Merriman Shelves Cleantech Hedge Fund, Faces Lawsuits

Oct 10 2008 | 3:04am ET

Investment bank Merriman, Curhan Ford Group has put off plans to launch a cleantech hedge fund citing difficult market conditions.

The firm planned to launch the long/short equity crossover fund investing in private and public companies by the end of the summer with at least $20 million, but it was not able to secure a fund manager for the intitative, according to a spokesman.

Earlier this year, the bank hired hired Tim Newell, who worked in the Clinton administration as an environmental czar, to jumpstart the fundraising process for the cleantech fund. It also named Steven Ledger as head of its asset management unit.

Merriman in August reported a revenue decline of 23% in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2007, calling the atmosphere “one of the most tumultuous capital market environments in recent history.” It managed $49 million across its two hedge fund products as of the end of June.

However, the ongoing crisis in the financial markets is not the only thing the bank has to worry about these days. In a June filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Merriman disclosed that it is facing three civil lawsuits filed by third-party lenders against the bank, William Del Biaggio, a retail client, and a former retail broker of the bank.

The lenders allege that Del Biaggio defaulted on multi-million dollar loans obtained from the lenders and that the broker, while still employed with Merriman, signed account control agreements purporting to pledge various retail client stock accounts as collateral for the Del Biaggio loans.

Merriman said that if the broker signed these agreements, he was not authorized to do so, nor was he permitted to pledge any assets in those accounts for loans by third parties to Del Biaggio.

The lawsuits seek damages in excess of $17 million and the bank said it anticipates additional claims.

The bank said it has notified the 10 clients whose accounts could have been affected by the unauthorized use of their account information and has terminated the broker.

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