After three years of trying to solve their self-imposed debt crisis, the Jefferson County, Alabama, commissioners threw in the towel on Wednesday and declared bankruptcy. The bankruptcy, involving over $4 billion in debts owed by the county, will be costly to the banks who loaned the money, the private investors who participated in the bond offerings, the guarantors of the debt, and most especially, the taxpayers of Montgomery.
It’s already proven costly to Charles LeCroy, the JP Morgan broker who persuaded the county to refinance its debt in 2004, who was indicted by the SEC in 2009 for fraud in a separate case. And for Larry Langford, a county commissioner at the time, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for fraud in the present case.
The seeds for the bankruptcy were planted back in 1994 when the Environmental Protection Agency demanded that Jefferson County build a new sewer system. The county complied and raised money through a bond offering that generated $3 billion which was used to build the new plant. LeCroy was the original broker involved in the deal and when he moved to JPMorgan, he used his position to persuade the county to refinance the bonds at lower cost, using something called derivatives. The refinance would lower the county’s interest payments and generate some cash for the county as well. It was that offer and acceptance of a deal that looked awfully good — too good — that set the stage for the bankruptcy filing on Wednesday.
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