Region Financial Corp.’s brokerage arm, Morgan Keegan, was sued on July 21 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on charges that the Memphis-based firm left clients stranded with more than $1 billion in auction rate securities.
According to the SEC, Morgan Keegan failed to tell customers about the growing risks associated with auction rate securities. Instead, it reportedly encouraged brokers to ramp up their efforts to sell the instruments prior to the market’s collapse in February 2008.
The SEC is demanding that Morgan Keegan buy back any auction rate securities sold before March 2008 from retail investors and small businesses, as well as pay fines. In addition, the regulator wants Morgan Keegan to forfeit any proceeds from its auction-rate business. From June 2007 to February 2008, the SEC says Morgan Keegan earned more than $4 million in underwriting, brokerage and distribution fees.
“Morgan Keegan was clearly aware that the ARS market was deteriorating, but it went so far as to actually accelerate its ARS sales even after other firms’ ARS auctions began to fail,” said SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami in a statement.