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Forbes: Christopher Surgue Storming and Successful

October 06, 2014

2/13/2014 @ 12:00AM

Unwilling Lenders


If Refco’s creditors get their way, hedge fund investors will face yet another risk.

Imagine the unimaginable–Fidelity Investments goes bankrupt. Fidelity’s creditors try to get what they’re owed–from the $1.2 trillion in client assets managed by the company. Sound crazy? It is, but it’s close to what Refco’s creditors are trying to do to investors in a hedge fund that kept accounts with the failed commodities trading firm.

Starting in 2004 brokers from firms like A.G. Edwards and Merrill Lynch sold clients shares of the S&P Managed Futures Index Fund, run by a company called PlusFunds. Refco was the clearing broker. Unlike most hedge funds, this one kept its barriers low. A net worth of $45,000 and the same in annual income was enough to qualify a customer.

The fund, which tracks the S&P Managed Futures Index and is meant to provide a hedge against the stock market, managed at least $312 million from some 1,000 investors when Refco collapsed. The fund were deposited with Refco, which placed the money in offshore accounts, where they aren’t subject to limits on margin debt that apply to domestic accounts

A lawsuit filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York by Refco’s unsecured creditors contends that when the fraud that led to Refco’s bankruptcy became clear in October, PlusFunds Chairman Christopher Sugrue stormed Refco’s offices and had $312 million transferred to new accounts at Lehman Brothers.

The creditors, including Wells Fargo and Cargill, say that this money should have stayed within Refco and that Sugrue and PlusFunds should get in line. The suit implies that Sugrue, a former Refco employee, used his influence at Refco to slide in front of other creditors. Luc A. Despins, the Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy attorney who filed the suit, declined comment.

But it’s not PlusFunds’ money–the $312 million comes from the investors in the S&P Managed Futures Index Fund. The creditors’ claims on those assets have prevented investors from getting their money back.

Marc Lowlicht, a certified financial planner with Further Lane Asset Management in Manhattan, has half a dozen clients in the fund. He complains: “If I wanted them to be creditors, I would have sold them bonds.”