WASHINGTON -- Shearson Lehman Brothers Inc. and one of its salesmen have been ordered by a Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board arbitration panel to pay an investo roughly $162,000 in damages in what appears to be the first award arising from defaults of Colorado special district bonds.
But two other MSRB arbitration panels refused to fine Boettcher & Co., now a division of Kemper Securities Group Inc., in connection with sales of similar bonds to two other investors, the MSRB announced yesterdya. Boettcher has received some of the heaviest publicity nationwide in connection with the string of recent failures of Colorado special district bonds.
In the Shearson case, arbitrators in Albuquerque, N.M., ordered the firm and David Bradley, one of the salesmen, to repay an unidentified woman investor the $145,000 face value of Mount Carbon Metropolitan District general obligation bonds dated May 1, 1985, that she bought from the firm -- plus interest and attorneys' fees. The issue, like many speical district bonds that ran aground in Colorado's declining real estate market, defaulted in May 1990.
The arbitration panel agreed with the investor's charges that the bonds were inappropriate given her "income needs, age, investment objectives, level of risk aversion, and the concentration within her total investment portfolio which the investment represented." The buyer also charged that the firm and Mr. Bradley failed to advise her that the bonds were a new issue and were unrated.
She also said they failed to provide her with an official statement for the bonds and did not disclose the risk factors spelled out in the document. Moreover, she said that between August 1987 and August 1988 she continuously questioned the wisdom of the investment, but was repeatedly assured that she should hold onto the bonds, the MSRB said.
Shearson and Mr. Bradley denied all the allegations, arguing that Mr. Bradley had handled her account for four years without problems and that he discussed her investment needs and resources with her before recommending the purchase, the MSRB said.
Shearson contended that Mr. Bradley fully described the bonds to the investor, including the fact that they were unrated. And the investor, whom the firm describes as a sophisticated buyer, received a copy of the official statement with the confirmation and copies of the monthly statement that showed the market value of the bonds, the firm said.
"We are disappointed with the outcome, but the firm continues to believe that securities arbitration is a swift, cost-effective, and fair process," said a spokeswoman for the firm. In a recent Supreme Court case, Shearson argued for investors taking their beefs with brokers before arbitration panels rather than to court.
In the first of the two Boettcher cases, investors Cameron and Susan Syke charged that the firm and Rick Harrison, a salesman for the firm, talked them into buying Villages at Castle Rock Metropolitan District No. 4, Douglas County, Colo., bonds by saying that the securities, which subsequently went into default on June 1, 1990, were general obligation bonds.
They said they eventually learned the bonds are revenue bonds with principal and interest payable solely out of revenues "derived by the issuer under a complex contractual arrangement among the issuer and certain other districts."
They also said the firm and the salesman knew or should have known that the development within the district and the related districts was grossly behind projections and that default was imminent.
The firm denied all the charges and noted that Mr. Syke was a former account executive of Boettcher in the mid-1980s and was a coworker of Mr. Harrison. While at Boettcher, Mr. Syke actively sold municipal bonds, including "the very same type of investment at issue in this arbitration: special district municipal bonds financing the development of commercial and residential real property."
The firm said Mr. Harrison told Mr. Syke the bonds were risky and denied knowing that development was grossly behind projections or that default was imminent.
Arbitrators dismissed the Syke claims in their entirety.
In the second case against Boettcher, an unidentified investor charged that he bought $20,000 in Colorado Center Metropolitan District general obligation bonds from the firm in April 1986. He said that in the spring of 1989 he called John Givens, a salesman for the firm, for advice on whether to sell the bonds after readign unfavorable articles about the Colorado Springs economy.
He said he decided not to sell the bonds based on the information he received from Mr. Givens, which he charged was "false and misleading."
Boettcher, however, said Mr. Givens did provide the buyer with information that he had received from Boettcher's "liaison desk" and that the investor did not ask for a recommendation on whether to sell the bonds. Again, arbitrators dismissed the claim in its entirety.