Cost of doing business: $1 million fine for looting $1.6 billion and collapsing Bear Stearns
Instead of going to court on Feb. 13 and laying bare the sordid facts for a jury, at the last minute the SEC settled a civil suit against Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin of the now defunct Bear Stearns Cos (2942331Q). These were the hedge-fund managers who five years ago loaded up their two funds with billions of dollars of lousy mortgage-backed securities and collateralized- debt obligations, leveraged them to the hilt and, when the market for the securities soured in July 2007, liquidated the funds.
According to the SEC’s 2008 civil complaint against the men, the collapse of the funds cost investors at least $1.6 billion. These problems were among the very first indications that serious trouble was looming in the housing market and securities tied to it. The liquidation of the two funds led to the effective bankruptcy of Bear Stearns itself in March 2008 and the subsequent financial crisis that nearly wiped Wall Street off the face of the earth.
But the price the SEC extracted from Cioffi and Tannin as part of a settlement -- after previously telling the court it intended to go to trial -- was a mere pittance, “chump change,” according to the federal judge in Brooklyn overseeing the case. Cioffi, who made $22 million in 2005 and 2006 at Bear Stearns, will pay just $800,000 and agree to a three-year ban from the securities industry. Tannin, who was paid $4.4 million in his last two years at Bear, will pay $250,000 and agree to a two-year ban. Neither has to admit to wrongdoing. The agreement will deter absolutely no one from trying to pull off a similar stunt.