SEC rules Timbervest violated Investment Advisers Act

An SEC administrative law judge ruled Wednesday that institutional timber manager Timbervest LLC violated terms of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.

Wednesday's ruling called for Timbervest officials to “cease and desist from further violations of the Advisers Act” and pay $1.9 million in disgorgement payments plus prejudgment interest.

The Securities and Exchange Commission also ruled four Timbervest principals — CEO Joel Shapiro, Chief Investment Officer William Boden, Chief Operating Officer David Zell Jr. and President Gordon Jones — “aided and abetted and caused Timbervest's violations,” according to the ruling.

In previous SEC filings, the SEC alleged that Timbervest officials violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, collecting more than $1.15 million in “unauthorized, bogus brokerage fees” through shell companies after selling land in the separate account they managed for the BellSouth Corp. pension fund. That fund became part of the AT&T Inc. pension plan after the companies merged in 2006.

The transactions included an alleged cross-trade of land from the pension fund's account into a Timbervest commingled fund. In a March 31 brief, the SEC said the transaction was prohibited under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Stephen Councill, Timbervest's lawyer and partner with Rogers & Hardin LLP, said Timbervest disagrees with the judge's conclusions and plans to appeal.

Mr. Councill said the findings contain factual and historical inaccuracies about the transactions.

“We disagree with many of the (administrative law judge's) factual findings, and certainly disagree with the relief he would have imposed. As an example, the judge found that the key transaction in the entire case was 'not a good sale' for Timbervest's client because sales on nearby properties were coming in exactly as anticipated. The problem with this is that the sales cited by the judge occurred many months after the contract was signed for the key transaction. Unfortunately, he has his timeline mixed up,” said Mr. Councill in an e-mail.

Timbervest has $1.2 billion in assets under management in six funds, 90% of which is from institutions.

Mr. Councill wrote that the “the monetary value of the issues in question represents less than one percent of the total volume of the more than 335 transactions valued at $1.5 billion over the last decade.”