SEC settles charges with TL Ventures over political donations

Posted: June 22, 2014

Investment adviser TL Ventures Inc., of Wayne, illegally collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from the underfunded Pennsylvania and Philadelphia pension systems after a TL official gave campaign money to top state and city officials in 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Friday.

The SEC did not identify who gave the cash or who got it, but public records show that TL founder Robert Keith Jr. gave $2,000 to Gov. Corbett that fall, and $2,500 to Mayor Nutter that spring, matching amounts and dates cited by the SEC.

Neither politician was accused of wrongdoing. Both said Friday they will give up the donations.

It's the first time the SEC has settled charges under a 2010 ban on investment professionals collecting fees for managing public funds after donating to elected officials who can influence their hiring.

TL agreed to pay back $256,697 in pension fees it collected after Keith gave to the mayor and governor, plus interest and penalties totaling $38,197, the SEC said in a statement. TL also "agreed to be censured, and to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations," the agency added.

"TL Ventures violated pay-to-play rules" by collecting those fees from the city and state within two years of the political donations, the SEC said. Since Corbett appoints a majority of Pennsylvania's pension board, and Nutter appoints three of nine city pension trustees, they "can influence the hiring of investment advisers," and TL had no right to continue collecting fees so soon after giving them money, the SEC says.

Corbett plans to donate Keith's $2,000 "to charity," his campaign spokesman, Billy Pitman, said Friday.

"The mayor's campaign fund will return this contribution to Mr. Keith," said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald.

The SEC also said TL and an affiliate, Penn Mezzanine Partners Management L.P., had been "improperly acting as unregistered investment advisers," and wrongly claimed to be exempt from SEC registration.

"TL Ventures is pleased to have this matter behind it," the firm's Washington lawyer, Catherine Botticelli, said in a statement. She said the firm "will continue to focus on serving its investors."

The State Employees Retirement System invested $35 million with TL in 1999 and has received only $25.6 million of it back.

SERS invested $40 million more with TL in 2000, and has only gotten back $13.3 million.

But even without client profits, TL still charged fees: State records show SERS paid TL $252,000 for handling its money in 2013. The city invested $10 million in TL in 2000.

The investigation was led by Louis A. Randazzo and Martin F. Healey from the SEC's Boston office.

215-854-5194 @PhillyJoeD


Inquirer staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.

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