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Exclusive: American Realty Capital facing criminal probe over accounting - sources
October 31, 2014 / 9:17 PM / 3 years ago

Exclusive: American Realty Capital facing criminal probe over accounting - sources

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have opened a criminal probe of American Realty Capital Properties in the wake of the real estate investment trust’s disclosure that it had uncovered accounting errors, two sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is conducting the investigation along with prosecutors from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in New York, the sources said. Further details of the probe could not be learned.

American Realty Capital Properties said on Wednesday it would have to restate earnings after it discovered employees “intentionally made” accounting mistakes that caused it to understate net losses during the first half of 2014. Its chief accounting officer and chief financial officer resigned on Tuesday.

Andy Merrill, a spokesman for American Realty Capital, had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

A criminal probe raises the stakes for the company, which has seen its shares fall almost 30 percent since the disclosure of the accounting issues on Wednesday, wiping out around $4 billion of its market value. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating the company, according to the Wall Street Journal.

American Realty Capital Properties, which went public in 2011, is one in a web of investment companies and brokerages that have been rapidly built up over the past seven years by real estate investor Nicholas Schorsch.

Schorsch served as the chief executive of the company until Oct. 1, when he was succeeded by President David Kay.

Since then, Schorsch has turned his focus to RCS Capital, an affiliated investment management firm that he founded in 2012 and where he serves as executive chairman.

Schorsch, who began building a portfolio of commercial real estate properties in the mid 1990s and is considered a pioneer in non-traded REITs, has been expanding RCS into a broad retail brokerage platform that would serve as a one-stop-shop for alternative investments. Its legion of brokers hit 9,700 just a little over a year after Schorsch began building it through a series of acquisitions.

On the same day that Schorsch stepped down as CEO, American Realty Capital Properties said it was selling its private fund management business Cole Capital to RCS Capital for $700 million.

Over the past year and a half, RCS has also bought a number of independent broker-dealers and investment advisors as well, including Cetera Financial Group, VSR Financial and J.P. Turner.

Schorsch’s fast-paced deal making has recently drawn some criticism, however.

The hedge fund Marcato Capital Management, which at the time held 2.4 percent of American Realty Capital’s outstanding shares, said in a letter in June that the company was improperly diluting its stock with new issuances and engaging in too many acquisitions in too short a time.

Shares of the company’s stock closed at $8.87 on Friday, losing 5.8 percent on the day after plunging as much as 37 percent on Wednesday after the announcement.

Reporting By Emily Flitter; Editing by Alan Crosby

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