SEC sends ‘informal inquiry’ letters to two Villaraigosa appointees
An investigation of alleged pension-fund improprieties that already has entangled New York state officials, a key Obama advisor and a well-connected political consultant has now reached a Los Angeles agency that invests more than $10 billion for retired city firefighters and police officers.
Two appointees of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions board received letters from the Securities and Exchange Commission asking them to turn over documents regarding at least three companies that have come under scrutiny in connection with the pension scandal in New York.
The SEC also asked board members Sean Harrigan and Elliott Broidy to identify any money they made from businesses that are involved, directly or indirectly, in investing the pension fund’s assets. The federal agency also asked for information about the two board members’ bank accounts and their major sources of income since Jan. 1, 2005.
The letters, dated April 7, represent an extension of the SEC’s investigation into allegations of kickbacks involving a New York state pension fund and political consultant Henry “Hank” Morris. The letters, copies of which were obtained by The Times, signal in particular that the SEC is trying to determine whether questionable practices alleged in the New York investigation exist in any form at Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions.
The mayor is investigating the matter and will take “the appropriate action at the appropriate time,” said Matt Szabo, a spokesman for Villaraigosa.
“The mayor has no tolerance for impropriety or the appearance of impropriety on any commission, particularly those which manage billions of dollars,” Szabo added.
Last month, New York State Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo and the SEC accused Morris and a former official in the state comptroller’s office, David Loglisci, of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks from firms looking to manage assets from the $122-billion New York State Common Retirement Fund between 2003 and 2006. The probe focuses in part on payments paid to Morris’ firm by Quadrangle Group, whose co-founder, Steven Rattner, now heads President Obama’s auto industry task force.
In the letters to Harrigan and Broidy, SEC attorney Leslie Hakala said her agency’s inquiry should not be construed as an indication that any law had been broken. But she also advised them that they might wish to consult their attorneys.
The SEC declined to comment Friday. Neither Harrigan nor Broidy responded to calls seeking comment.
The SEC asked the two volunteer board members to identify any source of income greater than $10,000 since 2005 and any document showing communications they have had with four companies: Aldus Equity, DAV/Wetherly Financial, StepStone Group and Pension Consulting Alliance Inc. -- or representatives of those companies.
All four companies have been involved, directly or indirectly, in investment decisions by the L.A. pension agency. At least three have direct or indirect ties to the New York probe.
Laura Guglielmo, the No. 2 official at the pension agency, said she didn’t know whether the SEC had sent letters to the board’s seven other members. Board member George Aliano said he had received nothing from the SEC.
Harrigan, the former president of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, known as CalPERS, was appointed to the local agency’s board by Villaraigosa in 2005. Broidy was originally placed on the board by Mayor James K. Hahn. He was reappointed by Villaraigosa in 2006.
Broidy has been a huge contributor to political campaigns, spending at least $183,000 in California in 2007 and 2008, including $5,000 for the mayor’s campaign to elect three new school board members, according to campaign records. Harrigan, a retired executive with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, had a tumultuous two-year tenure as president of CalPERS, the largest U.S. public pension fund, before being ousted in 2004.
In addition to sending the letters, the SEC sent an e-mail to Michael Perez, general manager of the Los Angeles pension agency, asking him to provide minutes for every agency board meeting since Jan. 1, 2005, according to a copy of the April 15 e-mail obtained by The Times.
Last month, the SEC alleged in a civil complaint that Morris and Loglisci “used their leverage” with Aldus Equity “to extract kickbacks” in connection with certain investment opportunities.
Aldus and StepStone have served as advisors to the Los Angeles pension agency on private equity investments.
StepStone was founded by senior executives who previously worked at Pacific Corporate Group, according to pension agency documents. Pacific Corporate Group is also mentioned in the SEC complaint.
Perez, the Los Angeles pension agency’s general manager, informed the board this month that he and his staff were planning to meet with representatives of StepStone and Aldus to discuss their involvement in the investigation.
In an April 2 memo, Perez pointed out that the SEC complaint had concluded that in many instances, investment management firms “knew, or were at least reckless in not knowing,” that certain investments in New York would not occur without payments to Morris or others.
StepStone and Aldus declined to comment Friday.
The SEC also asked Harrigan and Broidy for information on Pension Consulting Alliance, another consultant to the Los Angeles pension fund, and Wetherly Financial, a unit of Wetherly Capital Group.
The Los Angeles-based Wetherly operation is paid by private investment firms to pitch their financial products to various pension agencies.
Wetherly, which said it was cooperating with investigators, paid $313,750 to Morris’ firm, Searle & Co. A spokesman for Wetherly said the payment covered consulting work.
Wetherly hired Harrigan to do consulting work in 2006, according to city Ethics Commission documents. Harrigan recused himself a year later on a vote to invest $30 million in CIM Group, a Wetherly client.
The SEC’s complaint said Loglisci, the onetime chief investment officer for the New York pension fund, arranged a meeting with an unnamed executive with private equity firm Quadrangle Group to discuss a DVD distribution deal for a film. In January 2005, a Quadrangle affiliate agreed to acquire the DVD distribution rights for $88,841.
Three weeks later, Loglisci informed the Quadrangle executive that the New York retirement fund would make a $100-million investment in a fund managed by another Quadrangle affiliate, the complaint said.
The Los Angeles pension agency voted in 2005 to invest $10 million in Quadrangle. Morris’ firm, serving as a “placement agent,” promoted the investment to the agency.