The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a San Francisco-area investment adviser with defrauding investors by giving them a bogus audit report that embellished the financial performance of the fund in which they were investing.
The SEC alleges that James Michael Murray raised more than USD4.5 million from investors in his various funds including Market Neutral Trading LLC (MNT), a purported hedge fund that claimed to invest primarily in domestic equities. Murray provided MNT investors with a report purportedly prepared by independent auditor Jones, Moore & Associates (JMA). However, JMA is not a legitimate accounting firm but rather a shell company that Murray secretly created and controlled. The phoney audit report misstated the financial condition and performance of MNT to investors.
“An independent financial audit is one of the best protections available to investors,” says Marc Fagel, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office. “Murray conjured up an accounting firm and deliberately faked the audit to induce investors into believing the fund was in better shape than it actually was.”
The US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California also has filed criminal charges against Murray in a complaint unsealed yesterday.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in San Francisco, Murray began raising the funds from investors in 2008. The following year, MNT distributed the phony audit report to investors claiming the audit was conducted by a legitimate third-party accounting firm. However, JMA is not registered or licensed as an accounting firm in Delaware, where it purports to do business. JMA’s website was paid for by a Murray-controlled entity and listed 12 professionals with specific degrees and licenses who supposedly work for JMA. However, at least five of these professionals do not exist, including the two named principals of the firm: “Richard Jones” and “Joseph Moore.” Murray has attempted to open brokerage accounts in the name of JMA, identified himself as JMA’s chief financial officer, and called brokerage firms falsely claiming to be the principal identified on most JMA documents.
The SEC alleges that the bogus audit report provided to investors understated the costs of MNT’s investments and thus overstated the fund’s investment gains by approximately 90 percent. The JMA audit report also overstated MNT’s income by approximately 35 percent, its member capital by approximately 18 percent, and its total assets by approximately 10 percent.
The SEC’s complaint charges Murray with violating an SEC rule prohibiting fraud by investment advisers on investors in a pooled investment vehicle. The complaint seeks injunctive relief and financial penalties from Murray.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Karen Kreuzkamp and Robert S Leach of the San Francisco Regional Office following an examination of MNT conducted by Yvette Panetta and Doreen Piccirillo of the New York Regional Office’s broker-dealer examination program. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Robert L. Mitchell of the San Francisco Regional Office. The SEC thanks the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and the US Secret Service for their assistance in this matter.