-- The former chief executive of Refco Inc., one of the world's biggest commodities brokerages, engaged in a conspiracy that caused Refco to sell $583 million in stock to the public based on "false and fraudulent" statements of its finances, an indictment charged Thursday.
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, accused Phillip R. Bennett and others of conspiring to commit securities fraud when they hid from auditors and investors losses that Refco and its customers had incurred in the financial markets.
The indictment came as British commodities broker Man Group PLC said it had won a bidding war to acquire Refco for $323 million, with $282 million of that amount in cash.
Refco, which went public in August, filed for bankruptcy protection on Oct. 17, a week after it announced that a $430 million debt to the company owed by a firm controlled by Bennett had been concealed.
Bennett took responsibility for the money, securing a loan to pay it back just before the company placed him on indefinite leave on Oct. 10.
The indictment said Bennett and others from at least as early as the late 1990s concealed losses in the financial markets by causing Refco to make false and fraudulent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
It said that Refco, in the 1990s, had extended credit to customers so they could trade securities and commodities in accounts held at Refco.
When customers were unable to make payments on hundreds of millions of dollars of market losses in their Refco accounts, Refco liquidated the positions and assumed the resulting losses in the accounts, the indictment said.
Rather than write off the losses, Bennett caused the losses to be transferred to a privately-held Delaware corporation he controlled so that Refco's financial books would show that the private corporation owed Refco the money, the indictment said.
It said Bennett began in 1999 directing others to hide the money owed to Refco from Refco's auditors through a series of transactions.
Bennett remains free on a $50 million bond. A lawyer for Bennett did not immediately return a telephone call for comment.