The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has charged the principals involved in a gold options scandal in March and the country's leading metals exchange with securities violations ranging from fraud to failure to enforce rules.

The CFTC told officials of Volume Investors Corp. and three of its customers, plus representatives of the Commodity Exchange in New York (Comex) and the Comex Clearing Association to appear before an administrative law judge to answer its complaint. It marks the second time in a year that the CFTC has gone after Comex for not enforcing rules against excessive speculation.

"It is both odd and disturbing that the commission has chosen to file a complaint now in the light of their silent assent to exchange actions both prior to and during the initial period of the default of Volume ," a Comex spokesman said. "Comex will vigorously -- and, we expect, successfully -- defend against the allegations contained in this action."

Volume collapsed March 20 when it was unable to meet a margin call by the Comex clearinghouse. The firm was declared in default by a federal judge after three customers were unable to come up with $26 million to cover losses on gold options caused by a $44-per-ounce overnight increase in the price of the precious metal. The customers had sold short call options -- betting, in effect, that the price of gold would decline.

Volume continued to operate even after it experienced losses, using other customers' money in an attempt to pay off the margin calls. It has been estimated that the cost of making the other customers whole will exceed $4 million.

In its complaint, the CFTC alleges that Comex Clearing aided and abetted Volume's failure to segregate customer funds by issuing a margin call March 20 and accepting a payment when it knew of Volume's precarious financial condition. It further charges that Volume and its president, Owen Morrissey, tried to cheat some customers by advising others to transfer their funds away from the company.

James Paruch and Gerald Westheimer, both brokers, and Valerie Westheimer were charged with exceeding the exchange's limit of 4,000 short call gold options on 51 occasions during the period Jan. 7 to March 19.

A civil penalty of up to $100,000 could be levied for each violation.