The suit, brought on behalf of the Pittsburgh-based Board of Trustees of the Steamfitters Local 449 Retirement Security Fund and a nationwide class of similar funds, alleges that Austin failed to prudently invest the benefit funds’ assets, in violation of Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), according to an announcement from the law firm. The complaint says that Austin was a fiduciary to the class of benefit funds and owed them the duty to manage investments with the highest care, but instead failed to notice the numerous red flags about the Madoff-related securities.
According to the announcement, the red flags included:
- the lack of transparency in the operations of Madoff and Madoff Securities, including Madoff’s refusal to disclose his investment strategy;
- the fact that investment returns of Madoff Securities were abnormally smooth, with very little volatility, including only five months of negative returns in the past 12 years;
- the inability of other funds, using Madoff’s stated method, to generate returns in any way comparable;
- the fact that Madoff acted as his own prime broker, while most hedge funds used large banks as their prime brokers;
- the fact that monthly account statements sent to Madoff investors did not support the returns being supposedly earned;
- the fact that Madoff’s auditors consisted of one office in Rockland County, New York, with three employees: one was 78 years old and lived in Florida, and one was a secretary.
The complaint notes that numerous other investment managers did discover the red flags and declined to invest in Madoff-related securities.
The suit also names as defendants individual officers and managers at Austin as well as its affiliated companies, KeyCorp, Victory Capital Management, and Austin Capital Management GP Corp. Plaintiffs seek to represent all employee benefit plans that used Austin as an investment manager and lost money due to Austin’s purchase of Madoff-related securities.
This is second such suit the law firm has filed against Austin Capital (see “Union Sues Over Madoff Pension Losses“).The hedge fund firm also faces a suit brought by Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP (see “Hedge Fund Firm Sued for Madoff Investments“).
Madoff-related cases were responsible for 30% of all securities cases in the first quarter of 2009 (see “Madoff-Related Suits Main Cause of Litigation Surge“).