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Dallas fire, police pension wins $2M settlement from investment firm

The deal requires the men who ran the firm to cooperate as the fund goes after others who profited while it lost hundreds of millions of dollars


By Steve Thompson
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — The Dallas police and fire pension fund has won a settlement worth at least $2 million from an advisory firm that officials blame for some of the fund’s disastrous real-estate investments.

While the money will not come close to covering the $320 million in losses the fund blames on the firm, the deal requires the men who ran the firm to cooperate as the fund goes after others who profited while it lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Dallas Morning News obtained a copy of the legal settlement between the fund and a major consultant, CDK Realty Advisors, using an open-records request. The settlement was finalized earlier this month.

City officials, who complain they had little control over the fund’s activities but are now being forced to find a way to bail it out, had mixed reactions to the settlement.

“We need every dime possible coming into the fund, especially from those that played a role in its downfall,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement. “This settlement appears to be a small step in the right direction, though I still hope to see more transparency and details about the scope of the alleged wrongdoing by CDK.”

Lee Kleinman, a City Council member and former member of the fund’s board, said he was “shocked CDK got off the hook for a mere $2 million considering the amount of fees they bilked out of the system over the past decade.”

But others highlighted the importance of getting CDK’s cooperation. “We could have hammered these guys a lot harder perhaps” by taking the matter to trial, said Philip Kingston, another city councilman who serves on the fund’s board. “But getting their cooperation to chase down other potential sources of recovery I think was really important.”

The fund’s top staffer, Kelly Gottschalk, whom the board hired in 2015, declined to comment on the settlement.

A lawyer for CDK stressed Monday that the settlement is not an “admission of any wrongdoing or liability for any claims.”

“CDK Realty Advisors was one of several commercial real estate managers hired by the Pension System,” Steven A. Schneider said in a statement. “CDK was not involved in or responsible for the design and construction” of the controversial  Museum Tower in the city’s Arts District. He said the firm was also not involved in the fund’s high-profile investments in luxury homes in Hawaii and a resort and vineyard in Napa County, Calif.

The firm has contended in a court filing that the real-estate investments it recommended were profitable for the fund.

CDK at one time managed more than $700 million for the fund, which once had more than $3 billion in assets. For many years the small firm and the fund both had their headquarters in the same office building.

Their relationship soured after the fund’s longtime administrator, Richard Tettamant, was ousted in 2014 and new management began cleaning house. Tettamant did not respond to a request for comment.

Last April, FBI agents raided CDK’s offices, carting out boxes of documents. It’s not clear whether that raid is connected to a federal grand jury’s criminal inquiry relating to the fund, which the fund’s lawyers confirmed in January.

 After CDK sued the pension fund, accusing it of failing to pay management fees, the fund responded with a blistering countersuit. It  accused CDK of involving the fund in high-risk investments that "have resulted in write-downs and losses of more than $320 million,” money that “should have been safeguarded for the benefit of Dallas’s loyal and hardworking police officers and firefighters.”

The settlement, finalized this month, includes $800,000 from CDK’s principals, Kenneth Cooley, Jon Donahue and Brent Kroener, to be paid by their insurer. Each man promised that certain of their other assets that could have been obtained in any judgment against them were not worth more than $100,000.

CDK also turned over its interest in the building at 4100 Harry Hines Blvd. that it shared with the fund. The agreement valued that interest at $1.2 million.

Another key piece of the settlement was that Cooley, Donahue and Kroener will cooperate by providing information and testimony in the event of a “court proceeding against a person or entity with whom or which CDK has a relationship,” according to the settlement agreement.

CDK’s principals started a new firm last year called Harvest Interests. Cooley spoke to the Lubbock Fire Pension Fund in November about moving forward with real estate investments, according to meeting minutes.

Cooley said “they had settled with Dallas Police and Fire, but the paperwork was still being worked through,” according to the minutes. Cooley told the Lubbock fund that CDK will become defunct at some point in the future after investments it manages are sold, the minutes say.

Cooley went over the strengths and weakness of several investments, the minutes say, “along with steps being taken to get lagging projects back in line with original performance expectations.”

Copyright 2017 The Dallas Morning News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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