WASHINGTON — The Securities and Exchange Commission charged the former mayor and treasurer of Detroit Wednesday for failing to disclose “lavish gifts” they received to steer public pension funds to invest $117 million in a real-estate investment trust.
In a 27-page complaint, the SEC said Kwame M. Kilpatrick, who resigned as mayor in 2008 following charges that he obstructed justice, and former treasurer Jeffrey W. Beasley, solicited and received $125,000 worth of private jet travel and other perks in 2007 from MayfieldGentry Realty LLC., an advisor to two of the city’s pension funds, and its chief executive , Chauncey C. Mayfield.
Kilpatrick and Beasley, both members of the pensions’ board of trustees, then voted to invest pension funds in a real-estate investment trust managed by MayfieldGentry. Mayfield received millions of dollars in management and transaction fees from the pension funds.
The pension funds included the city’s general retirement system and police and fire retirement system.
The complaint, which the SEC filed in U.S. District Count for the Eastern District of Michigan, said Kilpatrick and Beasley committed fraud by failing to disclose the travel perks to the other pension trustees.
The SEC also charged MayfieldGentry and Mayfield with fraud, and violations of the Investment Advisors Act.
The travel included a $60,000 trip to Las Vegas made by Kilpatrick, Beasley and their associates, a $24,000 trip they took to Tallahassee, Fla., where Kilpatrick has a second home, as well as a $34,000 trip Kilpatrick and his wife and family made to Bermuda.
The SEC said members of Kilpatrick’s administration began in 2006 to “exert pressure” on Mayfield, who had supported Kilpatrick’s opponent in the 2005 mayoral race. In February 2006, Beasley told Mayfield that he was “in the doghouse” with Kilpatrick, and offered to “clear the air,” the SEC wrote in its complaint.
Throughout the following year, Mayfield recommended real estate investment trusts to the pension’s board of trustees.
MayfieldGentry then began paying for trips taken by Kilpatrick, Beasley and others that were not entirely for business, the SEC said. In 2007, Beasley demanded, and Mayfield agreed, to pay $3,000 for a hotel stay in Charlotte, N.C. Beasley had said the purpose of the trip was to inspect a building owned by one of the pension funds, but the SEC said city officials never inspected the building.
John J. Sikora Jr., an assistant director of the SEC’s asset management unit in Chicago, said the case “involves a host of undisclosed conflicts of interest that were created when the mayor and treasurer sought out payments for these trips, and [when] the investment advisors decided to pay.”
Peter Chan, an assistant regional director in the SEC’s Chicago office, said, “The board of trustees, when voting on a $100 million investment, had no idea that two of the board members [were] wined and dined and [had taken] trips to Vegas.”
The SEC seeks a “conduct-based injunction” against Kilpatrick and Beasley, which would bar them “from ever participating in … investment decisions” involving securities for any public pensions, Chan said.
Elaine Greenberg, chief of the SEC enforcement division’s municipal securities and public pension unit, said the injunction “goes to the heart of the conduct” Kilpatrick and Beasley engaged in. “We are seeking to address what, in essence, was the conduct that caused the violation. It’s a pretty potent remedy,” she said.
Greenberg said the case highlights the focus of her group’s work.
“This case represents one of our priorities, which is to root out public corruption and expose conflicts of interest in connection with obtaining investment business from public pension funds,” she said.
The $3.4 billion police and fire retirement system fund, or PFRS, announced May 3 that it terminated business with MayfieldGentry. That action followed allegations that properties in California that were purchased by an affiliate of MayfieldGentry with the pension’s money were never properly titled, fund officials said in a release. The properties were multi-tenet retail malls in Carmichael and Santa Rosa, Calif.
“The titles to those properties were never transferred to the PFRS and one of those buildings was sold,” said the release. “The PFRS has frozen all payments to MayfieldGentry and is assisting authorities in the recovery of these assets.”
A PFRS spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Eric Yafe, a lawyer at Gray Plant Mooty, which represents Mayfield, declined to comment on the case.
Lawyers for the other defendants could not be reached for comment. They include: James Thomas at Thomas & Naughton PC, representing Kilpatrick; Walter Piszczatowski, with Hertz Schram PC, representing Beasley; and Peter Zeidenberg at DLA Piper, representing MayfieldGentry.
Kilpatrick resigned as mayor in 2008 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. The case stemmed from text messages Kilpatrick exchanged with Christine Beatty, former chief of staff, with whom Kilpatrick had an affair. He served prison time, but was released. However, he remains embroiled in other alleged public corruption cases.
The SEC said the investigation was a cooperative effort among staffers from the Chicago regional office, the enforcement division’s asset management unit and the municipal securities and public pensions unit.
The SEC said the investigation is ongoing.