Hedge fund manager Edward Owens fancies himself a modern-day Andrew Carnegie, giving away large chunks of his fortune to charity. But securities regulators investigating improper trading in the mutual fund industry see the Illinois resident as just another wealthy investor suspected of abusing the system. Most notably, regulators have alleged in court filings that Owens' Samaritan Asset Management engaged in illegal late trading of mutual fund shares through an agreement the hedge fund had with Security Trust, the Phoenix-based trust that bank officials are shutting down. Regulators won't say whether they intend to charge Owens or his fund, which has largely wound down its operations. But of all the shadowy characters to emerge from the mutual fund probe, Owens may be the most enigmatic. While others in the scandal were motivated by greed, Owens is the only one who claims to have been responding to a higher calling. A former stockbroker with a penchant for expensive sports cars and turtle-skin boots, Owens now calls himself a born-again Christian committed to living with less. He claims to have given more than $10 million to mostly religious charities since going into the hedge fund business in 1996, and he even says he sold some of his cars to raise money for African famine relief. In a speech a year ago to a conference organized by Generous Giving, a Christian group that encourages "biblical generosity," Owens said he and his wife Dimple decided to cap their net worth at $8 million, limit their annual income to $600,000 and give anything they earn above that to charity. "For us, this has been the most meaningful change in our stewardship over the Lord's resources," Owens told the conference. "Our goal is to move towards a lifestyle comparable to a missionary in America." (Click here to see
Owens' full speech .
People who know Owens say his acts of charity and piety are sincere and not meant to induce regulators to divine mercy. "His level of giving is so extreme, you would not be doing that to curry favor," said Todd Harper, a vice president with Generous Giving. "He is learning personally and spiritually from this difficult time that God is in control and he isn't." Owens, who declined to comment for this story, hasn't granted any interviews since Samaritan's name was first linked to the mutual fund investigation last September by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. His attorney, Suzanne Bish, a lawyer in Chicago with Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, also declined to comment. People familiar with Samaritan say most of the money in the hedge fund has been returned to investors, although some might have been retained to cover the cost of a possible fine or settlement with regulators. One reason Owens was able to give so much of his profits to charity is that Samaritan once was one of the more successful market-timing hedge funds on Wall Street, and a model for upstart competitors. Market-timing and late trading are the two main trading offenses at the center of the mutual fund investigation. Late trading, which is illegal, involves buying shares of a mutual fund after the close of trading, but at an old price that doesn't reflect the impact of late-breaking market developments. Market-timing, which is legal, entails the frequent trading of mutual fund shares, often in violation of fund company rules. At its peak in 2000, the Barrington, Ill.-based fund had roughly $500 million in assets, sources say. Samaritan was open to all investors. Owens was particularly aggressive in marketing Samaritan to other hedge funds and managers of so-called fund-of-funds investments. Samaritan's official letterhead bore the motto "Creating abundance."
In carrying out most of its trading, Samaritan principally worked with two registered investment advisory firms and several brokers. In this arrangement, Owens was the primary fundraiser, marketer and strategist. The investment advisers, Johnson Capital Management of Fairfax, Va., and Alastor Capital Management of San Jose, Calif., managed Samartian's money on a day-to-day basis and worked with the brokers. A person familiar with the investigation said regulators are still scratching their heads over the system Samaritan used to make trades, because it was unlike any other they had encountered with other hedge funds. Sources say one broker Samaritan used was in the Chicago office McDonald Investments, which Cleveland-based KeyCorp ( KEY) closed in December after finding that the branch
was a haven for market-timers . But the broker Owens leaned on most was Michael Sassano of Oppenheimer & Company ( OPY). One of Wall Street's most successful market-timers, Sassano has attracted regulatory scrutiny because of his big book of business and close ties to other market-timing brokers. In fact, Sassano referred some of Samaritan's trading to other brokers he knew, including several at Prudential Securities, in order to maximize the hedge fund's market-timing opportunities. ( Wachovia ( WB) and Prudential Financial ( PRU) now jointly own Prudential Securities.) "Sassano helped introduce us to other brokers to place trades," said Mark Neubieser, the investment adviser at Alastor Capital. Sassano also may have introduced Owens to Paul Flynn, a former investment banker at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce ( BCM), which used to own Oppenheimer up until early last year. Regulators allege that Flynn led a group of bankers in CIBC's New York office that provided up to a $1 billion in financing to hedge funds like Samaritan that engaged in abusive mutual fund trading. Last month, prosecutors in Spitzer's office announced that a grand jury had indicted Flynn on charges stemming from allegations he assisted hedge funds such as Samaritan and Edward Stern's Canary Capital Partners engage in late trading and deceptive market-timing. Prosecutors contend that Flynn knew Samaritan and Canary were using CIBC's financing to make improper mutual fund trades through an electronic platform set up by Security Trust, a trust bank that had served as a custodian and for more than 2,500 retirement plans with $13 billion in assets.
Neubieser says he wasn't involved in any trading through Security Trust and wasn't aware of anything improper ever being done by Owens or Samaritan. He's not sure how Samaritan got involved with Security Trust. Michael Johnson, president of Johnson Capital, the other investment adviser Samaritan worked with, didn't return several telephone calls. A woman answering the phones at Johnson Capital said the firm had no comment. Despite the potential regulatory troubles, Owens hasn't exited the hedge fund business altogether. After shutting down Samaritan, he has since returned to Wall Street with a smaller hedge fund called Mina Capital. The Mina Diversified Sector Fund officially began trading on March 1, says Neubieser. Like Samaritan, Mina too is mainly committed to market-timing. But instead of market-timing shares of stock mutual funds, Mina is mainly trading shares of funds sold by Rydex and ProFunds, two companies that sell mostly index-based mutual funds and permit market-timing. "I feel very comfortable," says Neubieser. "He
Owens feels very comfortable that we are OK."