Brokerage firm will pay $6.5 million to FDIC


— The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has settled a lawsuit brought against giant brokerage Refco Inc. stemming from the 1993 failure of Jefferson Bank & Trust in Lakewood.

Without admitting wrongdoing, Refco has agreed to pay the FDIC $6.5 million, a fraction of the nearly $40 million that federal regulators say was embezzled by convicted money manager Steven D. Wymer with Refco's help.

The Lakewood bank was one of the biggest victims in Wymer's sophisticated Ponzi scheme, which federal prosecutors said defrauded municipalities and other institutional clients of about $174 million in the early 1990s.

In settlement documents, the FDIC and Refco, one of the largest U.S. futures brokerage firms, said they agreed to the out-of-court settlement to ''avoid the uncertainty, trouble and expense of further litigation.''

Although the lawsuit is still pending a judge's dismissal, the federal banking agency provided the Denver Rocky Mountain News with a signed copy of the nine-page agreement.

The FDIC's 7-year-old suit accused Refco of playing a key role in the Colorado bank's failure by allowing Wymer, who had trading accounts at two Refco subsidiaries, unparalleled access to the bank's $50 million investment portfolio.

The government alleged that Wymer, a California investment adviser convicted of mail and securities fraud in 1993, had inside help at Refco that allowed him to divert and hide $39 million in money-losing trades and account transfers from 1989 to 1991. The lawsuit also said Refco failed to comply with regulations regarding order taking and record keeping and failed to supervise at least three brokers working with Wymer.

The civil lawsuit went to trial in Denver's U.S. District Court in October with Wymer, out of jail on early release and a reduced sentence, serving as the FDIC's star witness.

But in early December, on the day scheduled for closing arguments, lawyers for the FDIC and Refco announced they were close to a settlement, and the judge excused the 10-member jury.

''We were in negotiations before the trial began,'' said FDIC spokesman Phil Batey. ''During the trial, we continued to talk. And in the course of time, our positions grew closer.''

Refco attorney Jack Weinberg said the FDIC became more willing to settle after the judge ruled in favor of Refco on some evidence. Weinberg also said Wymer's testimony did not help the FDIC's case because he was not credible.

There was testimony that Wymer was hired as a money manager on the recommendation of Donald Couch, the former treasurer of Jefferson County and a friend of Maurice Grotjohn, the bank's president.

Refco attorneys tried to convince the jury that Grotjohn should have known early on that Wymer was mishandling the bank's money. Weinberg said Grotjohn easily could have spotted in the bank's monthly account statements from Refco.

Refco also faulted the Securities and Exchange Commission for not keeping better tabs on Wymer after SEC claims examiners raised questions about his dealings as early as 1986.

In 1996, Refco agreed separately to pay $3.5 million to settle the SEC's charges that it failed to supervise Refco brokers.

Some of Wymer's earlier clients, including Jefferson County, reported substantial profits from his investment trades. Bill Tuthill, an attorney for Jefferson County, described Wymer as a brilliant con man.

''I'm sure he made an interesting witness, but I'm equally certain the parties are glad they're done with this case,'' Tuthill said. ''I would guess Refco spent more money defending the case than settling it.''

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