Falcone's lawyer on hot seat with regulators

NEW YORK Fri Dec 9, 2011 4:53pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The lawyer for Philip Falcone's hedge fund is finding herself in the hot seat with U.S. securities regulators.

In a rare move, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently alerted attorney Robin Roger that she could be charged with violating federal securities laws along with her boss, according to a regulatory filing.

Securities experts say it is rare for regulators to bring an enforcement action against a lawyer, and even rarer to go after a hedge fund's general counsel. Yet that is the situation Roger finds herself in.

Roger has been the general counsel for Falcone's Harbinger Capital Partners since July 2009. On Friday, the firm said she was among three people who had received a Wells Notice from the SEC.

Harbinger Capital President Omar Asali, who used to be co-head of hedge fund investments at Goldman Sachs, also got a Wells notice, as did Falcone himself.

Regulators have signaled that they may file charges over allegations that the hedge fund engaged in market manipulation involving some unnamed bonds and that Harbinger failed to tell investors that Falcone had borrowed money from the fund.

The fact that Falcone's chief lawyer is among those targeted struck some on Wall Street as unusual.

"It is extremely rare to see the SEC go after a lawyer," said one general counsel at a hedge fund who declined to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the media.

He said the SEC move is an indication that general counsels are not immune from regulatory scrutiny, adding that many hedge funds' in-house lawyers make sure they are covered by director and officers insurance.

The hedge fund general counsel noted that it is unlikely regulators would go after a lawyer for simply giving bad legal advice.

Armed with two Ivy League degrees -- including a law degree from Harvard -- Roger moved up the ranks fast, having worked at prominent law firm Sidley Austin, then at investment bank Morgan Stanley and after that at prominent hedge fund Moore Capital Management.

She was with Falcone when he went through rocky times as assets shrank to less than $5 billion after peaking at $26 billion on a savvy subprime bet.

She also was present when Falcone, the hot shot Harvard-educated trader, borrowed $113 million from his funds to pay taxes at a time when his investors were unable to get their money out. While Falcone has repaid the loan, the fact that he took it in the first place -- and did not tell -- rankled investors who complained that he was not being wholly honest with them.

Omar Asali, who earned an accounting degree at Virginia Tech and MBA from Columbia, also joined Falcone in 2009, coming aboard from Goldman Sachs which had been one of Falcone's most prominent investors. At Goldman, Asali helped manage capital to outside managers, like Falcone.

Investors were also very irritated with Falcone when he told them they could not longer remove their money, something he told them again just this week, noting that redemptions will be suspended at the end of December.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; edited by Matthew Goldstein, John Wallace and Richard Chang)

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