A number of Franklin Templeton Investments’ mutual funds filed a lawsuit against Beazer Homes USA and several of its officers on Sept. 18 accusing the company of violating securities laws by not disclosing the true financial conditions of the company.

The federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Georgia accuses the Atlanta-based builder of painting a false picture of its profitability in 2006 and early 2007, leading the investment firm to think it was in better financial shape than it was and to invest more than $3 million in Beazer stock. The company’s stock began falling in 2007 after several federal agencies began investigating on allegations of mortgage fraud.

There are no allegations in the lawsuit that haven’t already been brought against Beazer. The company settled a class-action lawsuit last May brought by several groups of other investors who accused the company of issuing false and misleading statements regarding the company’s business prospects and not disclosing facts Beazer knew related to alleged improper lending practices in its mortgage origination business.

That case was dismissed with prejudice, eliminating the possibility of it being filed again. In return, Beazer’s insurance company paid the plaintiffs’ $30.5 million.

"The company denies any liability in connection with the litigation and denies the claims asserted by the plaintiffs in the complaint," a company news release stated at the time. "However, the company believes this settlement is in the best interest of the company and its stakeholders, as it eliminates the uncertainties, burden, and future expense associated with this litigation."

Beazer spokeswoman Leslie Kratcoski said Tuesday that the company intends to defend itself in the new lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes at a time when the company appeared to have put all the legal issues that plagued it for more than two years behind it. In addition to settling the other civil shareholder lawsuit, the company also settled two other civil investigations, one by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the other by the North Carolina Office of the Commissioner of Banks into its mortgage originations.

Several federal agencies settled a two-year criminal investigation against Beazer over the summer, agreeing they won't prosecute the company for criminal mortgage and securities fraud if it meets certain conditions and pays about $50 million in restitution over the next 60 months.

Teresa Burney is a senior editor at BIG BUILDER and BUILDER magazines.


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