The Arizona Corporation Commission unanimously approved a settlement of the Mathon Management investment fraud case Thursday, saying it was in the best interests of 147 investors who are owed $76.4 million.
Representatives of investors said they believe the agreement, reached by attorneys for all of the parties in the case, is the best deal they could get.
Under the terms, Duane Slade and Guy Williams, principals in Mesa-based Mathon Management, agreed to contribute between $6 million and $8 million of their personal assets to repay investors as well as pay a $750,000 fine to Arizona, which will come from their future earnings.
At a hearing on the settlement Thursday before the commissioners, conservator James Sell said he has been able to recover an additional $16 million in Mathon assets through bankruptcy court proceedings so far. He said he could have $45 million to $50 million in hand by this fall, and further recoveries are possible from third parties such as accountants and attorneys involved in the case.
“My goal is to recover 100 percent,” he said. “I believe that’s achievable.”
To be implemented, the agreement still must be approved by 90 percent of the investors, as measured by the value of their investments. It also must be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge George B. Nielsen Jr. and Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Barry Schneider.
Phil Zobrist, chairman of a committee representing investors in the bankruptcy proceedings, said he believes most of the investors will support the settlement.
He said four meetings are planned with investors to explain the terms.
“I believe investors will be more interested in getting their money back than in pursuing Mr. Slade and Mr. Williams,” he said.
Investors could start receiving payments 30 days after the bankruptcy court approves the reorganization plan, which could be this fall, said Larry Wilk, attorney for the conservator.
No distributions have been made yet because the case is in Chapter 11.
Two Mathon funds and more than 50 other entities managed by Slade and Williams were closed in April 2005 after investigators for the corporation commission’s Securities Division concluded they were operating a Ponzi scheme. They charged the managers were repaying earlier investors from money raised from later investors who were promised lavish returns if they put their money in the Mathon funds.
The Securities Division also alleged that Slade, 35, and Williams, 34, were engaged in religious affinity fraud, attracting investments from fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who trusted them with their money.
Slade and Williams denied the charges, saying they operated a legitimate business that used investors’ money to make make high interest, short-term loans to borrowers, many of them real estate developers, who needed quick cash. In the settlement, Slade and Williams do not admit any of the commission’s allegations. Their attorneys said they are prepared to argue their case in a Superior Court trial if the settlement falls through.
The commissioners said they voted in favor of the settlement to move the case forward and speed up repayment to investors. “Allowing this case to drag on is not in the best interest of investors,” said commissioner Kris Mayes.
Commissioner Mike Gleason thanked Slade and Williams, who attended Thursday’s hearing, for cooperating in the recovery of assets. Chairman Jeff Hatch-Miller said the pair apparently started the funds with good intentions, “but good intentions don’t mean that people don’t lose their life savings.”
He said the settlement strikes a balance between getting some money back to investors quickly versus holding out for more, but having to wait a long time to get it.
Grant Woods, attorney for Slade and Williams, said the extent of his clients’ cooperation with authorities has been unusual for such cases.
“They totally contest the action taken by the state, but to focus on that would have said that they were looking out for themselves and not for the investors,” Woods said. “They have focused on a maximum return for investors.”