More firms settle in pay-to-play scandal

The New York State Attorney General announced late last week that his office has settled with four more private equity firms, relating to a pay-for-play scandal at the New York Common Retirement Fund.

The four firms, Falconhead Capital, HM Capital Partners, Levine Leichtman Capital Partners and Access Capital Partners, will return $4.5 million to the state’s public pension fund, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said, and sign a code of conduct that prohibits the future use of placement agents when soliciting fund commitments from public pension systems.

Their agreements follow that of The Carlyle Group and Riverstone Holdings, which previously and separately agreed to pay $20 million and $30 million, respectively, and adopt the code of conduct.

In addition, Pacific Corporate Group, a La Jolla, Calif.-based private equity consultant, agreed to a settlement over the summer in which it will pay more than $2 million in restitution to New York Common in exchange for not having to face civil or criminal charges.

Cuomo said his probe revealed that the PCG affiliate was a minority partner in a joint venture that paid kickbacks to win a $750 million investment from the $109.9 billion New York Common fund, one of the nation’s largest public pension funds.

The Democratic attorney general has spent more than two years probing how investment firms won business from the $116 billion state pension fund under former state comptroller Alan Hevesi.

The probe, and a parallel investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, has swept up high-profile firms, including Carlyle and Quadrangle Group, the firm co-founded by Steven Rattner.

Rattner left his post as head of the U.S. government’s auto task force in July after Cuomo intensified his probe of Quadrangle.

Last week, Cuomo said that HM Capital and Falconhead had hired Henry Morris, Hevesi’s top political advisor, through Morris’s broker-dealer, Searle & Co.

Morris and David Loglisci, the former top pension investment officer, in March were charged with securities fraud, bribery, money laundering and other crimes.

Attorneys for both men have said they are innocent and Cuomo told reporters on a telephone call last week that no trial date had been set.

The repayments by Levine Leichtman and Access Capital are directly related to the amount each firm paid Morris. This is different than what Carlyle and Riverstone paid in earlier settlements, which were related to fund management fees paid by New York Common.

Joan Gralla of Reuters contributed to this report.