'Diva of Distressed' Tilton to face SEC fraud trial

October 21, 2016 8:02 AM EDT

New York financier Lynn Tilton arrives for an appeal hearing at the U.S. District courthouse in New York, September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid


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By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Financier Lynn Tilton is set to go on trial next week before an administrative law judge on U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges she defrauded investors by hiding the poor performance of assets underlying three $2.5 billion debt funds.

Tilton, the founder of New York-based Patriarch Partners who is known as the "Diva of Distressed" for taking over troubled companies, will face an SEC administrative proceeding in Manhattan on Monday.

The SEC is seeking to force Tilton and Patriarch to pay the agency at least $200 million for defrauding investors in three so-called Zohar collateralized loan obligation funds, which raised $2.5 billion to make loans to distressed companies.

Tilton, 57, denies wrongdoing. She unsuccessfully sued to block what she called an unconstitutional proceeding before an SEC in-house judge in a fast-tracked venue that the agency has increasingly used that critics call unfair to defendants.

Known for her flashy outfits and colorful language, the former Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch banker has portrayed herself as a hard-charging female executive in a male-dominated field.

In 2000, she founded Patriarch Partners, which counts among its portfolio companies MD Helicopters and Dura Automotive.

But in 2015, the SEC accused Tilton of directing the valuations of the three debt collateralized loan obligation funds to remain unchanged even though many of the companies in which they invested had performed poorly and failed to make interest payments.

Not only were investors misled, but Tilton and Patriarch avoided having their management fees cut by $200 million, the SEC said.

Tilton and Patriarch counter that they consistently disclosed their investment strategy from the funds' inception.

They have said the charges stem from a flawed five-year probe pushed by a unit of bond insurer MBIA Inc, which had $1 billion in exposure to the three Zohar funds and has been engaged in litigation related to them.

MBIA not only shared information with the SEC that it gleaned during discussions to restructure one fund but was given confidential documents Patriarch provided during the probe against SEC policy, Tilton contends.

As a result, rather than go through with the restructuring, MBIA chose to litigate to get control of the fund's collateral, with the SEC's approval to use the confidential documents so long as its "fingerprints were never revealed," Tilton's lawyers wrote.

Randy Mastro, Tilton's lawyer, at a hearing on Wednesday said the SEC and MBIA entered into "an unholy alliance where rules were broken."

The SEC has said sharing the documents was permitted. MBIA had no comment.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 27 rejected Tilton's bid to avoid Monday's SEC action.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)



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