Monday, May 6, 2013
For the first time, the SEC has charged a municipality for misleading statements made outside of its securities disclosure documents. The SEC charged the City of Harrisburg, Pa., with securities fraud for its misleading public statements when its financial condition was deteriorating and financial information available to municipal bond investors was either incomplete or outdated. An SEC investigation found that the misleading statements were made in the city’s budget report, annual and mid-year financial statements, and a State of the City address. Harrisburg has agreed to settle the charges.
The SEC separately issued a report addressing the disclosure obligations of public officials and their potential liability under the federal securities laws for public statements made in the secondary market for municipal securities.
The SEC found that Harrisburg failed to comply with requirements to provide certain ongoing financial information and audited financial statements for the benefit of investors holding hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds issued or guaranteed by the city. As a result of Harrisburg’s non-compliance from 2009 to 2011, investors had to seek out Harrisburg’s other public statements in order to obtain current information about the city’s finances. However, very little information about the city’s fiscal situation was publicly available elsewhere. Information that was accessible on the city’s website such as its 2009 budget, 2009 State of the City address, and 2009 mid-year fiscal report either misstated or failed to disclose critical information about Harrisburg’s financial condition and credit ratings.
According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, Harrisburg is a near-bankrupt city under state receivership largely due to approximately $260 million in debt the city had guaranteed for upgrades and repairs to a municipal resource recovery facility owned by The Harrisburg Authority. As of March 15, 2013, Harrisburg has missed approximately $13.9 million in general obligation debt service payments.
According to the SEC’s order, Harrisburg had not submitted annual financial information or audited financial statements since submitting its 2007 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to a Nationally Recognized Municipal Securities Information Repository (NRMSIR) in January 2009. Beginning in July 2009, Harrisburg was obligated to submit financial information and notices such as principal and interest payment delinquencies and changes in bond ratings to a central repository known as the Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA) system maintained by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB). Harrisburg did not submit its 2008 CAFR to EMMA, instead erroneously submitting it to a former NRMSIR on March 2, 2010. Harrisburg did not submit its 2009 CAFR to EMMA until Aug. 6, 2012, and did not submit its 2010 CAFR to EMMA until Dec. 20, 2012. The city did not submit material event notices about its failure to submit annual financial information or its credit rating downgrades until March 29, 2011, after the SEC had commenced its investigation.
The SEC’s order requires Harrisburg to cease and desist from committing or causing violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. The city neither admits nor denies the findings in the order. In the settlement, the SEC considered Harrisburg’s cooperation in the investigation and the various remedial measures implemented by the city to prevent further securities laws violations.