U.S. Attorney and SEC Investigating Lehman’s Auction Rate Securities Sales; They Should Also Investigate FINRA’s

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning Lehman Role Probed in Selling Securities:

The Justice Department has questioned several former executives at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. as part of its criminal investigation into whether they sold supposedly safe, liquid securities to clients while knowing that the market for the securities was drying up.

Prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and lawyers from the Securities and Exchange Commission in recent weeks interviewed several former executives who ran Lehman’s auction-rate-securities business, these people said. Auction-rate securities are short-term debt instruments in which the interest rates reset at periodic auctions.

The inquiry centers on whether Lehman employees defrauded customers as the market for these securities broke down in 2007. Authorities want to know if Lehman executives got these auction-rate securities off the firm’s books and into client accounts at a time in which the securities were becoming hard to sell, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.

Authorities also want to know if executives knew the market was in trouble and sold their own personal holdings of auction-rate securities, which could constitute insider trading, according to the people. (emphasis added)

I wrote on January 16th, “Let’s Really Question Ms. Schapiro.” In that post, I was raising the same questions that the U.S. Attorney is now raising about the Lehman executives. I wrote:

Additionally, as of the end of 2006, FINRA acknowledged that the assumed portfolio held a cool $647 million dollars in Auction Rate Securities!!!

For those not familiar with Auction Rate Securities, this sector of the market totally imploded last Spring leaving institutional and individual investors holding the bag. While many institutional investors were made somewhat whole via settlements from the larger broker-dealers, many individual investors remain holding the bag as smaller broker-dealers, who did not necessarily underwrite these securities but did distribute them, have not been forced to make clients whole. WOW!!!

Are you kidding me!!?? The main regulator of the financial industry happens to be an investor in securities which virtually every Attorney General in the country is going after every Wall Street institution for improper marketing and distribution!! Are we looking at gross negligence, ignorance, incompetence or all of the above?? The question that MUST be answered is what has FINRA done with these Auction Rate Securities. Do they still own them? Did they liquidate them? If so, when and at what price? How was the sale negotiated? So many questions.

Over and above that, given that Ms. Schapiro is the chief executive of FINRA, don’t you think it would have been appropriate for her to address which hedge funds, fund of funds, and private equity shops were in FINRA’s portfolio? FINRA’s Annual Report categorically states its’ investment committee addresses any potential conflicts of interest. The public deserved to have this topic openly addressed during Ms. Schapiro’s hearing. WHY? For the simple reason that FINRA is feeding from the very same trough it is supposed to be regulating.

I followed this post up with numerous other posts raising the same questions. On March 31st, I wrote “Before Any Fraud Ensued,” in which I aggressively put forth:

Given that there is public acknowledgement by a federal judge that a fraud had ensued in the marketing and distribution of ARPS, let us return to the case Sense on Cents has been highlighting. FINRA’s Annual Report for 2007 publicy records that FINRA owned $647 million ARPS at year end 2006.

The questions that need to be answered:

1. Was FINRA defrauded in the purchase and sale of their bonds? (I have subsequently unearthed in reading NASD Annual Reports from 2003-2005 that FINRA assumed the ownership of their ARS holdings from NASD and highlighted as much in my post, NASD Knew Auction Rate Securities Weren’t Cash)

2. If FINRA has sold their bonds subsequent to the publishing of that report in April 2008, to whom did they sell them? at what price? on what date? (The Bloomberg article from April 30th, FINRA Oversees Auction-Rate Arbitrations After Exit offered the following color addressing FINRA’s sale of their ARS holdings:

Finra, responsible for educating and protecting investors, owned as much as $862.2 million of the debt before exiting the market in the spring of 2007, less than six months before auctions began to fail, according to spokesman Herb Perone.

3. Did FINRA have material non-public information at the time of sale, if in fact they sold them? Did they act on that information? (Today’s WSJ article is further acknowledgment that the Auction Rate Securities market was failing in 2007. FINRA first apprised investors of concerns in the ARS sector in Spring 2008. If in fact the ARS market was failing in 2007, the pressure on FINRA needs to increase. FINRA must release the trade information on their sale of ARS. Without that information, how can the investing public have any confidence in the integrity of FINRA and its procedures.

Let’s put this into layman’s terms. FINRA was supposed to be overseeing and regulating the casino on Wall Street. In the process of regulating the casino, it appears that they put some of their own chips into one of the games. That game, ARPS, turned out to be a fraud, as publicly acknowledged by U.S. District Judge Lawrence McKenna in this case with UBS.


Now here we are on May 21st, 2009. The questions that the U.S. Attorney is looking to get answered by Lehman executives are the EXACT questions that FINRA executives also should be compelled to answer.

Do you think representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the SEC, and defense counsel may also want to know the answers to these questions as well?

About Larry Doyle 522 Articles

Larry Doyle embarked on his Wall Street career in 1983 as a mortgage-backed securities trader for The First Boston Corporation. He was involved in the growth and development of the secondary mortgage market from its near infancy.

After close to 7 years at First Boston, Larry joined Bear Stearns in early 1990 as a mortgage trader. In 1993, Larry was named a Senior Managing Director at the firm. He left Bear to join Union Bank of Switzerland in late 1996 as Head of Mortgage Trading.

In 1998, after 15 years of trading and precipitated by Swiss Bank’s takeover of UBS, Larry moved from trading to sales as a senior salesperson at Bank of America. His move into sales led him to the role as National Sales Manager for Securitized Products at JP Morgan Chase in 2000. He was integrally involved in developing the department, hiring 40 salespeople, and generating $300 million in sales revenue. He left JP Morgan in 2006.

Throughout his career, Larry eagerly engaged clients and colleagues. He has mentored dozens of junior colleagues, recruited at a number of colleges and universities, and interviewed hundreds. He has also had extensive public speaking experience. Additionally, Larry served as Chair of the Mortgage Trading Committee for the Public Securities Association (PSA) in the mid-90s.

Larry graduated Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa in 1983 from the College of the Holy Cross.

Visit: Sense On Cents

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