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Wells Fargo Pays $6.5 Million to Resolve SEC Broker Claims

Wells Fargo & Co. will pay more than $6.5 million to resolve U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claims that a brokerage unit and former employee sold complex securities without disclosing risks to investors.

The brokerage now known as Wells Fargo Securities improperly sold asset-backed commercial paper structured with mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations to municipalities, non-profits and other customers during 2007, the SEC said today in a statement announcing the settled administrative proceeding. The San Francisco-based bank didn’t get sufficient information about the securities and relied almost exclusively on credit ratings, the SEC said.

“Broker-dealers must do their homework before recommending complex investments to their customers,” Elaine C. Greenberg, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit, said in the agency’s statement. “Municipalities and other non-profit institutions were harmed because Wells Fargo abdicated its fundamental responsibility as a broker to have a reasonable basis for its investment recommendations to customers.”

Wells Fargo, which resolved the SEC’s claims without admitting or denying wrongdoing, will pay $65,000 in disgorgement and $16,751.96 in interest in addition to a $6.5 million fine, the SEC said.

“These issues occurred more than five years ago and pertain to a part of the firm that was completely revamped,” Ancel Martinez, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said in an e-mail. “We are pleased to put this matter behind us.”

Shawn Patrick McMurtry, a former Wells Fargo Securities vice president who left the company in June, will pay a $25,000 penalty and received a six-month suspension, the SEC said.

A phone message left at a listing for McMurtry in St. Paul, Minnesota, wasn’t immediately returned.

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