Fidelity Settles After Employees Accepted Gifts
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Mutual fund manager Fidelity Investments yesterday settled allegations that more than a dozen of its current and former employees, including star executive Peter Lynch, accepted such perks as sports tickets, tropical vacations and a $160,000 bachelor party from brokers seeking to win business.
By taking Super Bowl tickets and trips to Bermuda, Fidelity traders and supervisors broke rules that bar mutual fund executives from allowing money or personal ties to influence their investment decisions, authorities said.
Under a rule known as "best execution," fund officials are supposed to consider, first and foremost, the best options available for their clients when they decide where to steer stock trades.
Fidelity, which did not admit or deny wrongdoing as part of the settlement, agreed to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission $8 million to resolve the case. The Boston fund giant also said it would turn over more than $42 million plus interest to funds that may have been affected by the improper gratuities, which occurred between January 2002 and October 2004. Fidelity's board of trustees will meet later this month to approve a payment formula, a spokeswoman said.
Three high-ranking executives with longstanding ties to Fidelity, including investment guru Lynch, settled with lawyers in the SEC's Boston office without admitting misconduct. Lynch, a television personality and author of investment books who managed the company's popular Magellan Fund for years before stepping aside in 1990, will hand over nearly $20,000 in penalties and interest for collecting tickets to see the rock band U2 as well as Ryder Cup golf tournament passes.
"I never intended to do anything inappropriate, and I regret having made those requests," Lynch said in an e-mailed statement. His spokesman said that Lynch, who now devotes the majority of his time to charity, did not place or supervise any trades during the period in question.
Eleven current and former Fidelity workers who allegedly pocketed lavish gifts are fighting the regulatory allegations. Among them are Scott E. DeSano, who received travel and gifts valued at $145,000 from brokers soliciting his business, the SEC said. DeSano led the global equity trading unit before his departure from Fidelity last summer.
Another former Fidelity trader, Thomas H. Bruderman, received a three-day Miami bachelor party that featured female entertainers whom one attendee suspected were prostitutes, as well as a bag filled with ecstasy pills that brokers provided, according to the SEC order.
In their filing, regulators cited e-mail messages the Fidelity employees and supervisors exchanged with unnamed brokers. "Our friendship is boundless," one broker wrote to a Fidelity trading desk employee in March 2003. "Now, if you would please think of me next time a big situation appears on your desk, our friendship would be to the moon."
Lawyers for the men declined comment or did not return phone calls yesterday.
The case broke into public view after inspectors at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority uncovered evidence of possible wrongdoing during a routine visit to the Jefferies brokerage. Jefferies, which employed the brokers who made the Fidelity payments, settled a related case in December 2006.
"It's a hazard to fund shareholders when a money management firm allows Super Bowl tickets and private jet trips to influence decisions," said Sandy Bailey, an assistant regional director at the SEC's Boston office.
Fidelity said it had heightened oversight of its traders and added training to prevent future lapses. "Although the order makes no finding of financial harm to our shareholders or our funds, we do recognize the seriousness of the misconduct found by the SEC," the company said in a statement.
But in a report commissioned by Fidelity Funds' independent trustees and released yesterday along with the settlement papers, retired federal Judge John S. Martin Jr. concluded that "more than logic suggests that there is a substantial possibility that the receipt of travel, entertainment, gifts and gratuities by Fidelity traders resulted in execution harm to the funds."