Washington Agency Is First Fined by SEC for Deceiving Public

A public agency in Washington’s Wenatchee Valley region that defaulted on its debt will pay $20,000 to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the first municipal issuer fined for misleading investors.

The Greater Wenatchee Regional Events Center Public Facilities District, which financed an events center and ice-hockey arena, defaulted in 2011 on notes issued in 2008. The SEC said today in a release that the district in an official statement claimed there were no independent reviews of the center’s financial projections even though a consultant twice raised questions about its viability.

“Financial penalties against municipal issuers are appropriate for sanctioning and deterring misconduct when, as here, they can be paid from operating funds without directly impacting taxpayers,” Andrew Ceresney, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in the statement. He said offering documents gave investors “a false picture.”

The SEC’s latest move is a sign that the agency, under the direction of Chairman Mary Jo White, is intensifying its efforts to crack down on state and local governments for not giving investors accurate information about their financial condition prior to bond sales.

Banker Fined

Illinois settled with the SEC in March over charges it misrepresented its growing pension shortfall when selling bonds from 2005 to 2009, though paid no fine. The agency settled a similar case with New Jersey three years ago, also without a financial penalty. That was the first time it targeted a state.

Along with the probe of New Jersey in 2010, the SEC in 2008 accused San Diego officials of failing to disclose key policies contributing to its pension-fund shortfalls.

In this case, the Wenatchee district and others involved in the debt transaction face financial charges.

Minneapolis-based Piper Jaffray Cos. (PJC), whose subsidiary underwrote the $42 million note deal, will pay a $300,000 fine. The lead investment banker on the offering, Jane Towery, will incur a $25,000 penalty, according to an SEC statement.

The documents also omitted information about Wenatchee’s limited debt capacity, the SEC said. Standard & Poor’s cut the city’s general obligations two levels to BBB in December 2011 for failing to step in and help the district.

The SEC said it was the first time it had fined a municipal-bond issuer. The Wenatchee agency, the company and Towery neither admitted nor denied the findings, according to the statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Chappatta in New York at bchappatta1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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