Fraud Victims Look to Fair Funds for Payback

An effort by the Securities and Exchange Commission to repay investors who lost money because of corporate fraud is getting mixed reviews.

The victim compensation funds, called “Fair Funds,” were established under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. SEC officials point out that the $2.6 billion collected so far and will produce big payoffs for investors who lose money when corporate wrongdoing causes stock values to dive, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Others say that distributing the money is a complicated process that could take years and result in no reimbursement for smaller investors.

"Knowing at the end of the line that victims are going to receive tangible compensation - it's meaningful to us, and it's certainly meaningful for people who are finally getting something back that they've lost," said the SEC's Amy J. Greer, who recently administered a $2 million payback for investors of Nevis Capital Management. The company was charged with directing shares in initial public offerings to favored clients.

The SEC has set up Fair Funds for 96 cases. The Fair Fund for investors in WorldCom Inc. amounts to $684 million, and the SEC last month announced that the fund for investors in Computer Associates International Inc. will contain $225 million.

Ohio Republican Rep. Michael G. Oxley likes the idea that the funds give investors another option besides class action suits to recover their losses.

"When corporate executives make out like bandits, the money ought to go back to the investors, not to trial lawyers," Oxley said when the funds were proposed.

However, only a few million dollars has been given back to shareholders so far.

"The pot is bigger for investors," said Dixie L. Johnson, a Washington attorney who chairs an American Bar Association panel on securities regulation. "The question is: Are investors getting it?"

Stuart Markus, a Long Island musician, lost most of a $2,500 investment when North Face Inc., the outdoor clothing and equipment manufacturer, disclosed in the late 1990s that it had inflated its sales figures.

Eventually, he got a check for $143.58 as his share of a class action settlement. He got none of the $70,000 in the North Face Fair Fund. His 100 share-investment was too small to qualify under the distribution plan. Fair Funds, Markus said, should be renamed "Fair to Poor."

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