Former Delphi Corp. Chief Executive Officer J. T. Battenberg III must pay a $215,000 for violating U.S. securities laws by misrepresenting a $237 million payment to General Motors Corp.
U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn entered judgment against Battenberg and a $118,500 sanction against former top Delphi accountant Paul Free. A Detroit jury in January found the men misrepresented the GM payment and found Free committed wrong-doing in three other transactions in 2000 and 2001.
The executives had been accused of trying to prop up the giant auto supplier’s stock even as Delphi slid steadily towards what would become the longest corporate bankruptcy reorganization in U.S. history.
“The remedies are for the court to decide,” Cohn said in separate memoranda explaining his rationale for each assessment.
The six-digit fine makes Battenberg one of only a handful of executives to pay for the decisions linked to the collapse of Detroit’s auto industry. David Stockman, the former chief executive officer of bankrupt Collins &Aikman, elected to settle with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by paying a $7.2 million rather than go to trial. Since settling in 2010, Stockman, the budget director in the Reagan White House during the 1980s, has launched a new career, scolding both Democrats and Republicans alike on the budget deficit.
The SEC sued Battenberg and Free in 2006. While the jury found the men had misrepresented the GM payment, it cleared them of claims they committed fraud or helped Delphi violate securities laws in the transaction.
The long trial of former Delphi Chairman and Chief Executive Officer J.T. Battenberg ended with a jury clearing him of fraud – but he was still found him liable for misrepresentation and responsible for accounting errors involving a $237 million payment the supplier made to former parent General Motors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil complaint against Battenberg alleged that the former Delphi CEO had tried to hide Delphi’s financial condition in order to improve its performance in the market. Battenberg faced only civil, rather than criminal charges. He nonetheless sought vindication via a jury trial
Nevertheless, the fine was a serious rebuke to an executive who was considered one of Detroit’s major corporate stars for nearly three decades.
The SEC’s prosecutors hammered on the idea that Battenberg deliberately deceived outside investors about the handling of an item in the company’s financial filings in the years before Delphi filed for bankruptcy in 2005.
The SEC sued Battenberg and other ex-Delphi executives in 2006, alleging they engaged in “fraudulent accounting or disclosure schemes.” Two other former Delphi executives, Milan Belans, a former director of capital planning and pension analysis; and Catherine Rozanski, a former accounting director, settled with the SEC during the trial. Belans agreed to pay $87,500 in disgorgement, interest and civil penalties, court filings show. Rozanski agreed to a $40,000 civil penalty.
Battenberg’s lawyers repeatedly asserted their client never did anything wrong and said the SEC hadn’t provided evidence to support its claims.
However, during the course of the trial, former Delphi financial staffers testified they were coached by senior executives on how to handle a disputed claim from General Motors.
The SEC maintained Battenberg violated federal securities laws through improper accounting for a $237-million payment Delphi made to GM as part of a settlement involving warranty claims.
Delphi improperly recorded a $202 million payment instead of charging it against income which would have reduced the supplier’s quarterly profit. It also would have reduced the size of executive bonuses, though the bonus payments were not part of the government’s case.
The payment to GM grew out of a long-standing dispute, which followed 1999 spinoff of Delphi. The supplier, at the time one of the world’s largest automotive parts manufacturers, repeatedly protested GM’s claims but found it was steadily losing business from GM as the dispute dragged on, Battenberg said, when he took the stand in his own defense last autumn.
Delphi’s financial problems eventually drove the company to file for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2005 It only emerged from bankruptcy after one of the longest corporate trip through the courts in U.S. history.