Risk & Compliance

Re: Emails; Morgan Agrees to $15M Fine

Largest fine the SEC has levied for failure to preserve records.
Stephen TaubFebruary 14, 2006

Morgan Stanley disclosed that it has tentatively agreed to pay $15 million to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that the firm failed to retain e-mails.

This is the largest fine the regulator has levied for failure to preserve records, reported The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper added that one reason for the size of the fine was that the SEC felt Morgan Stanley failed to keep a prior promise to retain documents.

In a regulatory filing, the investment-banking giant noted that the SEC staff has not yet presented the proposed settlement to the commissioners, and there is no assurance it will be accepted. Morgan Stanley also stated that it is discussing the resolution of related charges with the NASD.

The Journal noted that in recent years, Morgan has been criticized on a number of occasions for the way it has handled document requests from regulators and litigants. The issue played a prominent role last year in a lawsuit brought by Revlon Inc. chairman Ronald Perelman against Morgan, which advised the billionaire when he sold his 82 percent stake in Coleman Co. to Sunbeam Corp. in 1998 for $1.5 billion. Shortly afterward, Sunbeam became embroiled in a massive accounting scandal, which sunk its stock as well as Perelman’s investment. Sunbeam eventually filed for bankruptcy protection.

Florida State Judge Elizabeth T. Maass, who presided over the case, ruled that because Morgan Stanley failed to turn over e-mails related to the Coleman deal, jurors should assume that Morgan Stanley helped Sunbeam inflate its earnings. As a result, Perelman needed to prove only that he relied on Morgan’s advice and not that the bank was complicit in any fraud.

The Florida jury ultimately awarded Perelman $1.57 billion; Morgan Stanley has appealed.

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