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Indiana probing JPMorgan's church trust practices, sources say

February 23, 2016

Indiana securities regulators are investigating JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s handling of investments that benefited churches in the state, Bloomberg news reported, citing sources.

JPMorgan, the largest U.S. bank, declined to comment, but said in a regulatory filing Tuesday that it is cooperating with “inquiries from other government authorities concerning disclosure of conflicts associated with the firm’s sale and use of proprietary products." A representative of the Indiana Securities Division of the Secretary of State's Office was not immediately available for comment.

Alleged conflicts in the sale of proprietary products were exactly the issue that sparked a high-profile lawsuit that Christ Church Cathedral on Monument Circle filed against JPMorgan in August 2014. It charged the bank, which served as trustee over accounts endowed by Eli Lilly Jr., committed "intentional mismanagement” and “self-dealing,” leading to $13 million in losses.

Much of the complaint focuses on JPMorgan's repeated investments in its own hedge funds, “structured notes” and other high-fee, opaque investments. By 2009, the suit said, three-quarters of church assets were invested in JPMorgan proprietary products.
 
“On many of the financial products purchased by JPMorgan from itself on behalf of the church using church funds, JPMorgan made substantially more money than the church, even though the church trusts bore all the risks of the speculative investments,” the suit alleged.
 
After a court dealt a blow to the church by dismissing all but one count, the parties reached a confidential settlement last fall.

Separately, JPMorgan agreed in December to pay more than $300 million to resolve allegations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission that it failed to tell customers that it stood to benefit from selling its own investment products. JPMorgan didn’t disclose that it reaped profits by putting client money into mutual funds and hedge funds that generated fees for the company, the SEC said .

JPMorgan admitted disclosure failures from 2008 to 2013 related to two units that manage money—its securities subsidiary and its nationally chartered bank—as part of the SEC settlement. The New York-based firm said at the time that the omissions in its communications were unintentional and that it has since enhanced disclosures.

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