BRADENTON, Fla. — The Securities and Exchange Commission is recommending that Jefferson County, Ala., receive a $25 million disgorgement and civil penalty that JPMorgan paid into an SEC “fair fund” designed to compensate harmed investors and issuers.
The money is part of an SEC settlement in November of securities fraud and other charges against JPMorgan involving nearly $3.2 billion of troubled variable- and auction-rate sewer warrants and related interest-rate swaps Jefferson County sold in 2002 and 2003. The county has since defaulted on the warrants.
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s charges, the investment bank agreed to pay $50 million to Jefferson County, forfeit more than $647 million of swap termination fees, and place $25 million into the fair fund.
In a distribution plan released Wednesday, the SEC recommended Jefferson County receive all the fair-fund proceeds. The public has 30 days to comment on the plan.
Substantive public comments could result in the distribution plan being altered, according to Teresa Verges, an SEC assistant regional director in Miami who assisted in the case.
The distribution plan ultimately must be approved by the commission.
“What’s really fortunate for us and the county is we were able to use the resources of our division of risk, strategy, and financial innovation to help us determine [the county’s] direct economic harm,” Verges said. “We had very good information that led us to make our recommendation to the commission.”
The distribution plan refers to the underlying case against JPMorgan, which found that the firm, through two of its managing directors, made more than $8.2 million in undisclosed payments to local firms whose principals or employees were friends with some of the Jefferson County commissioners who voted on the bond deals in question.
The risk division reviewed the case and market data and found that “JPMorgan Securities passed on the costs of the improper payments to the county in the form of inflated fixed interest rates on the swaps,” the distribution plan said. “These inflated fixed-interest rates directly harmed the county by increasing the swap payments it had to make over what it would have paid absent the improper payment scheme.”
By the time JPMorgan agreed to settle its case with the SEC in November, the county had suffered additional harm to its reputation, credit rating, and ability to refinance these obligations, according to the plan.
The harm suffered by bondholders was largely the result of variable- and auction-rate warrant market failures and not the improper payment scheme, the distribution plan concluded.
Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins, who heads the county finance committee, was unavailable for comment Monday.
Collins told the Birmingham News on Sunday that she was gratified to know that the county is receiving the money. She couldn’t think of anyone “more injured than the people of Jefferson County,” Collins said.
Jefferson County filed a civil suit in state court about a week after receiving the $50 million SEC settlement payment from JPMorgan in November.
The county alleged it had been defrauded by JPMorgan and two of its employees — Charles LeCroy and Douglas MacFaddin — former Jefferson County Commission president Larry Langford, Bill Blount and his firm Blount Parrish & Co., and lobbyist Al LaPierre for their roles in the failed sewer refinancings and swaps.
The SEC is pursuing action against Langford, Lecroy, and MacFaddin.
Langford, Blount, and LaPierre were convicted on federal charges related to the pay-to-play scheme. All three are serving prison sentences, but Langford is appealing his conviction.
A trial begins Sept. 7 in the quest for a receiver to take over control of the county’s sewer system. The receiver suit was filed by the Bank of New York Mellon, which is trustee for the defaulted warrants.