John LaForge posted an enviable track record over the past five years as a contrarian small-cap stock-picker. He racked up a 15% annual gain in ( PDSAX) Phoenix Small-Cap Value Fund , better than most of his peers and way better than the broad market. Investors who paid a hefty fee for access to his stewardship looked forward to his guidance in this difficult year. And yet many may not know that LaForge, who served as manager of the fund since 1997 from an office in Florida, was quietly fired by The Phoenix Cos. ( PNX) on Oct. 31 and replaced by an in-house manager with a subpar record in what the company describes as a cost-cutting move. His exit provides one more example of ways in which mutual fund companies take advantage of ambiguous disclosure rules, act in ways that benefit professionals over private investors and may actually harm fund shareholders in an attempt to benefit their own company shareholders. In this case, several financial institutions with funds under LaForge's control learned of his termination in late October, quickly withdrew their money from Phoenix and followed him to his new operation under the aegis of FA Asset Management, a division of investment bank First Albany ( FACT). But private investors and small financial advisers were not informed of the manager change until two months later. And new investors would need to ask the right questions, or read between the lines of a long prospectus, to learn that management of the fund -- with the strong record in Morningstar and Lipper databases -- had changed. Paul Moroukian, a financial adviser in New York who had personal and client money in the fund, said Phoenix "hardly" told him about the change. Instead, it simply sent him a single form letter on Dec. 8, headlining the fund's new name without articulating any reason for the management switch.