New York State Common bans all placement agents

The state’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, has banned the use of placement agents in investments with the $122bn pension, and has launched a review of pension investments with firms involved in the New York Common kick-back scandal.

New York State Common Retirement Fund has banned the use of placement agents, paid intermediaries and registered lobbyists from participating in investments with the $122 billion pension in the wake of a growing kick-back scandal involving the pension.

The comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, announced the ban Wednesday and said he has launched a review of all the pension’s investments with firms under investigation by the state’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Those firms include The Carlyle Group and Quadrangle Group.

“Since I took office, we’ve worked to implement reforms that will help restore integrity and trust in this office,” DiNapoli, who controls the state pension, said in a statement. “Banning placement agents and lobbyists from involvement in investments is the next step, and it’s a big step.”

Any pending commitments the pension has made to investment funds that involved placement agents will be exempt from the ban, according to a pension spokesman. Placement agents have been involved in only about 10 percent of the investment activity with the pension, and mostly involving hedge funds and private equity funds, the spokesman said.

New York Common hired Day Pitney, a law firm specialising in pension issues, and Pension Consulting Alliance, an investment consulting firm, to help with the investment review.

“We'll be looking at the relationships, at the investments and in both cases, what our obligations and what our options are,” the spokesman said. Asked if the review could result in the pension severing relationships with GPs, the spokesman declined to comment, other than to say that could be something that “falls in the range of all options”.

The spokesman declined to comment about what specifically the pension will be looking for in the review.

DiNapoli is drafting legislation to codify the pension changes and he has asked the state’s insurance superintendent, Eric Dinallo, to codify the ban into pension regulations. The ban includes entities “compensated on a flat fee, a contingent fee or any other basis”, DiNapoli said.

New York Common is not stepping back from private equity in any way, the spokesman said.

DiNapoli’s announcements come as a kick-back scandal involving the state’s public pension, one of the largest in the US, continues to grow. Cuomo has indicted four people so far involved in the scheme, under which a former state political operative and the former chief investment officer of the pension allegedly collected sham finder’s fee from investment firms for commitments from the pension.

On Tuesday, the comptroller of New York City, William Thompson, announced a separate investigation into Quadrangle Group, formerly headed by Steve Rattner, who is now serving as an advisor on the auto industry to US President Barack Obama. Thompson is looking into whether Quadrangle purposely misled the city pension system by withholding payments the firm may have made to a company affiliated with Henry Morris, one of the people who has been indicted in the kick-back scheme.

Also charged in the case are David Loglisci, former chief investment officer with the state pension; former head of the New York Liberal Party Raymond Harding and Barrett Wissman, who formerly headed up Texas-based hedge fund Hunt Financial Ventures.

The scandal has moved beyond New York Common to New Mexico State Investment Council, where the state’s $11.5 billion oil and gas endowment has begun reviewing all the investment managers it works with across all asset classes to find out if they have any connections with the scandal. Earlier this week, New Mexico SIC, suspended its private equity advisor, Aldus Equity, pending a review of the work the firm has done for the endowment since it was hired in 2004.

New Mexico’s review revealed that Carlyle and Quadrangle both used a company affiliated with Morris to secure investments from the endowment of $20 million a piece. None of the firms named in complaints filed by New York's attorney general or the SEC have been accused of wrongdoing.