FleetBoston Places Embattled Managers on Leave

February 26, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - FleetBoston Financial Corp has placed eight portfolio managers and executives on leave in the wake of market timing allegations at the firm's Columbia Funds unit.

Among the heavy hitters placed on leave were James Tambone and Louis Tasiopoulos .   The duo served as co-presidents of Columbia Funds Distributor Inc, the sales and marketing arm for Columbia Funds, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The move by the Boston-based financial conglomerate comes after the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed civil fraud charges against the Columbia mutual fund unit earlier this week.   The charges allege senior executives at Columbia approved clandestine agreements to let sophisticated investors trade rapidly in mutual funds at the expense of ordinary shareholders.

Last month the company disclosed that the SEC was preparing to charge two of its Columbia funds units for allegedly misleading investors about its market-timing policies and practices (See Fleet Unit Receives SEC “Wells Notice” ). In its disclosure, Fleet said the “majority” of trades were in just three funds,Columbia Newport Tiger Fund, Columbia Growth Stock Fund and Columbia Young Investor Fund, a portfolio aimed at helping children and teenagers save money.

The trading arrangements in question began in the funds when they were owned by Liberty Financial, which Fleet purchased in 2001, but continued after the acquisition.   Regulators said traders engaged in $2.5 billion of market timing transactions in at least seven mutual funds from 1998 to the summer of 2003 at Fleet’s Columbia Funds and its predecessors.   Columbia chief executive Keith Banks said the company had accepted about $147 million in market timing money at peak moments, and that the damage to shareholders amounted to about $25 million(See  Investors Market Timed $100M in Fleet Funds ).