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Friday, June 24, 2005

MassMutual Mystery Envelops OppenheimerFunds

by: Theresa Sim

The cloud of mystery surrounding MassMutual is spreading further into its fund subsidiary, OppenheimerFunds.

So far, it's not been clear why Andrew Ruotolo, the ex-executive vice president of Oppenheimer, was ousted two weeks ago, nor how the fund group is at all involved in the executive turmoil at the parent company.

A new report by the Boston Globe provides an explanation, but a confusing one.

According to the Globe, ex-CEO Robert O'Connell wanted to fire Oppenheimer CEO John V. Murphy and replace him with Ruotolo after conducting an investigation of Oppenheimer.

Ruotolo was reportedly investigating accounting procedures and other matters related to fiduciary obligations to the mutual funds, Rutolo's attorney wrote in a letter to Murphy. His lawyer also said that Ruotolo faced a "hostile work environment" and "harassing conduct" in the course of his investigations. And Ruotolo "ruffled feathers" when he conducted an examination of executive pay of Oppenheimer executives (at O'Connell's behest) and concluded pay should be capped.

According to the Globe, citing anonymous Oppenheimer officials, executives and O'Connell, Murphy was O'Connell's nemesis. In court filings, O'Connell pointed a finger at Murphy as a instrumental figure in the "palace coup" against him.

James Birle, chairman of the board of directors of MassMutual, denied misdoings at Oppenheimer. "Did Bob O'Connell poke his nose in Oppenheimer activities? Yes," Birle told the Globe. "There was a so-called investigation that was initiated by the parent company in Oppenheimer," resulting in the finding that there was "no substance whatsoever" to any concerns, said Birle.

''Any allegations of impropriety on the part of current management . . . are without merit and are false. It is our understanding that at its April meeting the MassMutual board of directors reviewed allegations by O'Connell against OppenheimerFunds, and in response the board engaged their own independent legal counsel, which after a thorough investigation found those allegations to be without any merit. We believe that those allegations by O'Connell were nothing but a smokescreen to distract attention from the allegations against him that the board was investigating," Oppenheimer spokeswoman Jeaneen Pisarra told the Globe.  

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