The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced fraud charges against Lynn Tilton, CEO of MD Helicopters, and her New York-based firms accused of hiding the poor performance of loan assets in three collateralized loan obligation (CLO) funds they manage. According to the SEC’s Enforcement Division, Tilton and her Patriarch Partners firms have breached their fiduciary duties and defrauded clients by failing to value assets using the methodology described to investors in offering documents for the CLO funds, which have portfolios comprised of loans to distressed companies. Instead, nearly all valuations of loan assets have been reported to investors as unchanged from the time they were acquired despite many of the companies making partial or no interest payments to the funds for several years. Investors have not only been misled to believe that objective valuation analyses were being performed, but Tilton and her firms allegedly have avoided significantly reduced management fees because the valuation methodology described in fund documents would have given investors greater fund management control and earlier principal repayments if collateral loans weren’t performing to a particular standard. Tilton and her firms also consequently have misled investors about asset valuations in fund financial statements.
“We allege that instead of informing their clients about the declining value of assets in the CLO funds, Tilton and her firms have consistently misled investors and collected almost $200 million in fees and other payments to which they were not entitled,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “Tilton violated her fiduciary duty to her clients when she exercised subjective discretion over valuation levels, creating a major conflict of interest that was never disclosed to them.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting an administrative proceeding, CLO funds raise capital by issuing secured notes and using proceeds to purchase a portfolio of collateral typically comprised of commercial loans. Investors are paid based on cash flows and other proceeds from the collateral. The three CLO funds managed by Tilton and the Patriarch Partners firms are collectively known as the Zohar funds, and more than $2.5 billion has been raised from investors. Tilton’s investment strategy for the Zohar funds has been to improve the operations of the distressed portfolio companies so they can pay off their debt, increase in value, and eventually be sold for a profit.
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that under the contractual terms of the deals, Tilton and her firms are required to categorize the value of each loan asset in monthly reports by using a specific method set forth in deal documents. To be assigned the highest category, a loan has to be current in its interest payments to the Zohar funds. The category of each asset impacts the calculation of a fund’s “overcollateralization” ratio, which reflects the likelihood that investors will receive a return on their principal. If the overcollateralization ratio falls below a specific threshold, Tilton and her firms are not entitled to receive certain management fees and may be required to cede more control of fund management to investors.
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that rather than following the required methodology for valuing these loan assets, Tilton and her firms have maintained their control over the funds and preserved their management fees by not lowering an asset’s category until she decides to cease financial support of the distressed company. Thus the valuation of an asset simply reflects Tilton’s subjective assessment of the company’s future. Absent an actual overcollateralization ratio test, investors aren’t getting a true assessment of the actual values of their investments, which in reality have declined substantially.
The SEC’s Enforcement Division further alleges that Tilton and her firms were responsible for misstatements in the quarterly financial statements of the Zohar funds. When preparing these financial statements, they failed to conduct a required impairment analysis on the assets of the Zohar funds despite disclosures stating that such analysis had occurred. They also falsely stated that assets of the Zohar funds were reported at fair value. Tilton repeatedly and falsely certified that the financial statements were prepared in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Tilton, Patriarch Partners LLC, Patriarch Partners VIII LLC, Patriarch Partners XIV LLC, and Patriarch Partners XV LLC violated Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 206-4(8). Patriarch Partners LLC also is charged with aiding and abetting violations by the others. The matter will be scheduled for a public hearing before an administrative law judge for proceedings to adjudicate the Enforcement Division’s allegations and determine what, if any, remedial actions are appropriate.