Posted on 08 Jul 2011
After conceding that one of its divisions rigged dozens of bidding competitions to win business from state and local governments, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has agreed to pay $211 million.
The Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission said Thursday that J.P. Morgan Securities LLC made at least 93 secret deals with companies that handled the bidding processes in 31 states. Those deals allowed the bank to peek at competitors' offers.
Banks help municipalities invest the money they raise from bond offerings so that they can earn interest before paying for projects. They compete by submitting to state and local governments the best yield they can offer.
The alleged bid-rigging deprived governments of a true competitive process that would produce the best returns on their investments, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney said in a statement.
JPMorgan's settlement covers complaints brought by the SEC, the Internal Revenue Service, bank regulators and 25 state attorneys general. Nearly a quarter of the money will go toward settling civil fraud charges brought by the SEC. A large portion will be divided among states, in part to pay restitution to victims of the fraud.
JPMorgan agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department's investigation in exchange for not being prosecuted, the agency said.
The company admitted and accepted responsibility for the illegal conduct. It blamed it on former employees of a division that has since been shut down. The company said it "is pleased to have resolved this matter with its regulators." It said the settlement will not affect its financial performance.
It was the second major federal settlement for the bank in the past month. JPMorgan settled civil fraud charges with the SEC in June. It agreed to pay $154 million for allegedly misleading buyers of complex mortgage investments as the housing market collapsed.
One former executive of the bank's securities unit, James Hertz, pleaded guilty in December to criminal charges related to the bid-rigging issue. He also is cooperating with authorities.
In all, the Justice probe has resulted in criminal charges against 18 former executives of financial services companies and one corporation. Including Hertz, nine of the executives have pleaded guilty.
Here's how the money from Thursday's settlement will be divided:
— The SEC will receive $51 million to settle civil fraud charges.
— JPMorgan will pay the IRS $50 million because its actions violated rules governing municipal bonds, which are tax-exempt.
— The bank's main regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, will receive $35 million.
— The settlement with the states is worth $92 million. That includes half of the $35 million JPMorgan agreed to pay the OCC. The settlements have a face value of $228 million because $17 million is counted twice.
JPMorgan's agreement includes the District of Columbia and these states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Bank of America and UBS have agreed to settlements based on similar municipal bid-rigging charges brought by federal and state authorities. Bank of America Corp. agreed in December to pay more than $137 million. UBS AG agreed in May to pay more than $160 million.