A Boston investment management firm must pay $48.5 million in damages to a couple who were advised to invest in a Polish tobacco company that an arbitrator deemed "grossly unsuitable."
Family Endowment Partners LP and its head, Lee Weiss, steered the couple, James and Jane Sutow, to a $9 million investment in Biosyntec Polska, according to an American Arbitration Association ruling on Tuesday. The Polish company planned to "revolutionize the tobacco business" with a purported filter that used rosemary extract to make cigarette smoke less toxic, the ruling said.
The sole arbitrator in the case ruled that the firm and Weiss breached their fiduciary duty to the Sutows, of Ambler, Pennsylvania.
Weiss, the former president of Fidelity Investments' family office business, did not immediately return a call or email requesting comment. The firm, which also has offices in Pennsylvania and Maryland, manages $335 million in assets, according to a regulatory filing.
The Sutows lost a total of about $13.5 million in investments recommended by Weiss, who charged them $1.24 million in fees, said the couple's lawyer, Glenn Gitomer, of McCausland Keen & Buckman in Radnor, Pennsylvania.
The ruling includes more than $30 million in "treble damages," which the arbitrator ruled were appropriate under a Pennsylvania law aimed at punishing unfair and deceptive practices. An award of treble damages is rare, according to lawyers.
None of the investments Weiss recommended were backed by offering documents or information that fully and fairly disclosed all material facts, the arbitrator ruled.
"It has been a long road," said Gitomer, who filed the case in mid-2013. We are very pleased with the result."
An expert who testified for the Sutows concluded that plans for the Polish company's expansion into the United States, Bulgaria and China "had no basis in reality because of the state of the science" relating to its cigarette filter and other issues.