Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The SEC today announced a settled enforcement action against New York hedge fund adviser Sandell Asset Management Corp. (SAM), its chief executive officer, and two other employees for engaging in improper short sales in connection with trading in the securities of Hibernia Corporation in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Hibernia was a New Orleans-based bank holding company and the subject of an acquisition agreement with Capital One Financial Corporation at the time Katrina occurred. As part of its merger arbitrage investment strategy, SAM held a large long position in Hibernia. According to the Commission's Order, SAM personnel believed that Capital One would lower its offering price for Hibernia shares in the wake of Katrina. In an attempt to offset an anticipated loss to a client, SAM personnel began to sell short as many shares of Hibernia stock as possible, improperly marking certain sales orders as "long" or misrepresenting to the broker-dealers executing some of the trades that they had located stock to borrow.
Without admitting or denying the Commission's findings, SAM agreed to pay more than $8 million to settle the charges, including $6,716,683.93 in disgorgement, $730,811.74 in prejudgment interest, and a $650,000 civil penalty. Also charged were the firm's CEO Thomas Sandell, senior managing director Patrick Burke, and head trader Richard Ecklord, all of whom consented to the Commission's Order without admitting or denying wrongdoing. Sandell, Burke and Ecklord were ordered to pay civil penalties of $100,000, $50,000 and $40,000, respectively