US firm Gardere Wynne Sewell has agreed to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) $1.2m (£786,000) for violating a court order in a pending law suit against former clients Sharp Capital Advisors
Gardere was ordered to supply records that related to an SEC suit against former registered investment adviser Sharp and its principal Mauricio Gutierrez. The SEC alleged that it lost around $80m (£52.4m) of client funds in speculative securities investments without client knowledge or authorisation. For 18 months, Gardere failed to deliver 27 boxes of Sharp's documents. As a result, the SEC and a court-appointed special master were impeded in their investigation. They believe that the $1.2m, which will be used to compensate investors, is the necessary compensation for the damages caused by Gardere's failure to comply with the order. The settlement has to be approved by US bankruptcy judge Barbara Lynn. Associate administrator for the SEC's Fort Worth office Spencer Barasch said: "The SEC's efforts to seek damages against a law firm in this case emphasise the importance the agency places on compliance with court orders issued in its enforcement actions. The SEC is committed to seeking reparation or sanctions against those who interfere with its law enforcement processes." Gardere also faces civil claims in connection with its work for Sharp. Investors in Sharp allege that Gardere, partner Richard Tulli and former partner Julian Nihill assisted Sharp in defrauding them of their investments. Edward Snyder, an associate at Martin Drought & Torres, is representing the plaintiffs. Brobeck Phleger & Harrison partner Edward Fernandes is acting for Gardere, Tulli and Nihill. He said that the claims are without merit.