Lawsuit alleges JPMorgan mismanaged church trust, boosted fees

Thu Aug 14, 2014 2:04pm EDT

Aug 14 (Reuters) - An Indianapolis church has alleged that JPMorgan Chase & Co mismanaged trust accounts held for its benefit by investing in high cost, risky investments that advanced the firms' interests over its own, according to a lawsuit filed in Indianapolis federal court late on Wednesday.

The Christ Church Cathedral of Indianapolis, which is endowed by heirs to the estate of drug company founder Eli Lilly, alleged that the trust accounts lost about $13 million in value between 2004 and 2013 after JPMorgan used church funds to buy 177 different investment products that generated the highest revenues to the firm, according to the complaint.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman declined to comment.

The firm, as the sole trustee for the trust accounts, breached its responsibility to act in the church's best interests, the church alleged.

JPMorgan invested between 68 percent and 85 percent of the church trusts' portfolio in proprietary products, or those branded with the firm's name, according to a complaint. The investments, which included private equity and hedge funds, were also "clearly unsuitable" and performed poorly, the church said.

Other types of investments included structured notes, a risky complex security whose performance is linked to the performance of another underlying investment, such as a foreign currency.

Many of the investments were sold at substantial losses, the church said.

JPMorgan used a "guided architecture" platform to help it select investments for the trusts that would be more profitable to the bank than other choices, the church alleged. Proprietary products are typically more expensive for investors and generate more fees for the firm.

Most of the products in the church's portfolio earned "substantial revenues" for JPMorgan in disclosed and undisclosed fees, expenses, and payments from third parties who wanted JPMorgan to underwrite and include their investments on its platform of approved products for clients, the church alleged.

The value of the trusts was as high as $35.4 million between 2004 and 2007, but decreased to $31.6 million by the end of 2013, the church alleged.

Annual average disclosed fees from that period increased 475 percent between 2004 and 2013, from $35,000 to $177,800, for a total of nearly $1 million, the church said.

JPMorgan's assets, during the same period, ballooned from $1 trillion to $2.4 trillion, while its net revenues increased from $43 billion to $96.6 billion, according to the church. (Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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