WASHINGTON -- The Securities and Exchange Commission barred former Matthews & Wright Inc. lawyer Bernard Althoff yesterday from practicing as an attorney before the agency for two years and enjoined him from committing further violations of federal antifraud laws.
The action settles fraud charges brought by the agency in 1989 against Mr. Althoff and marks the final chapter in the SEC enforcement action against the former New York underwriting firm and its top officials.
The SEC had charged that Mr. Althoff, who acted as the firm's outside attorney, knew or was reckless in not knowing about questionable escrow bond offerings done by Matthews & Wright in 1985 when he helped the firm prepare a registration statement for its 1986 initial public offering of common stock.
Mr. Althoff, whose lawyers say he is currently practicing corporate law in New York City, neither admitted nor denied the SEC's charges.
"We seetled the case because it's a complicated proceeding that would cost an awful lot of money to bring to conclusion," said Edward Brodsky, Mr. Althoff's lawyer.
"Mr. Althoff was not bond counsel in connection with any of these offerings. He himself relied on bond counsel for their propriety," said Mr. Brodsky, who is a partner with Spengler Carlson Gubar Brodsky & Frischling in New York City.
Under the settlement, Mr. Brodsky said Mr. Althoff can continue to practice securities law, but cannot do work that requires him to appear before the SEC. "Plenty of securities work gets done without a requirement of an appearance," Mr. Brodsky said.
Mr. Althoff was the fourth and final defendant in the major securities fraud action braught in 1989 by the SEc against MAtthews & Wright in connection with the firm's sale of $1.3 billion of escrow bond deals between 1984 and 1986, in which the SEC said the firm used a bogus bank in the Mariana Islands to close the deals.
In earlier action taken in the Matthews & Wright matter, the SEC revoked the firm's broker-dealer license and barred Matthews & Wright President George Benoit, Executive Vice President Arthur Abba Goldberg, and Treasurer Roger Burns from the securities business for life. Mr. Benoit and Mr. Burns can apply for readmission to the business after four and two years, respectively.
The penalty against Mr. Goldberg, who masterminded the firm's notorious escrow bond deals in the mid-1980s, is stiffer than those imposed on the other defendants, according to SEC attorneys. Under SEC procedures, all three can apply at any time to get their broker-dealer licenses back. But SEC officials said Mr. Goldberg's application would be forever tainted by the charges brought against him.
Mr. Goldberg late last year pleaded guilty in a criminal case to one multipronged felony count of conspiracy and fraud in connection with a $223.73 million bond issue sold for East St. Louis, Ill., five years ago to finance a port project. Mr. Goldberg is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence in connection with bond issues underwritten for East St. Louis and Guam.
In other action yesterday, the SEC affirmed penalties imposed by the National Association of Securities Dealers on Arthur W. Weisberg, who was formerly in charge of municipal bond trading at Asiel & Co. in New York. The NASD censured Mr. Weisberg, suspended him from association with any of its members for five days, and fined him $10,000. Both the SEC and the NASD found that Mr. Weisberg "engaged in municipal bond transactions that benefited him and others at the firm's expense.