Stealing Private Equity Investment Opportunities

Private equity transactions are not outside the scope of enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC filed a case against a former principal of an investment adviser that manages private equity funds. The charge is that he “usurped …[a] lucrative investment opportunity in a private company.” At this point, the SEC has only filed for a cease and desist order and has not proven the allegations against Matthew Crisp.

Crisp worked for Adams Street Partners, a private equity firm registered with the SEC as an investment adviser. In 2006 and 2007, Adams Street was looking at investing in TicketsNow. Crisp was assigned as the lead sponsor of the possible investment. They decided to go ahead, but the investment was greater that their typical investment amount so Crisp decided to syndicate a portion of the committed investment.

Crisp decided to create his own investment fund and take a portion of the  syndication. Adams Street contends that Crisp was not authorized to syndicate the investment to his own fund. He also increased the size of his fund’s allocation.

The SEC contends that the resulting decrease in the size of the Adams Street’s collective investment in TicketsNow was a misappropriation of a lucrative investment opportunity that should have gone to Adams Street. The SEC alleges that Crisp did not disclose his involvement to Adams Street. That would include failing to report the involvement on his periodic compliance disclosures. Failure to disclose such information was a violation of the Adam Street’s fiduciary duties and of it’s policies.

It turned out to be a good investment because TicketsNow was sold to a competitor a year later.The investment tripled their invested capital.

The SEC alleges that this was not a single instance of malfeasance. They claim that Crisp tried again with an investment in Sherman’s Travel. He took a syndication in that investment in his own investment fund.

Adams Street discovered the problem and, after conducting an internal investigation, terminated Crisp. Thy also took the next step and self-reported the matter to the SEC.

The SEC alleges that Crisp violated Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Advisers Act. They extend this through Rule 206(4)-8 which prohibits fraudulent activity by advisers to pooled investment vehicles with respect to investors or prospective investors.

In the alternative, the SEC contends that Crisp aided and abetted Adams Street’s violation of Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Advisers Act, extended through Rule 206(4)-8.

Further, the SEC alleges that pursuant to the actions outlined above, Crisp willfully violated Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder.

The cease and desist proceeding is being instituted to determine whether the allegations noted are true and what remedial action is appropriate. Crisp already returned a large portion of his returns to Adams Street.

As more private equity fund managers are going to be registered with SEC in the next six months, I found this case to be an interesting example of SEC enforcement in the industry. Assuming that Crisp actually did what the SEC alleges, such activity should be a violation of the firm’s conduct policy and a violation of it’s funds’ partnership agreements. Investors generally will impose a contractual obligation on the fund manager to not divert investment opportunities to employees and principals of the fund manager.

So how does SEC enforcement help in this area? I suppose it adds the scare factor of a government investigation on top of losing your job and professional reputation.

Sources:

Robbery Not Allowed is by Anders Sandberg

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