Falcone, billionaire fund manager, agrees to five-year ban in new SEC settlement

August 19, 2013

Billionaire fund manager Philip Falcone agreed to a five-year ban from the financial industry and will admit wrongdoing to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that he improperly used money from his hedge fund and unfairly favored some of his investors, the agency announced Monday.

While the ban will put at least a temporary end to Falcone’s hedge fund career, the consent order detailing the agreement does not say Falcone is barred from being a director or an officer of a public company. Two spokesmen for the SEC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The new settlement agreement between Falcone and his hedge fund, Harbinger Capital, and the SEC comes after the agency rejected an earlier proposal, finding it was too lenient.

Falcone’s attorney, Matthew Dontzin, did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

The revamped agreement appeared to be the first to require a defendant to admit wrongdoing since SEC Chair Mary Jo White announced a policy requiring admissions in some cases.

The government asserted that, at the height of the financial crisis, when many of the fund’s assets were tied up in the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Falcone let select investors get out while denying that opportunity to others.

The SEC also claimed that Falcone illegally loaned himself $113 million from the fund to pay his taxes, leaving investors unable to access their money. Falcone eventually repaid the loan.

To settle the charges, Falcone will have to personally pay around $11.5 million in disgorgement and fines, while Harbinger Capital will pay $6.5 million, according to the SEC’s announcement. The total of $18 million in penalties is the same figure set in the last agreement.

David Marder, a former assistant district administrator for the SEC in Boston, called the admissions in the Harbinger case a “big deal” for lawyers seeking an indication of what cases the commission will require admissions for in the future.

“This case is important in that people will look at the factors in this case and compare them to the factors in their case going forward,” he said.

Marder, now a partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, said the violations in Falcone’s case were so “egregious” that it might not be as helpful as a more borderline case in figuring out the contours of the SEC’s new policy.

Falcone will be banned from associating with brokers, dealers, investment advisers and other types of financial firms for five years, after which he will be able to reapply for a license to operate. During that period he will be allowed to help with the liquidation of Harbinger under the supervision of an independent monitor, the announcement said.

The policy of allowing defendants to neither admit nor deny wrongdoing had come under scrutiny after U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff rejected a $285 million settlement with Citigroup based in part on the lack of admissions.

— Reuters

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