The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) charged Seattle-based financial advisor, Mark Spangler, and his firm with defrauding clients by secretly investing $47.7 million in two risky start-up companies he co-founded.  In 1990, Spangler founded The Spangler Group (“TSG”), an advisory firm that at one point managed approximately $100 million in assets with more than 50 clients.  Spangler founded the firm, served as its president, and made all of its investment decisions.

According to the SEC, between 1998 and 2011, Spangler raised more than $56 million for the private investment funds he managed.  Unbeknownst to his clients, beginning in 2003, Spangler funneled money from the private funds into two companies in which he had significant interest.  Spangler liquidated assets in the private funds and used the proceeds to invest in TeraHop and Tamarac, two of his own start-up companies.

The SEC alleged that by the summer of 2011, Spangler had invested almost $42 million in TeraHop and over $6 million in Tamarac.  These investments were inconsistent with his clients’ investment objectives.  Spangler failed to disclose to the funds’ clients that he had diverted 90% of the fund’s money into two illiquid, private companies.  Spangler did not seek his clients’ approval or consent to change their investment strategies.  Furthermore, TSG had received $830,000 in fees from TeraHop and Tamarac as “financial and operation support.”  These fees were charged on top of the advisory fees paid by TSG’s clients for Spangler’s management of their assets.

The SEC stated, “Spangler assured his clients he was investing them in publicly-traded equities and bonds, not risky start-ups in which he had a personal interest,” and “[f]or an investment adviser to put his self-interest above the best interests of his clients is a disturbing abuse of trust.”   According to the SEC’s complaint, when Spangler filed for personal and business receivership in June 2011, his clients learned the truth about how he had invested their money.  In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced it was filing criminal charges against Spangler.