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VOL. 124 | NO. 65 | Friday, April 3, 2009

Claim Against Morgan Keegan Yields Largest Award Yet

By Andy Meek

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What’s believed to be the largest single award so far for investors in a group of former Regions Morgan Keegan mutual funds has been announced by a financial industry panel.

Steve and Gary Fitzgerald, two brothers from California, have won $267,711 plus interest. That amount is less than the more than $429,000 in compensatory damages they originally sought – but their Chicago attorney is still pleased with the outcome.

“This is the largest award to date against Morgan Keegan and is the fifth straight case (Morgan Keegan has) lost,” said Chicago securities lawyer Andrew Stoltmann, one of the attorneys who represented the Fitzgeralds in their case in San Francisco a few weeks ago.

New York-based Hyperion Brookfield Asset Management took over the troubled RMK funds from Morgan Keegan last summer. The firm, which also rebranded the funds under its Helios name, is not a party in any current claims or lawsuits by investors.

Memphis-based Morgan Keegan is a subsidiary of Alabama-based Regions Financial Corp.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) made the decision in the Fitzgerald case. Generally, the panel does not qualify its decisions.

“While we disagree with the finding of the Fitzgerald panel, overall results support our belief that there were no improprieties in the management of these funds,” said Morgan Keegan spokesman Kathy Ridley. “We plan to continue a vigorous defense of all claims.”

While FINRA does not spell out reasons for its decisions, it also does not release information on cases that are dropped by any of the parties. Nor is there a complete gauge on how many RMK-related arbitration claims are pending before FINRA.

One of those pending arbitration claims is that of Jerome Woods, a Memphis native and former professional football player for the Kansas City Chiefs. His claim – more specifics of which were not available by press time – went before a FINRA panel this week.

Morgan Keegan’s tally shows nearly 60 arbitrations related to RMK losses have been dropped without a FINRA hearing and that those cases collectively alleged damages of more than $12 million.

Of 21 cases heard by FINRA panels, claimants got no awards in 12 cases, according to Morgan Keegan. One industry source said that level of activity, coupled with the fact that there may be more than 100 pending arbitration claims related to the RMK issue, means Morgan Keegan has still spent several million dollars so far defending itself against the claims, not counting the awards on behalf of claimants.

In Stoltmann’s recent case, he said the Fitzgeralds were brothers who inherited family money and were looking for safe, conservative investments.

Craig McCann, a former economist for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, said he believes Morgan Keegan misrepresented the risks of investing in six RMK funds that cost investors $2 billion in 2007. McCann, who has served as an expert witness in some of the arbitrations, released a paper late last year titled “Regions Morgan Keegan: The Abuse of Structured Finance.”

Losses in the funds have spawned a wave of securities litigation in addition to the arbitration claims. Among other recent awards, Memphis native and sports broadcaster Tim McCarver won $100,000 in compensatory damages in February as a result of the arbitration claim he filed over his own former RMK investments.

PROPERTY SALES 56 94 12,852
MORTGAGES 23 50 8,053
BUILDING PERMITS 285 422 30,356
BANKRUPTCIES 23 67 6,131