SEC returns only 1% of recovered funds
Trouble identifying wronged investors noted by auditors

By Marcy Gordon, Associated Press
Tuesday, October 4, 2005

WASHINGTON - Since 2002, defrauded investors have received only about 1 percent of the billions of dollars collected for them by securities regulators, congressional auditors have found.

Congress' Government Accountability Office, in a report released Monday, said the Securities and Exchange Commission has taken in more than $4.8 billion in civil fines and restitution in settlements with companies and individuals during that period.

However, the SEC has distributed to the entitled shareholders only about $60 million from three of the 75 cases in question, the report found.

Under the landmark anti-fraud law enacted in response to the corporate scandals of 2002, the money is mandated to go to the Federal Account for Investor Restitution, known as the Fair Fund. The agency does not earn interest from the fund.

"I am deeply troubled by the difficulties the (SEC) has encountered in expeditiously returning these funds to American investors," said Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., who released the report along with Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. "While the Fair Fund may never be a substitute for private litigation, the SEC needs to find ways to turn the Fair Fund into a more effective mechanism for returning funds to wronged investors, given the limitations of the law and the difficulties of identifying those injured by securities fraud."

The GAO report found that the SEC has faced difficulties in identifying injured investors and returning money to them, especially in cases involving fraud by public companies. It generally is easier to identify harmed investors in cases involving brokerage firms, the auditors noted.

SEC Enforcement Director Linda Thomsen told the GAO auditors in a letter that the agency is developing a system to better monitor and manage the money to be distributed to investors.

The SEC agrees with the auditors' findings and "we are working diligently to strengthen our program," Thomsen wrote in the Aug. 19 letter.

It may be too early to fairly judge the SEC's performance in the complicated process of identifying, notifying and compensating affected investors, said Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester and an expert on SEC matters.

"You can't just give away the money," he said in a telephone interview. "It's easier to measure damages than to distribute them."

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