Blackstone Pays $39 Million to End SEC Fund Conflicts Probe

  • Private equity firm didn't fully disclose fees and discounts
  • Accord follows KKR's $30 million settlement with regulators

Blackstone Group LP will pay almost $39 million to settle claims stemming from a U.S. regulator’s industrywide investigation into whether private equity firms put their own interests ahead of investors’.

The sanction resolves allegations that the world’s largest private equity manager failed to fully inform investors about fees and business discounts that benefited the firm, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a statement Wednesday. The accord includes a $10 million fine and $28.8 million of disgorgement and interest.

“Transparency of fees and conflicts of interest is critical in the private equity industry and we will continue taking action against advisers that do not adequately disclose their fees and expenses,” Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in the statement.

Blackstone, which didn’t admit or deny the allegations, is the biggest private equity manager to face scrutiny in the SEC’s review of obscure fees that firms keep for themselves and charges that are passed on to investors. KKR & Co. in June agreed to pay a $10 million fine and disgorgement of about $18.5 million to settle allegations that it allowed some investors, including the firm’s executives, to sidestep costs tied to unsuccessful corporate buyouts.

Greater Discounts

From 2007 to early 2011, New York-based Blackstone benefited from “substantially greater” discounts on the firm’s legal work than was reflected in rebates applied to its funds, which are mostly owned by investors known as limited partners, according to the SEC complaint. The agency added that the investment funds generated significantly more of the legal fees than the firm. Blackstone didn’t disclose the difference in rebates until August 2012, the SEC said.

The regulator also said that some investments made by Blackstone from 2010 to 2015 resulted in accelerated monitoring fees that weren’t disclosed to clients when they initially committed money to the firm’s funds. Monitoring fees, which private equity firms charge companies they own annually for advisory work, were accelerated into lump-sum payments to Blackstone when the firm sold or took a business public ahead of schedule, even when future work wouldn’t be performed.

The practice lowered the value of the portfolio companies, reducing potential profits available for limited partners, the SEC said.

Blackstone in May said in a public filing that regulators asked for more information about its disclosures of vendor discounts, which included rebates received from law firms, and accelerated monitoring fees. The company said it expanded its disclosure of the practices to investors after an SEC exam that spanned from 2011 to 2012. Blackstone also said that last year that it stopped collecting monitoring fees from companies it sells and limited the practice after taking businesses public.

“This SEC matter arose from the absence of express disclosure in marketing documents, 10 or more years ago, about the possible acceleration of monitoring fees, a common industry practice,” Peter Rose, a Blackstone spokesman, said in a statement Wednesday. “Each accelerated fee was, however, as the SEC order acknowledges, disclosed when received and our limited partner advisory committee did not exercise its right to object. Moreover, Blackstone voluntarily made changes to the applicable policies well before this inquiry was begun.”

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