Monday, March 30, 2009

The Old Fake Auditor Trick

Following is the story of a hedge fund that allegedly defrauded investors and eluded regulation over several years by having a non-existent auditor.

In the Westgate case, the SEC charged that James M. Nicholson and his company, Westgate Capital Management, an investment management firm based in Pearl River, N.Y., defrauded investors of millions of dollars by significantly overstating investment returns and misrepresenting the value of assets under management in 11 unregistered hedge funds.

The SEC's complaint alleges that Nicholson and Westgate solicited new investors with sales materials that claimed a nearly impossible record of investment success, including one Westgate fund that claimed positive returns in 98 of 99 consecutive months.

Nicholson also allegedly created a fictitious accounting firm and provided some of his investors with bogus audited financial statements. By late 2008, the funds had sustained such losses that Nicholson and Westgate could no longer honor redemption requests.

They allegedly hid the losses from investors with misrepresentations, false sales brochures and other deceptive devices. Nicholson closed one fund that was heavily invested in bankrupt Lehman Brothers and folded its assets into another Westgate fund.

Nicholson allegedly issued bad checks to some investors seeking to cash out, and ultimately suspended all investor redemptions due to what he called investors' "irrational behavior." Nicholson was already barred from the brokerage industry in 2001 for failing to reply or supplying false information in response to inquiries.

The SEC is prosecuting the case.

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