Former Director Of Fixed Income And Head Of Portfolio Strategy At The New York State Common Retirement Fund Pleads Guilty In “Pay-For-Play” Bribery Scheme
Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that NAVNOOR KANG, the former Director of Fixed Income and Head of Portfolio Strategy at the New York State Common Retirement Fund (“NYSCRF”), pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken for participating in a massive “pay-for-play” bribery scheme involving the NYSCRF, the nation’s third largest public pension fund.
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “As an investment professional with New York State Common Retirement Fund, Navnoor Kang owed a duty to the public employees whose pension money he oversaw. But in this case of public corruption meets securities fraud, Kang sold himself and his duty to safeguard public retirement money for luxury vacations, jewelry, cash and even drugs. He has now admitted to his crimes and is a convicted felon. ”
According to allegations contained in the Indictment charging KANG and statements made during his plea proceeding:
The NYSCRF is a pension fund administered for the benefit of public employees of the State of New York. From January 2014 through February 2016, KANG served as Director of Fixed Income and Head of Portfolio Strategy for the NYSCRF. In that capacity, KANG was responsible for investing more than $53 billion in fixed-income securities and was entrusted with discretion to manage those investments on behalf of the NYSCRF. KANG owed a fiduciary duty to the NYSCRF and its members and beneficiaries, and was required to make investment decisions in their best interests and free of any conflict of interest. New York State law and NYSCRF policies prohibited KANG and other NYSCRF employees from receiving any bribes, gifts, benefits, or consideration of any kind.
The Scheme to Steer NYSCRF Fixed-Income Business in Exchange for Secret Bribes
From 2014 through 2016, KANG and others participated in a scheme to defraud the NYSCRF and its members and beneficiaries, and to deprive the NYSCRF of its intangible right to KANG’s honest services. The scheme involved, among other things, an agreement among KANG, Deborah Kelley, a managing director of institutional fixed income sales at New York-based broker-dealer (“Broker-Dealer-1”), Gregg Shonhorn, a vice president of fixed income sales at a New York-based broker-dealer (“Broker-Dealer-2”), and others to pay KANG bribes – in the form of entertainment, travel, lavish meals, prostitutes, nightclub bottle service, narcotics, tickets to sports games and other events, luxury gifts, and cash payments for strippers and KANG’s personal expenses – in exchange for fixed-income business from the NYSCRF. Such bribes – which totaled more than $100,000 – were strictly forbidden by the NYSCRF, and were paid secretly and without any disclosure to the NYSCRF and its members and beneficiaries concerning the conflicts of interest inherent therein.
In exchange for the bribes paid by Kelley, Schonhorn, and others, KANG used his position as Director of Fixed Income and Head of Portfolio Strategy at the NYSCRF to promote the interests of Kelley, Schonhorn, and their respective brokerage firms. KANG, in exchange for the bribes he received, agreed to steer fixed-income business to Broker-Dealer-1 and Broker-Dealer-2. In fact, KANG steered more than $3 billion in fixed-income business to Broker-Dealer-1 and Broker-Dealer-2, from which Kelley, Schonhorn, and their respective employers earned millions of dollars in commissions from the NYSCRF. In so doing, KANG, with the knowledge and approval of Kelley and Schonhorn, breached his fiduciary duty to make investment decisions in the best interest of the NYSCRF and its members and beneficiaries, and free of conflict, and deprived the NYSCRF of its intangible right to KANG’s honest services.
As the bribes paid by Schonhorn to KANG increased, so too did Broker-Dealer-2’s fixed-income business with the NYSCRF. The value of the NYSCRF’s domestic bond transactions with Broker-Dealer-2 skyrocketed from zero in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013, to approximately $1.5 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, to approximately $858 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2015, and to approximately $2.378 billion in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016. Broker-Dealer-2 became the third largest broker-dealer with which the NYSRCF executed domestic bond transactions for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016, having not even been on the approved list in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013. As the NYSCRF’s third largest broker-dealer in this asset class, Broker-Dealer-2 brokered approximately eight percent of the total value of the NYSCRF’s domestic bond transactions – a figure greater than that of all but two of the major international banks and brokerage houses on the list. Similarly, the value of NYSCRF’s domestic bond transactions with Broker-Dealer-1 increased from zero in the fiscal year ending March 1, 2014, to approximately $156 million in the fiscal year ending March 1, 2015, and to approximately $179 million in the fiscal year ending March 1, 2016.
KANG’s trades resulted in the payment of millions of dollars in commissions to Broker-Dealer-1 and Broker-Dealer-2, of which Kelley and Schonhorn personally earned approximately 35 to 40 percent.
The Obstruction of Justice
In late 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) opened an investigation into the entertainment and benefits that Kelley had provided KANG, and the SEC subpoenaed both KANG and Kelley for their testimony. In advance of their testimony, KANG and Kelley agreed to align their stories and testify falsely before the SEC in order to conceal their scheme. In late 2015 and early 2016, KANG and Kelley each falsely testified under oath before the SEC about expenses Kelley had paid for KANG. Moreover, after a federal grand jury investigation was opened, KANG instructed Schonhorn to testify falsely before the grand jury, and KANG admitted that he had hidden relevant evidence.
KANG, 37, of Glendale, California, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. KANG is scheduled to be sentenced on February 23, 2018, by Judge Oetken.
Kelley and Schonhorn have each pled guilty for participating in the scheme. Kelley was sentenced by Judge Oetken to three years of probation.
Mr. Kim praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and noted that the investigation is continuing. He also thanked the SEC, which filed civil charges against Kang, Kelley, and Schonhorn in a separate civil action, and the Office of Inspector General for the Office of the New York State Comptroller.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edward A. Imperatore and Joshua A. Naftalis are in charge of the prosecution.
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