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JPMorgan Ends SEC Alabama Swap Probe for $722 Million
Old 11-04-2009, 06:11 PM   #1
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JPMorgan Ends SEC Alabama Swap Probe for $722 Million

Nov. 4 (Bloomberg) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to a $722 million settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to end a probe into sales of derivatives that helped push Alabama’s most populous county to the brink of bankruptcy.
JPMorgan will give Jefferson County, Alabama, $50 million, pay a $25 million penalty and cancel $647 million in fees the county faced to unwind the transactions, according to an SEC news release. In addition, the agency charged two former JPMorgan employees for their roles in an “unlawful payment scheme” that allowed them to win bond and interest-rate swap business with the county.

JPMorgan Ends SEC Alabama Swap Probe for $722 Million (Update2) -
Is this an isolated case or the first of many as municipalities across the country look for ways to get out of the financial holes they find themselves in?

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Old 11-04-2009, 11:52 PM   #2
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From what I have read of this case, there are plenty of political and financial folks who should be worried about criminal charges.

Those kind of circumstances seem to be way out in left field compared to the run-of-the mill local government budget issues, so I'm expecting this to be a relatively isolated case. (But, unfortunately, probably not unique.)

For example, one of the odd things in this case is that the root issue is an expensive wastewater program.
Seeds of Crisis
The seeds of Jefferson County's debt crisis were planted in December 1993, when three citizens filed a lawsuit against the county commission, alleging untreated sewage was being discharged into the Black Warrior and Cahaba rivers during heavy rains, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1994 joined the taxpayers who filed the complaint. In December 1996, the county settled the case by agreeing to build a sewer system for collecting overflows and cleaning the water.
In 1997, the county began selling bonds to raise money for the project. Most of the bond sales, all done without competitive bidding, were arranged by Charles LeCroy, a banker at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Raymond James & Associates Inc.
`Cash Cow'
By November 2002, the county had issued $2.9 billion in sewer bonds, with an average rate of 5.25 percent; the cost of building the sewer system doubled from initial projections. Meanwhile, LeCroy had been hired by JPMorgan, taking the county's debt work with him.

$2 billion+ in sewer construction in a county of 650,000 just doesn't add up. There's bound to have been gold-plating involved when key decisions were made by the staff, the politicians and their consultants as they worked up a plan to get out of the EPA doghouse. (A hypothetical example might be running a five-mile gravity sewer with deeply-buried pump houses every mile in lieu of a building a single pump station with a five-mile pressure pipeline buried only six feet deep. Another might be recommending immediate construction of a treatment plant with a "built-for-growth" capacity of X, instead of only the first phase of a plant that could be modularly expanded over several phases as the actual need reached X in the future.)

As an engineer in the public works business, I wonder whether any of the engineering firms involved (and their licensed P.E. employees) will be held accountable if it is found they acted unethically or illegally. If so, then I say throw the book at them, too.
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