding that it is fully cooperating.

The bank, run by Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit, 54, since December 2007, must also pay the claimants' $3 million legal fees, according to the ruling.

0
Comments

What do you think?

View comments

Recommended for you

Featured video

INTV

Why some retirement plan advisers think Fidelity is invading their turf

InvestmentNews editor Frederick P. Gabriel Jr. and reporter Greg Iacurci talk about this week's cover story that looks at whether Fidelity Investments is stepping on the toes of retirement plan advisers.

Latest news & opinion

Is Fidelity competing with retirement plan advisers?

As the Boston-based mutual fund giant expands the products and services it brings to the retirement market, some financial advisers say the firm is encroaching on their turf.

Gun violence hits investment strategies, sparks political debates with advisers

Screening out weapons companies has limited downside.

Social Security underpaid 82% of dually entitled widows and widowers

Agency failed to tell survivors that they could switch to a higher retirement benefit later.

If Finra eases firm oversight of outside business activities, broker-dealers could lose revenue

Brokerage firms would no longer be able to charge reps for supervising nonaffiliated RIAs.

Galvin charges Scottrade with DOL fiduciary rule violations

Action of Massachusetts' top regulator shows states can put teeth into a rule under review by the Trump administration.

X

Hi! Glad you're here and we hope you like all the great work we do here at InvestmentNews. But what we do is expensive and is funded in part by our sponsors. So won't you show our sponsors a little love by whitelisting investmentnews.com? It'll help us continue to serve you.

Yes, show me how to whitelist investmentnews.com

Ad blocker detected. Please whitelist us or give premium a try.

X

Subscribe and Save 60%

Premium Access
Print + Digital

Learn more
Subscribe to Print