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Phil Falcone has been forced to say he was wrong. The hedge fund manager has settled charges with the SEC that he improperly put investor money to personal use, and the SEC struck a hard bargain: an admission of wrongdoing, a $17 million fine, and a five-year ban from the securities industry, which will probably force him to liquidate his fund. He will be allowed to continue to run his bankrupt wireless network company.
Falcone’s case is the latest in a veritable spree of regulatory enforcement. The SEC’s charges against hedge fund manager Steve Cohen may be on hold, but only because the Justice Department is busy prosecuting its case against Cohen’s firm, SAC. And despite agreeing to a $410 million settlement over energy manipulation charges, at least eight federal agencies are still investigating JP Morgan; the DOJ is also now looking into JPMorgan’s energy market behavior. The SEC is examining JP Morgan’s Chinese hiring practices, and the bank recently said its regulatory costs might hit $6.8 billion above its current reserves.
Bethany McLean worries that the flurry of activity is creating a false sense of accomplishment. “The regulators will bring charges, no one will pay in any meaningful way, we’ll all get more and more cynical and distrustful, and the show will go on”, until we hit the next financial crisis.
It’s unclear whether this rash of cases is due to a recent shift in the SEC’s long-standing settlement policy, more enforcement resources, or simply chance. Jonathan Weil is unimpressed by the changes to the SEC’s settlement policy. He points to the SEC settlement with former SAC employee Jonathan Horvath. Despite the fact that Horvath pleaded guilty to criminal charges, his civil settlement with the SEC didn’t “require him to expressly admit whether the fraud claims against him… were true — even though they were based on the same facts, in essence, as the criminal case”. Weil also points out that JP Morgan’s $410 million settlement was of the classic neither-admit-nor-deny variety.
Matt Taibbi won’t be be convinced of the government’s newfound enforcement vigor until “someone goes to jail” or companies are ordered to break up. — Ben Walsh
On to today’s links: