Risk & Compliance

SEC Fines Muni Bond Underwriters $9.3M

Major U.S. investment banks sold municipal bonds using offering documents that contained materially false statements or omissions, the SEC says.
Matthew HellerJune 18, 2015

Three dozen municipal bond underwriters have agreed to pay a total of $9.3 million in fines to settle charges that they failed to comply with disclosure obligations in offering documents.

The enforcement actions against 36 firms were the first to be brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission under a voluntary self-reporting program. The Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation (MCDC) Initiative, announced in March 2014, offers favorable settlement terms to municipal bond underwriters and issuers who self-report securities law violations.

“The MCDC initiative highlights the importance of continuing disclosure in the municipal bond market and due diligence in the underwriting process,” Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, said Thursday in a news release. “The initiative has brought much needed attention to these issues and has already improved the behavior of participants in the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market.”

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Those agreeing to pay the maximum fine of $500,000 include Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Piper Jaffray, Raymond James & Associates, RBC Capital Markets, and Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

Fines were based on the number and size of the fraudulent offerings identified, up to a cap based on the size of the firm.

According to the SEC, the underwriters violated federal securities laws between 2010 and 2014 by selling municipal bonds using offering documents that contained materially false statements or omissions about the issuers’ compliance with continuing disclosure obligations. The firms also allegedly failed to conduct adequate due diligence to identify the misstatements and omissions before offering and selling the bonds to their customers.

The SEC’s 2012 Municipal Market Report identified issuers’ failure to comply with their continuing disclosure obligations as a major challenge for investors seeking information about their municipal bond holdings.

“Because these 36 firms underwrite a substantial portion of the country’s municipal bonds each year, we expect a large number of bondholders will benefit from the resulting improvements in due diligence and disclosure,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s municipal securities and public pensions unit.

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