U.S. SEC closes Rhode Island pension disclosure probe without action

July 9 Tue Jul 9, 2013 1:28pm EDT

July 9 (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has closed its probe into Rhode Island's public pension disclosure practices without taking any enforcement action, the state treasurer said on Tuesday.

For more than two years, the SEC had been investigating whether the state made adequate disclosures about its pension finances to investors in offering documents that accompany municipal bond sales.

The probe examined the financial statements and disclosures made from 2007, when Frank Caprio was treasurer, until Gina Raimondo stepped into the office in 2011. Rhode Island's retirement system for public employees has five funds worth about $7.7 billion altogether.

"Our pension practices are transparent, our disclosure is accurate, and our pension system is on a firm foundation," Raimondo said in a statement. "Any cloud that lingered over our pension disclosure is gone. Our public employees and retirees should have greater peace of mind today."

While Rhode Island is off the hook, the federal securities regulator has taken a slightly different tack in the past with both New Jersey and Illinois over their disclosure practices.

In 2010, the SEC accused New Jersey of civil securities fraud - the first-ever such charges against any U.S. state by the commission - for allegedly failing to tell investors that it had not been making full payments to its pension system.

The SEC settled the case, issuing a cease and desist order but no penalties or fines. The state neither admitted nor denied the findings.

In March, Illinois, which has the worst-funded pension system of any state, agreed to settle similar charges. It, too, neither admitted nor denied the charges and was not ordered to pay a penalty.

During her first year in office in Rhode Island, Raimondo directed the state to hire attorneys to help update bond disclosure statements and train staffers about compliance with federal securities laws.

She also spearheaded the launch of an investor relations website, where Rhode Island now posts an array of budget, revenue and financial reports and pension information.

The SEC's investigation and updated bond documents cost Rhode Island at least $397,500 in attorneys' fees and expenses. Some of those costs were paid for out of bond sale proceeds, Raimondo's office said.

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