How Can Hedge Fund Managers Avoid Criminal Securities Fraud Charges When Allocating Trades Among Multiple Funds and Accounts?

All hedge fund managers that manage multiple funds and accounts – which is to say, the vast majority of hedge fund managers – have to draft, implement and enforce policies and procedures governing the allocation of trades among those funds and accounts.  Where those funds and accounts follow explicitly different strategies, the appropriate approach to allocations is relatively straightforward.  For example, if a manager manages an equity long/short fund and a credit fund, equities go to the equity fund and bonds go to the credit fund.  But where multiple funds and accounts may be eligible to invest in the same security, the appropriate approach to allocations is more challenging.  For example, if a manager manages an equity long/short fund and an activist fund and purchases a block of public equity, how and when should the manager determine how to allocate the block between the two funds?  While the specifics of an allocations policy will depend on the manager’s fund structures and strategies, some general principles and proscriptions apply.  As for principles, an allocations policy should be equitable, should take into account the size and strategies of various funds, should provide a mechanism for correcting allocation errors and should give the manager an appropriate degree of discretion in making allocation determinations.  As for proscriptions, the boundaries of “appropriate discretion” in this context generally are set by the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws and principles of fiduciary duty.  In other words, you cannot allocate trades in a manner that constitutes securities fraud.  How might trade allocations constitute securities fraud?  A recent SEC order (Order) answers that question; and a prior criminal indictment (Indictment, and together with the Order, the Charging Documents) and plea arising out of the same facts raises the frightening prospect that in more egregious circumstances, fraudulent trade allocation practices may constitute criminal securities fraud.  This article explains the facts and legal violations that led to the Order, Indictment and plea, then discusses the implications of this matter for hedge fund managers in the areas of trade allocations, marketing, disclosure on Form ADV and creation and maintenance of books and records.  In particular, this article discusses: why the cherry-picking scheme at issue in this matter was not just a bad legal decision, but also a bad business decision; two types of cherry-picking; whether and in what circumstances cherry-picking may lead to criminal liability; how the sometimes purposeful vagary of criminal indictments can subtly expand the reach of white collar criminal liability; whether disclosure can cure trade allocation practices that are otherwise fraudulent; the compliance utility of technology; conflicts of interest inherent in one person serving as chief compliance officer and in other roles; whether post-trade allocations are ever permissible; how hedge fund managers can test the sufficiency of their trade allocation policies; how trade allocation policies interact with the transparency rights sometimes granted to larger hedge fund investors; and the idea of “cross-fund transparency.”

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