January 28, 2013

SEC Charges Former Jefferies Exec With MBS Fraud

Jesse Litvak generated more than $2.7 million for Jefferies through his deceit, the SEC says

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The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday charged a former executive at New York-based broker-dealer Jefferies & Co. with defrauding investors while selling mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in the wake of the financial crisis so he could generate additional revenue for his firm.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Connecticut, Jesse Litvak arranged trades for customers as part of his job as a managing director on the MBS desk at Jefferies. Litvak, the SEC says, “would buy a MBS from one customer and sell it to another customer, but on many occasions he lied about the price at which his firm had bought the MBS so he could re-sell it to the other customer at a higher price and keep more money for the firm.”

On other occasions, the SEC says that Litvak “misled purchasers by creating a fictional seller to purport that he was arranging a MBS trade between customers when in reality he was just selling MBS out of his firm’s inventory at a higher price.” Because MBS are generally illiquid and difficult to price, it is particularly important for brokers to provide honest and accurate information.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut announced criminal charges against Litvak on Monday as well.

The SEC alleges that Litvak generated more than $2.7 million in additional revenue for Jefferies through his deceit. His misconduct helped him improve his own standing at the firm, as his bonuses were determined in part by the amount of revenue he generated for the firm.

George Canellos, deputy director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a statement that “brokers must always tell their customers the truth, particularly in complex securities transactions in which it is difficult for investors to determine market prices on their own. Litvak repeatedly lied to his customers and invented facts to bring additional profits into his firm and ultimately his own pocket at their expense.”

According to the SEC’s complaint, Litvak worked in the Stamford, Conn., office at Jefferies, and his misconduct lasted from 2009 to 2011. Litvak’s customers included some funds created by the U.S. government under a program designed to help strengthen the markets for MBS during the financial crisis. Said the SEC: “Had these customers been aware that they could have paid less for the MBS they purchased, they likely would have done so.”

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