Amid Lingering Legal Woe, Vice Fund Manager Departs
September 19, 2005
Dan S. Ahrens, 39, the omnipresent manager of the successful $48 million Vice Fund, which invests in so-called "sin stocks" has abruptly bolted from his job as sole portfolio manager, and president and treasurer, of the fund's Dallas-based investment adviser, Mutual Advisors. He has also been managing a second, smaller fund for the firm.
Although details of his departure were not provided, sources pointed to disagreements with the adviser, and Ahrens being put in a situation where he no longer felt comfortable.
Reached at his home in Dallas that he shares with his wife and six-month-old son, Ahrens confirmed that he had voluntarily resigned from the firm two weeks ago. He declined to comment on the reasons for his departure, or whether his resignation and the advisory firm's lingering troubles with federal regulators were related.
"I cannot comment, but those issues certainly do exist," he said. Ahrens told MME that he has plans to start his own new registered investment advisory firm.
Since December 2003, both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York have brought civil and criminal charges against three former officers of the management firm's predecessor, Mutuals.com. The charges allege conspiracy to commit securities fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud stemming from market-timing allegations. The allegations charge that the firm and its principals allowed thousands of late trades and market-timing trades to be executed with outside mutual fund groups through two affiliated broker/dealers that had been established for the purpose of serving 18 clients. The charges also allege that despite serious warnings and outright account prohibitions levied by several fund companies who spotted the trading violations, brokerage account numbers and social security account numbers were changed so further trading would go unnoticed.
Neither of the mutual funds, nor Ahrens, have been charged with any wrongdoing.
The securities violations could carry criminal charges of up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
All three officers charged - including the firm's CEO and former fund manger Richard Sapio, the firm's previous president and portfolio manager Eric McDonald, and Michele Leftwich, its chief compliance officer - resigned early last year, leaving Ahrens to run the business. But funds filings reveal that Sapio still controls Mutual Advisor's parent company Mutual Alliance Capital.
The firm's ongoing problems appear to have had a chilling effect on assets. Mutual Advisors claims to currently manage $100 million, but fund filings show that six months before the first market-timing allegations came to light in June of 2003, company coffers topped $410 million.
Ahrens had also been serving as the portfolio manager of the $29 million Generation Wave Growth Fund which is a fund-of-funds that invests in outside open-end mutual funds. A few months ago, two other sibling funds, an aggressive growth fund and an "alternative growth" fund, were consolidated into that fund. At one point, the Generation Wave fund series consisted of two additional funds, a balanced fund and a conservative growth fund.
SEC filings dated for Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 revealed that both funds, under which Mutual Advisors serves as the investment manager, were being managed by Michael J. Henry, 25 as of Sept. 7. In addition, according to the filing, Henry has been appointed the firm's new president and treasurer.
Henry declined to comment on Ahrens departure.
"We have a policy as the advisor to public funds not to discuss previous employees," he said.
But Henry's appointment to fill the top spots raises questions as to whether the firm had any contingency plans for Ahrens departure, especially in light of the three top executive's earlier departures.
Henry doesn't appear to have been a bona fide employee with Mutual Advisors. According to the information provided in the recent SEC filing, he had been associated with the firm as an outside consultant from October 2002 until January of 2005. From March 2003 through September 2005, he also served as the vice president and then president of an investment firm that invests in distressed securities. Henry also did a four-month stint as a financial analyst with Conseco Financial Corp. in 2002 and had previously been a sales representative for a tool and equipment company.
Ahrens, who joined the firm in 1999 had been primary portfolio manager among a team of managers since the fund's August 2002 inception.
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