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SEC Letters Outline "Informal Inquiry" into California Pension Deals

..The Securities and Exchange Commission is seeking detailed financial information from two members of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions board, according to letters obtained by the Los Angeles Times in a joint investigation with ProPublica.

The letters to board members Sean Harrigan and Elliott Broidy ask for bank and brokerage account details, any finder's fees or placement agent fees, and documents "sufficient to identify all source of income greater than $10,000" received since the beginning of 2005.

They represent the strongest evidence to date that the SEC's ongoing "pay-to-play" investigation of New York's state pension fund has gone bi-coastal. The SEC has declined comment on the probe, which is being conducted alongside an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

The LA Times carried this report on the letters. Harrigan was at the helm of the California Public Employees' Retirement System from late 2001 until early 2005, during which time the fund invested $300 million with clients of Wetherly Capital Group, records show.

Wetherly had a fee-splitting deal with Hank Morris, the subject of a 123-count indictment issued last month by Cuomo's office. A former political consultant in New York, Morris is charged with bribery, money laundering and other crimes for allegedly demanding payments from hedge funds and other investment firms for access to the state's $122 billion pension fund.

Morris was active as a placement agent in dealings with the New York fund and with Wetherly in California. Placement agents act as middlemen, helping investment firms get pension fund business in return for lucrative fees.

After Harrigan left CalPERS, he was appointed to the police and fire pension board by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. City ethics commission records state that Harrigan had retained Wetherly in 2006. Wetherly was active as a placement agent on 10 CalPERS investment deals between 2004 and 2009.

Broidy is a co-founder of Markstone Capital Group, a private equity group that encourages investments in Israel. He served as the Republican National Committee's finance chairman during the 2008 election. Broidy was appointed to the police fire and pension board in 2002.

The letters say the financial information is being sought on a voluntary basis but also cautions that "facts acquired as a result of this inquiry may be considered for possible enforcement action by the Commission or other law enforcement agencies."

We've posted the SEC letters. (PDF)

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