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SEC Slaps Down New Jersey over Muni Bonds

August 20, 2010

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement unit has been getting tougher lately, and this week it decided to crack down on an entire state.

Few people would want to pick a fight with the home state of Tony Soprano and Bruce Springsteen, but SEC Enforcement Division Director Robert Khuzhami claimed, “The State of New Jersey didn’t give its municipal investors a fair shake, withholding and misrepresenting pertinent information about its financial situation.”

That may be true, but it’s no secret that the Garden State, like many others, has taken a major hit to its finances and budget in recent years. The state was forced to make deep budget cuts and raise taxes to close a $7 billion budget gap last year, which helped usher former Governor Jon Corzine out of office.

Now the SEC has brought charges against the state, claiming on Wednesday that Jersey “offered and sold more than $26 billion worth of municipal bonds in 79 offerings between August 2001 and April 2007. The offering documents for these securities created the false impression that the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund (TPAF) and the Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) were being adequately funded, masking the fact that New Jersey was unable to make contributions to TPAF and PERS without raising taxes, cutting other services or otherwise affecting its budget. As a result, investors were not provided adequate information to evaluate the state's ability to fund the pensions or assess their impact on the state's financial condition.”

The SEC noted that New Jersey is the first state ever charged with violations of the federal securities laws. New Jersey also agreed to settle the case without admitting or denying the SEC’s accusations. That will be one less thing for Snooki and The Situation to worry about this summer at the Jersey Shore.

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