More Resignations In CalPERS AIM Unit

A pair of resignations at the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation’s largest pension fund, is paving the way for CalPERS’s chief investment officer, Joseph Dear, to restructure the team that manages the pension fund’s $32 billion in alternative investments.

Joncarlo Mark, a senior portfolio manager in the Alternative Investment Program who has worked at CalPERS since 1999, announced in February that he would be leaving at the end of March. Soon after, the fund announced that Mike Dutton, a senior manager helping steer the group’s private equity investments, was also planning to depart. Dutton has been at CalPERS since 2006. (The group has one other senior portfolio manager, Sarah Corr.)

Separately, James Lasher, a senior portfolio manager for CalPERS’s real estate portfolio (not considered part of the alternative investment pool), also announced plans to step down. Lasher has been in the role for two years.

The departures come as the search narrows for a new senior investment manager to oversee alternative assets, a position that has been unfilled since August. Dear has been directly overseeing the alternatives group since then and plans to continue doing so until a new AIM chief is chosen “in the next few weeks,” said Wayne Davis, a CalPERS spokesman.

“We’re all awaiting the final decision on the new senior investment officer,” Dear said in a statement to CalPERS’s board. He said that CalPERS would wait until that role was filled before choosing who will replace Mark and Dutton as senior portfolio managers.

Davis emphasized that the main objective in filling the three roles would be the continued the success of the alternative investment program. “AIM has done extremely well,” he said, adding that the program garnered a 21.5 percent gain during the 2010 calendar year.

In a statement to colleagues, Mark said he was leaving with the satisfaction that he and his team had been “able to construct a top-notch, global private equity portfolio that is positioned to generate meaningful returns for years to come.”

Before CalPERS’s board, Dear also praised Mark and Dutton. He said during Mark’s 12-year career, he “helped establish the AIM program’s reputation as a pioneer in the private equity industry.” Dear lauded Dutton for his “keen intellect” and for guiding the group’s strategy for “financial institutional investing, co-investment and portfolio construction.”

The role of senior investment officer has been vacant since Leon Shahinian left after being named—but not charged—in a state-level fraud lawsuit brought by Jerry Brown, the former attorney general of California and its current governor.

Brown’s suit alleges that Shahinian and his boss, former CalPERS chief Federico Buenrostro, were bribed with lavish gifts from a well-connected placement agent, Alfred Villalobos, as part of his successful efforts to lure $4.8 billion in CalPERS funds to his client, private equity firm Apollo Global Management. Buenrostro and Villalobos have denied any wrongdoing. Apollo was not named as a party to the suit.