No Conflict In Florida-Ramius Deal

Nov 15 2011 | 10:27am ET

Florida's top public pension fund executive has been cleared of conflict of interest allegations over his relationship with the president of hedge fund Ramius Capital.

Ash Williams did nothing wrong when he approved a $125 million investment in Ramius' Starboard Value and Opportunity fund last year. The review, by the State Board of Administration's advisory council and audit committee, was spurred by a Florida state senator's concerns about Williams' dealings with Thomas Strauss, the president of Ramius.

Strauss was a client of Fir Tree Partners, where Williams worked before joining Ramius, and had corresponded with Williams, asking him to consider Starboard Value, which has since been spun-off from Ramius, for the SBA.

"This isn't a huge industry, and people are going to know people, and just because you know someone doesn't make it a conflict," Chuck Newman, a member of the advisory council, told the Miami Herald. Another, Les Daniels, said it was actually a good thing.

"The more you know the people, and the better you know them, is an important aspect of investing."

"I have said from day one that the process on Ramius, number one, was sound, number two, was characterized by multiple internal and external checks and balances, and number three, that I in no way inserted myself into it at any time to alter the normal following of process," Williams said.

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