Failure to Conduct Diligence Can Lead to SEC Sanctions

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If you advertise that you have due diligence process, you had better follow that process. The Securities and Exchange Commission brought an administrative proceeding against an investment adviser for failing to follow its advertised due diligence program.

The Hennessee Group promoted its process for evaluating and selecting hedge funds as the “Five Level Due Diligence Process.” They represented to clients and prospective clients that they would not recommend investment in hedge funds that did not satisfactorily complete all five levels of its due diligence evaluation. The Hennessee Group routinely touted the excellence and rigor of the process.

According to the SEC’s order, approximately 40 clients invested millions of dollars in the Bayou hedge funds from February 2003 through August 2005 after the Hennessee Group recommended those investments. Most of the money was lost by Bayou’s principals, who defrauded their investors by fabricating Bayou’s performance. The SEC charged the managers of the Bayou hedge funds with fraud in 2005.

“With regard to Bayou, Hennessee Group, at Gradante’s direction, failed to perform two elements of the due diligence evaluation that Hennessee Group had told its clients and prospective clients that it would do: (1) a portfolio/trading analysis; and (2) a verification of Bayou’s relationship with its purported independent auditor. By not conducting the entire due diligence evaluation that it had advertised, and by failing to disclose to clients that its evaluation of Bayou deviated from its prior representations, Hennessee Group and Gradante rendered the prior representations about the due diligence process materially misleading and breached their fiduciary duties to Hennessee Group’s clients.”

To resolve the matter, the Hennesse Group agreed to adopt procedures to ensure proper disclosure of its evaluation processes. They also had to pay $549,000 in disgorgement of its advisory fees related to Bayou, and to pay a civil penalty of $100,000.

These seems like a great example of the consequences for failure to follow your policies and procedures.