The Securities and Exchange Commission said it has distributed about $185 million to more than 800 mutual funds hurt nearly four years ago by illegal market timing by Prudential Equity Group.

It is the first disbursement in a series that will return about $270 million to the funds that were hurt by Prudential, which was known at the time as Prudential Securities Inc.

In August 2006, the SEC ordered Prudential to pay $600 million, including $270 million to the funds, $325 million to the Department of Justice and $5 million to the Massachusetts Securities Division. Prudential representatives had defrauded the funds by concealing their identities and those of their customers in order to evade mutual funds' limitations on market timing, the SEC said.

"This substantial distribution reflects the SEC's ongoing efforts to compensate mutual funds and their shareholders for the harm caused by illegal market timing," said SEC regional director David Bergers.

Prudential is now owned by Wells Fargo & Co.

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