Monday, January 15, 2007

More Criminal Capitalists

File this under business as usual......

$78 million payday, $75,000 fine
Slap on the wrist in fund scandal bodes ill for investors

-- As a mutual fund shareholder, you wanted to believe there would be no more scandals, that the bad guys had been caught, would be punished and that the worst was over. You'd have been better off believing in the Tooth Fairy.

An agreement reached last week between former Putnam Investments top dog Lawrence Lasser and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shows all too clearly why "minor" scandals will keep happening in the business for years to come

That's an ugly conclusion to draw about the business, but it's the logical supposition in light of the Lasser deal, which scarcely drew a headline when it was made public.

Lasser is the only fund company executive charged so far with fraud for authorizing payments to brokers for preferential sales treatment. Putnam paid $40 million to the SEC in 2005 to clear up charges that it never told fund investors or directors that it was paying for "shelf space," or the chance to have brokers make the firm's funds more of a sales priority.

These "revenue-sharing" deals are fairly common, and Putnam is far from alone in being targeted by regulators. Yet in virtually every other case where firms face charges over revenue-sharing deals, it's the business with money on the line; individuals are pretty much ignored.

Broaden the scope to other nefarious activities, and you'll find that the only times executives were named -- such as Dick Strong of the Strong funds agreeing to a huge settlement with regulators -- was when they were directly involved in allowing rapid trading and circumventing fund rules; without that kind of direct link, however, most actions have been against the business rather than individuals.

The Lasser case was seen as a step up in enforcement, a sign that regulators wanted top managers to know that their necks are on the line. Forget about it: The settlement amounted to $75,000, a one-fingered slap on the wrist.

How inconsequential is that amount to Lasser? Consider that when he left Putnam, his severance package was worth $78 million, and that the company agreed to pay his legal fees. The settlement is less than one-tenth of one percent of Lasser's out-the-door money, never mind the tens of millions of dollars he earned running the company.

And file this under there's a sucker born every minute......

He's 25, a CEO, and on the run

Police accuse Oakville man of $8M fraud

At just 25, Adam Spencer was president and CEO of an upstart information technology company and a motivational speaker, but his real job was fleecing scores of investors of $8 million and then disappearing with their cash, police allege.

"The long and short of it is I invested a bunch of money with a few other fellows and we got taken to the cleaners," said Peter Leupen, who invested $80,000 in Spencer's company, Emexis Integrated Solutions Inc.

All bought in to Spencer's "slick" sell and lofty business plan that promised investors hefty returns on their money once he took his private company public. "Certainly, he talked a great story," said Leupen, who is in media sales.

No one suspected that the recent university graduate living with his parents in Oakville had concocted a "sophisticated fraud," according to one of several lawsuits filed against the former Queen's University student who is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for fraud.

Police allege between September 2005 and May 2006, investors bought shares in Emexis at 50 cents each with the option to purchase an equal number of shares at 75 cents with a view to taking the company public. But Spencer told them later he had changed his mind and it would remain a private firm. To compensate them, he said he would buy back all their shares for $1 apiece. But that never happened and the money collected was never returned.

At one point last year, Leupen received an email from one of the company's three vice-presidents telling him his money was with the CIBC but that the "delay was simply unavoidable in light of Enron."

The bookish young man, who has delivered lectures to entrepreneurial conferences at his alma mater, attended a 2004 conference in Washington, D.C., where he addressed a forum that brought together "thought leaders."

It appears he had been living the high life, hobnobbing with race car drivers and spending his summer weekends cutting through waves in his $120,000 Mastercraft X-Star boat. Property records show that he and his parents, John and Elizabeth Spencer, bought a $1.7 million home in Oakville last January, just months before investors started asking questions about where their money was. He drove a Mini Cooper, which had a lien against it for $45,000.



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