SEC Official Didn't Intimidate Brokers, Lawyer Says

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A lawyer for an official at the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday denied a report that his client had attempted "to intimidate and influence" investment brokers by invoking her position.

William Bransford, a lawyer for SEC deputy secretary Florence Harmon, said his client was simply trying to alert her mother's brokers that she was knowledgeable about financial issues because of her place of work and wanted to let them know that they might be making the wrong decisions.

"She was not trying to b ully or intimidate," Bransford said. "She was simply trying to help her aged mother with her financial affairs."

Harmon was the subject of an investigation by the SEC's inspector general, and the allegations against her were detailed in a recent Washington Post story on questionable conduct by employees at the agency. Harmon couldn't be reached for comment for that story, and an SEC spokesman declined to comment on her behalf.

Yesterday, Bransford said his client took exception to many of the details in the IG report, contending, for example, that Harmon called the brokers two times, not more than a dozen, as the report suggested.

Bransford said Harmon made the calls on her own time. One of the calls, made in March 2007, was heated, because she disagreed with the broker about whether her mother had to take mandatory distributions from her retirement account, Bransford said. Another, in summer 2007, was cordial and focused on trades the brokers wanted to make on Harmon's behalf, he said.

The inspector general's report said that Harmon at one point told a bank representative that "he should have Googled her name before he spoke with her." Bransford said Harmon denies making the statement.

Bransford said the episode has been resolved at the SEC, but he did not provide details. The inspector general's report said Harmon had been referred for disciplinary action.

Asked if there were any ramifications for Harmon, Bransford said, "I'm not in a position at the time to talk about whether there was or what it was."

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