SEC charges hedge fund managers with defrauding investors

SEC targeting what it calls "hedge fund-related misconduct"

Money, drain Money, drain

The Securities and Exchange Commission today separately charged a pair of hedge fund managers and their firms with lying to investors about how they were handling the money invested in their respective hedge funds. The charges are the latest in a series of actions taken by the SEC Enforcement Division and its Asset Management Unit against hedge fund-related misconduct in the markets.

In one case, the SEC alleges that San Francisco-based hedge fund manager Hausmann-Alain Banet and his firm Lion Capital Management stole more than a half-million dollars from a retired schoolteacher who thought she was investing her retirement savings in Banet’s hedge fund. In the other case, the SEC charged Chicago-based hedge fund managers Norman Goldstein and Laurie Gatherum and their firm GEI Financial Services with fraudulently siphoning at least $147,000 in excessive fees and capital withdrawals from a hedge fund they managed.

Since the beginning of 2010, the SEC has filed more than 100 cases involving hedge fund malfeasance such as misusing investor assets, lying about investment strategy or performance, charging excessive fees, or hiding conflicts of interest. The SEC today issued an investor bulletin detailing some of those cases as examples of why investors must rigorously evaluate a hedge fund investment before making one.

“These hedge fund frauds have lured even the most sophisticated investors using the siren song of outsized returns or secured and guaranteed investments,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “As fraudsters increasingly capitalize on the cachet of hedge funds, we will maintain our strong presence in policing this industry.”

In the past few weeks alone, the SEC has charged an Atlanta-based private fund manager and his firm with defrauding investors in a purported “fund-of-funds” and then trying to hide trading losses, charged a hedge fund adviser in Oregon with running a $37 million Ponzi scheme through several hedge funds he managed, and charged a New York-based hedge fund manager who touted a diversified and controlled-risk investment strategy for his fund while in reality misusing investor assets to prop up a failing private company. The New York-based fund manager also failed to disclose conflicts of interest, and he falsely overstated his firm’s assets under management in various magazine articles he authored.

“The most serious hedge fund frauds involve advisers who play fast and loose with investor money,” said Bruce Karpati, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit. “Investors can complement the SEC’s vigilant enforcement against hedge fund misconduct by becoming increasingly wary of hedge fund managers who boast extreme performance measures and asking well-informed questions about investment strategy, fees, and potential conflicts of interest.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed against Banet and Lion Capital Management in federal court in San Francisco, Banet led the teacher to believe that his hedge fund would invest in the stock market using a long/short equity investing strategy. Instead, Banet brazenly took the teacher’s investment totaling $550,000 and used it to pay unauthorized personal and business expenses, including his home mortgage, office rent, and staff salaries. Banet also provided phony account statements showing non-existent investment gains and listing an independent administrator that performed no actual work for the fund.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California today announced criminal charges against Banet. The SEC acknowledges the assistance and cooperation of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to the SEC’s complaint against Goldstein, Gatherum, and GEI Financial Services filed in federal court in Chicago, investors in the hedge fund were not told that its adviser removed various performance hurdles when calculating fees. Furthermore, inappropriate capital withdrawals were made from the fund. Goldstein, Gatherum, and their firm never told their advisory clients that Illinois regulators had stripped Goldstein of his securities registrations in 2011, barring him from providing investment advisory services in the state. But even after losing his registration status, Goldstein continued to make all investment decisions on behalf of clients, and he and Gatherum caused GEI Financial Services to violate compliance rules applicable to SEC-registered investment advisers.

The SEC’s investigation of Lion Capital Management was conducted by Sahil Desai and Robert Leach of the Asset Management Unit in the San Francisco Regional Office. John Yun is leading the SEC’s litigation. The SEC’s investigation of GEI Financial Services – which stemmed from an Asset Management Unit initiative to detect misconduct by pursuing registered investment advisers with repeated compliance examination deficiencies – was conducted by Andrew Shoenthal, Jeson Patel, Malinda Pileggi, Vanessa Horton, and Paul Montoya of the Chicago Regional Office. John E. Birkenheier is leading the litigation.

The SEC’s investor bulletin on hedge funds was prepared by the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. It recommends that investors understand a hedge fund’s investment strategy and its use of leverage and speculative techniques before making the investment. It also explains the need to evaluate a hedge fund manager’s potential conflicts of interest and take other steps to research those managing the fund.

“Hedge fund investments generally perform differently, involve higher fees and less liquidity, and may carry greater investment and fraud risk than the mutual funds that investors are accustomed to,” said Lori J. Schock, Director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. “This investor bulletin describes the rigorous due diligence steps that financially-qualified investors should consider before making any hedge fund investment.”

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