SEC Warns Pension Plans on Matters of Fraud

As a result of its investigation of the Retirement System of Alabama ("RSA"), the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission, Division of Enforcement, issued a March 6, 2008 report "to emphasize the responsibilities of all investment professionals, including large public retirement systems and other public entities, under the federal securities laws and to highlight the risks they undertake when they operate without a compliance program."

At the heart of the matter was an allegation of improper trading of shares in The Liberty Corporation, prior to the public announcement of its acquisition by Raycom Media, Inc. ("Raycom"). While this state agency, with over $30 billion in assets under management, is described as having cooperated with the SEC, pre-event, it had no "program, policy, practice or training to ensure that its investment staff understood and complied with the federal securities laws in general or insider trading laws in particular. RSA also did not have a compliance officer, and the responsibilities of its general counsel did not include oversight of RSA's investment activities."

According to this official report, RSA founded Raycom in 1996 and was its "primary financing source." (Enforcement investigation aside, this begs an interesting question. Why was the Retirement System of Alabama in the business of creating a private business?) A disturbing excerpt from the SEC report is shown below.

<<RSA's purchases of Liberty stock were unusual in at least two respects. First, RSA's CEO directed the trades even though he normally was not involved in equity trading decisions. Second, Liberty's market capitalization at the time was less than $1 billion and did not satisfy the $5 billion market capitalization guidelines RSA generally used for the two funds that purchased the shares.>>

While state pension plans are not subject to the Investment Company Act of 1940 and the Investment Advisers Act, public plans and their employees are subject to anti-fraud provisions of the "federal securities laws and Commission rules thereunder."

The Commission concluded that bad acts could have been avoided if the state pension plan "had adequate policies and procedures to assure compliance with the federal securities laws." The SEC took into account the following - (a) RSA's cooperation (b) remedial action and (c) the fact that no individual gained from said trades.

Click here to read "Report of Investigation Pursuant to Section 21(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934: The Retirement Systems of Alabama.".

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