Recent SEC Charges Raise Liability Questions For Government Entities

Recent SEC Charges Raise Liability Questions For Government Entities

In two administrative enforcement actions last month, the SEC charged two municipalities - Harrisburg, Pa. and South Miami, Fla. - with securities fraud. These high-profile actions sounded alarm bells and raised concerns about possible securities violations involving other state and local governments. But while these two actions have grabbed a great deal of attention, the unfortunate fact is that allegations of securities law violations against local governments are nothing new. However, the recent problems do raise serious concerns for state and local government bond investors, which in turn raise concerns about what the liability implications may be for the government entities and their officials.

On May 6, 2013, in the first of the two most recent actions, the SEC instituted settled administrative proceedings against Harrisburg, charging the city with securities fraud for its "misleading public statements when its financial condition was deteriorating and financial information available to municipal bond investors was either incomplete or outdated." The SEC's press release describing the action and the city's entry into a consent cease and desist order details the misleadingly reassuring or incomplete statements the city provided at a time when its financial woes were well known to city officials.

The press release states that the Harrisburg action "marks the first time that the SEC has charged a municipality for misleading statements made outside of its securities disclosure documents." The agency's administrative order was accompanied by a separate report addressing the disclosure obligations of public officials and "their potential liability under the federal securities laws for public statements made in the secondary market for municipal securities."

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Read other items of interest from the world of directors & officers liability, with occasional commentary, at the D&O Diary, a blog by Kevin LaCroix.

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