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State Street may face SEC lawsuit

Tactics to win pension business are at issue

Pedestrians walked past State Street Corp. headquarters in 2009.Michael Fein/Bloomberg News

State Street Corp. said Thursday that federal securities regulators may bring a civil enforcement action against the Boston financial services company over its use of consultants and lobbyists to win pension business during a period that ended in 2011.

In a so-called Wells notice, the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed to State Street that the agency will probably allege that the company violated securities laws.

The company said the investigation is focused on State Street’s dealings with public pensions in two states. State Street said the probe included, “in at least one instance,” political contributions by one of its consultants during and after a public bidding process.


State Street had disclosed in November that the SEC was investigating its solicitation of public retirement plans in Ohio.

Carolyn Cichon, a spokeswoman for State Street, declined to say which other state is involved in the investigation.

“We’ve cooperated with the SEC regarding their request for information about how we have solicited business from public retirement funds,’’ Cichon said in a statement.

“Over the past several years, we have enhanced our compliance training and oversight for our employees in the US public plans sector.”

State Street said that since 2012 it has stopped hiring lobbyists and consultants in its sales efforts with US public retirement plans. In addition, the head of the US public fund team at State Street was fired, Cichon said.

The Wells notice informed State Street that the SEC may file civil charges. State Street now has a chance to respond to the commission’s allegations, and the company said that it intends to do so.

In Ohio, the SEC’s investigation allegedly found a kickback scheme involving lobbyist Mohammed Noure Alo and Ohio’s deputy treasurer at the time, Amer Ahmad, according to an account in The Wall Street Journal based in part on court testimony.


According to that account, Alo met a State Street representative at a campaign event for the state treasurer in 2010. State Street was competing to service assets in three Ohio pension funds and allegedly agreed to pay Alo $16,000 for his help, according to FBI testimony reported on by the Journal.

The SEC investigation is the latest in a series of regulatory matters that have dogged State Street.

Earlier this month, federal and state banking officials ordered State Street to improve its compliance systems to meet federal rules against money laundering and the Bank Secrecy Act. Under an agreement in that matter, State Street’s board of directors has 60 days to submit a plan to strengthen its oversight.

In February, State Street said that it had to set aside $115 million in last year’s fourth quarter to resolve lawsuits over its foreign-exchange trading practices. State Street and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. have been the subject of lawsuits and investigations since 2011, since the whistle-blower Harry Markopolos accused them of overcharging pensions and mutual funds on foreign- currency trades.

State Street said that in the past two years, 21 of its public pension fund clients have put their asset-servicing contracts out to bid, and the company has retained 20 of those relationships.

“No person or entity was retained to solicit business on our behalf’’ in those proposals, State Street’s Cichon said. “Our proposals were evaluated on their merits.”

Beth Healy can be reached
at beth.healy@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.