DALLAS -- Oklahoma bond power broker Robert Cochran left his job this week as executive vice president at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. amid investigations of bond deals by three federal agencies and changes in the firm's public finance operation.
In a tersely worded announcement issued late Tuesday afternoon, the St. Louis-based securities firm and Cochran said they had severed their business relationship. A 20-year veteran with the firm, Cochran was in charge of the municipal bond operations for Oklahoma and other states and was based in the Oklahoma City office.
Stifel said that John Noonan, a John Nuveen & Co. executive who joined Stifel this summer as senior vice president at the St. Louis headquarters, will now supervise the company's public finance program and will work with vice president Jim Fried for Oklahoma bond deals.
The resignation announcement follows a similar one made about two weeks ago that Wayne VonFeldt, who had been executive vice president and head of the Oklahoma City office, was leaving to pursue new opportunities in the securities business.
The resignations may mean that Stifel's Oklahoma City office, which has long dominated bond deals in the state, could lose some of its clout and that more of the authority could be shifted to St. Louis, industry sources said.
However, Stifel said that it continued to be committed to Oklahoma and wanted to maintain its position as lead underwriter in the state.
Cochran, 47, made no comment except to say: "There is a difference in philosophy regarding the future of public finance in Oklahoma City."
Meanwhile, industry sources said Cochran quit his job because Stifel and Noonan, his new boss, were trying to rein him in and a special employment contract was terminated in August. Cochran had reported to VonFeldt and was not accustomed to being so heavily supervised from St. Louis.
"Bob is very flamboyant," an industry source said. "My view is that Bob wanted to work in a less structured environment. He is a gunner. Stifel took a more structured approach on how public finance should operate."
Under Cochran and VonFeldt, the influence of Stifel was ubiquitous in a state where relationships are important and the investment community is small.
The firm has not only been heavily criticized for influence peddling, but is part of three ongoing investigations into Oklahoma bond deals from 1989 to 1992 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service.
"Stifel's tentacles run all through the state, and all of their bigger deals were shepherded by Cochran and VonFeldt," Oklahoma state Sen. Dave Herbert, D-Midwest City, said. "I don't know if they have done anything wrong. But they may just have been too hot for Stifel to handle with the investigations."
Herbert said he admired Cochran's work and called him a smart investment banker, although he had some philosophical differences with him and was one of the initial whistleblowers on the now controversial cash-management programs that are part of the SEC investigation.
In November, the SEC asked for information on a $608 million refinancing of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority in 1992 and several bond issues for Oklahoma cash management programs from 1990-1992 that involved hundreds of schools in the state and other governmental entities.
The SEC also asked for information concerning underwriter selection and compensation. Stifel was the senior manager for the cash-management programs and the co-senior manager for the turnpike refinancing.
In addition, the IRS has been investigating school districts for arbitrage violations in connection with the cash management programs that were underwritten by Stifel. Several districts have been charged arbitrage rebate, penalties, and interest, and more are being evaluated.
The FBI also is looking into various bond issues that involved Stifel as well as some other underwriters. The federal agency also has asked for information on three turnpike bond issues sold in 1989, 1991, and 1992, which involved Stifel as either a lead underwriter or a co-manager.
"Cochran couldn't stand the heat," another industry source said.
The firm has been criticized for contributing heavily to political campaigns, although Stifel said it joined the moratorium on contributions last year.
The Daily Oklahoman reported in 1991 that Cochran and VonFeldt personally contributed more than $56,000 to Oklahoma politicians and political parties in the previous five years.
In addition, the McCarville/Hill Report said in 1991 that at least 33 lobbyists, lawyers, officers, and others associated with Stifel and another large bond underwriter contributed a total of $61,335 to Gov. David Walters' 1990 gubernatorial campaign. Sources said those figures represent just part of the money spent on contributions by Stifel, which has long been the largest underwriter in the state.
The firm has about one-quarter of all tax-exempt bond business in Oklahoma. From 1988 to 1993, Stifel was the senior manager on 27.7% of the deals for state government and agency issues, according to Securities Data Co.
"If there are only a few players, there is no discipline in the bond business," an industry source said. "Stay out of Oklahoma is the message."