A federal grand jury yesterday indicted three employes of First Jersey Securities Inc., a nationwide stock brokerage and investment firm, charging them with lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with an SEC investigation of the firm.
The branch manager and a salesman at the First Jersey office in Falls Church were among those indicted in the first criminal action resulting from the SEC's 11-year battle with the firm.
A former employe also was indicted and charged with committing perjury before the grand jury about the source of a political contribution he made to a 1982 U.S. Senate primary campaign in New Jersey.
The indictments by the federal grand jury in New York City named James R. Guntle Jr., 32, of 411 Jefferson St., Alexandria, branch manager at Falls Church; Michael Patrick Flannery, 28, of 8304 Honey Hill Rd., Laurel, a salesman and former assistant branch manager in Falls Church; Charles Oehlert, 67, of Wayne, Pa., manager of the First Jersey branches in Wayne and Lancaster, Pa.; and Kenneth Valentine, 28, of Rochester, N.Y., a former salesman at the First Jersey office in that city. They are to be arraigned next Thursday.
The grand jury charged that Valentine committed perjury during questioning about a $1,000 contrtibution he made to the Jeffrey Bell for Senate Campaign in 1982. The others are charged with perjury and making false statements to the SEC in connection with its ongoing civil suit charging that First Jersey and its president, Robert E. Brennan, defrauded customers of more than $9.6 million in 1982 and 1983 by manipulating prices and charging excessive markups on transactions.
Guntle and Flannery yesterday denied the allegations. "I look foward to having these aired in court. I'm not going to allow the SEC to get away with this," Guntle said. Valentine and Oehlert could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Brennan, the founder of First Jersey and its most visible symbol thanks to his frequent appearances in its television commercials, defended the four. "I stand firmly behind the individuals who are being attacked. They are outstanding citizens and I know they will be vindicated," he said.
As he has in the past, Brennan called the grand jury action part of a long SEC campaign of harassment. This time, he said, the SEC has shifted its aim "out of frustration," making the branch officials and salesmen the targets.
First Jersey's conflict with the SEC arises out of the firm's role as a broker and underwriter specializing in relatively obscure "emerging growth companies," whose stocks usually are priced at several dollars a share or less. Although risky, such investments promise very large returns if the companies fulfill their potential, First Jersey says. The SEC has contended that First Jersey has abused its position as buyer and reseller of these stocks to manipulate prices for its own profit, sometimes simultaneously selling the same stocks out of different branch offices at markedly different prices, or selling and buying the same stocks from different offices on the same days.
Two earlier complaints by the SEC were settled in 1984, with First Jersey neither admitting nor denying the charges. Last October, the SEC brought new charges of price manipulation and fraud against Brennan and First Jersey. It is this investigation that produced the charges of perjury against Guntle, Flannery and Oehlert, officials said.
The Guntle indictment said the SEC was trying to determine whether his superiors at First Jersey told him to have his branch office salesmen urge their customers to buy a particular stock, while instructing them not to discuss the recommendations with salesmen at other First Jersey branches. The SEC contends that First Jersey's salesmen frequently are directed by the company to push certain stocks at specific time periods, creating a wave of buying that can move the stock price.
According to the indictment, Guntle testified that he was never directed by First Jersey to tell his salesmen what stocks to recom mend to customers. "I never directed my men to do anything. I makeThe SEC says First Jersey salesmen often are directed by the company to push certain stocks at specific times, creating a wave of buying that can move the stock price. suggestions," he said. The indictment said that statement was false.
The Oehlert indictment includes a brief section of his testimony before the SEC in which he was asked whether he met with his salesmen to discuss stocks that First Jersey was handling. "We have made meetings on love," he said. "We have meetings on citizenship, donations, blood donors, control drinking; and I would say that almost any meeting that we have, stocks do come up, but our meetings are more of an informal dialogue type. . . . I never direct them to recommend a particular stock." The grand jury charged that statement was false.
The charges against Valentine are based on the grand jury investigation of contributions by First Jersey employes to the campaign of Jeffrey Bell for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination from New Jersey in 1982.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigation, has said there is "substantial evidence that Brennan masterminded a scheme to funnel well over $100,000 in apparently illegal campaign contributions to Bell's campaign using First Jersey Securities' employes as a front." Bell said he assumed the contributions came from individuals, as his campaign records indicated, and had not been aware of allegations of improper contributions until recently.
Brennan, a prominent figure in New Jersey Thoroughbred racing circles who served as Bell's finance chairman, denied these charges. He said First Jersey employes who contributed to the campaign filed written assurances that the contributions were voluntary and made with their own funds.
Last month, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that several former First Jersey salesmen said they were reimbursed by their managers or the firm for their contributions.
Valentine's indictment said he was asked whether his $1,000 contribution to the Bell campaign was made with his own funds, and he replied it was. He denied his branch manager gave or lent him the $1,000. The indictment alleged those statements were false.