Mark Zaino, a former UBS trader who worked on the firm’s derivatives and municipal securities desk, pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges today in the wide-ranging investigation into sham auctions and bid rigging in financial products sold to municipalities.
Zaino is the first banker to plead guilty to charges and he has agreed to cooperate with investigators. Another banker at Bank of America, who participated in the massive bid-rigging scheme, is also providing information to the Feds about the scam.
The alleged conspiracy centered around so-called guaranteed investment contracts, or GICs, which acted like certificates of deposit for the cash raised from municipal bond offerings. The interest rates on GICs aren’t published so governments were mandated to put the contracts out for competitive bidding. They hired small advisory firms to run the auctions to get the highest interest rates.
The auctions appear to have been rigged, according to indictments against one of the advisory firms, CDR Financial Products. The charges against CDR claim the firm told over a dozen big banks that sell GICs including JPMorgan, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Bank of America and Citigroup, how to lowball their bids to win business from the state and local governments. The banks, in turn, paid kickbacks to CDR.