SEC Charges UBS with Fraudulent Bidding Practices Involving Investment of Municipal Bond Proceeds
May 4, 2011 - The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) with fraudulently rigging at least 100 municipal bond reinvestment transactions in 36 states and generating millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.
To settle the SEC's charges, UBS has agreed to pay $47.2 million that will be returned to the affected municipalities. UBS and its affiliates also agreed to pay $113 million to settle parallel cases brought by other federal and state authorities.
When investors purchase municipal securities, the municipalities generally temporarily invest the proceeds of the sales in reinvestment products before the money is used for the intended purposes. Under relevant IRS regulations, the proceeds of tax-exempt municipal securities must generally be invested at fair market value. The most common way of establishing fair market value is through a competitive bidding process in which bidding agents search for the appropriate investment vehicle for a municipality.
The SEC alleges that during the 2000 to 2004 time period, UBS's fraudulent practices and misrepresentations undermined the competitive bidding process and affected the prices that municipalities paid for the reinvestment products being bid on by the provider of the products. Its fraudulent conduct at the time also jeopardized the tax-exempt status of billions of dollars in municipal securities because the supposed competitive bidding process that establishes the fair market value of the investment was corrupted. The business unit involved in the misconduct closed in 2008 and its employees are no longer with the company.
According to the SEC's complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, UBS played various roles in these tainted transactions. UBS illicitly won bids as a provider of reinvestment products, and also rigged bids for the benefit of other providers while acting as a bidding agent on behalf of municipalities. UBS at times additionally facilitated the payment of improper undisclosed amounts to other bidding agents. In each instance, UBS made fraudulent misrepresentations or omissions, thereby deceiving municipalities and their agents.
"Our complaint against UBS reads like a 'how-to' primer for bid-rigging and securities fraud," said Elaine C. Greenberg, Chief of the SEC's Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit. "They used secret arrangements and multiple roles to win business and defraud municipalities through the repeated use of illegal courtesy bids, last looks for favored bidders, and money to bidding agents disguised as swap payments."
According to the SEC's complaint, UBS as a bidding agent steered business through a variety of mechanisms to favored bidders acting as providers of reinvestment products. In some cases, UBS gave a favored provider information on competing bids in a practice known as "last looks." In other instances, UBS deliberately obtained off-market "courtesy" bids or arranged "set-ups" by obtaining purposefully non-competitive bids from others so that the favored provider would win the business. UBS also transmitted improper, undisclosed payments to favored bidding agents through interest rate swaps. In addition, UBS was favored to win bids with last looks and set-ups as a provider of reinvestment products.
In a related enforcement action, the SEC barred former UBS officer Mark Zaino from associating with any broker, dealer or investment adviser, based upon his guilty plea last year in a criminal case charging him with two counts of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud for engaging in misconduct in the competitive bidding process involving the investment of proceeds of tax-exempt municipal bonds. The Commission recognizes Zaino's cooperation in the SEC's investigation as well as investigations conducted by other law enforcement agencies.
Without admitting or denying the allegations in the SEC's complaint, UBS has consented to the entry of a final judgment enjoining it from future violations of Section 15(c) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. UBS has agreed to pay a penalty of $32.5 million and disgorgement of $9,606,543 with prejudgment interest of $5,100,637. The settlement is subject to court approval.
This is the SEC's second settlement with a major bank in an ongoing investigation into corruption in the municipal reinvestment industry. In December 2010, the SEC charged Banc of America Securities LLC (BAS) with securities fraud for similar conduct. In that matter, BAS agreed to pay more than $36 million in disgorgement and interest to settle the SEC's charges, and paid an additional $101 million to other federal and state authorities for its misconduct.
The SEC's investigation was conducted by Deputy Chief Mark R. Zehner and Assistant Municipal Securities Counsel Denise D. Colliers, who are members of the Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit in the Philadelphia Regional Office.
The SEC thanks the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their cooperation and assistance in this matter. The SEC is bringing this enforcement action in coordination with the Department of Justice, Internal Revenue Service and 25 State Attorneys General.
The SEC's investigation is continuing.
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