BIRMINGHAM, ALA. (CN) – Alabama sued bond consultants Blount, Parrish & Roton and 12 banks and insurers for their part in Jefferson County’s sewer bond fiasco: the $3.2 billion debt has the county on the verge becoming the nation’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy. The state claims Blount Parrish bribed Jefferson County Commission President Larry Langford to get its consulting contract, and JP Morgan Chase Bank and others profited by refinancing the enormous debt with auction rate securities and interest rate swaps, for their own benefit.
The Jefferson Parish sewer bond fiasco was the lead item in New York Times financial columnist Gretchen Morgenson’s Sunday column on Aug. 31. Morgenson used Jefferson County to illustrate the perils faced by investors in municipal securities, which have $2.6 trillion in outstanding debt.
As state entities, the municipal agencies are largely free of regulatory oversight. More than half of them have failed to file required financial reports, and more than 25 percent chronically fail to do so, Morgenson reported, citing a recent study by DPC Data, “one of four data collectors known as nationally recognized municipal securities information repositories.”
Alabama claims in Jefferson County Court that Blount Parrish JP Morgan Chase employee Charles LeCroy, “on behalf of defendants JP Morgan and JP Morgan Bank, teamed with defendant Blount Parrish to perpetrate the plan of refinancing the County’s fixed rate sewer debt with auction rate securities and interest rate swaps, such plan to be for the benefit of the Defendants. It is alleged that co-conspirators Blount and LeCroy, having secured the cooperation of Langford, seized the opportunity to launch the massive sewer debt re-finance plan at issue herein which has brought the County to the brink of ruin.
“As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ alleged conduct, the County and the public have suffered enormous financial harm and the future viability of the County’s operations vital to the public has been put in imminent peril. Each Defendant allegedly profited directly fro the scheme or conspiracy perpetrated by Langford, Blount, LaPierre and LeCroy with each Defendant receiving valuable and lucrative contracts relating to the County’s bond offerings and swap contracts.”
(LaPierre is Al LaPierre, of Blount Parrish.)
The State says that “public corruption in Jefferson County government is well documents. In the past several years there have been 21 criminal convictions related to the sewer system, including the conviction of a former county commissioner.
Named as defendants are Blount Parrish & Roton, JP Morgan Chase & Co., JP Morgan Chase Bank, Bear Stearns Capital Markets, Stern, Agee & Leach, Bank of America NA, CDR Financial Services, Goldman, Sachs Capital Markets, National Bank of Commerce of Birmingham, Bank of New York, Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., Financial Security Assurance Inc., and XL Capital Assurance.
The State is represented by James O’Neal and Law One Group of Birmingham.