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Herbalife short-seller sues banks, Icahn over alleged fraud

Traders work at the post that trades Herbalife stock on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in this January 10, 2013 file photograph. R
Traders work at the post that trades Herbalife stock on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in this January 10, 2013 file photograph. R

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - A short seller in Herbalife Ltd's stock has sued officials at three major U.S. banks as well as activist investor Carl Icahn, saying they are helping perpetuate a fraudulent pyramid scheme at the nutritional products company.

Daniel Ravicher, a New York lawyer, on Wednesday filed papers in Manhattan federal court seeking to force officers and directors at Bank of America Corp , JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co to pull back $1.2 billion of financing for Herbalife.

In a separate lawsuit, he said Icahn has aided the alleged fraud by amassing a stake of nearly 16 percent in the company as part of a feud with hedge fund manager William Ackman. Ravicher is seeking to force Icahn to pay damages and divest his stake.

"He has a revenge motive, not an investment motive," Ravicher said in a phone interview, referring to Icahn.

More than 50 defendants were named in the lawsuits targeting Bank of America, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, including respective chief executives Brian Moynihan, Jamie Dimon and John Stumpf.

Ravicher said the bank defendants have breached their fiduciary duties to him, a shareholder, by failing to urge the withdrawal of the Herbalife financing. He said this exposes the banks to substantial risks of criminal and civil liability.

Like Ackman, Ravicher has a short position in Herbalife, meaning he has bet that the company's share price will fall.

The lawyer said he has lost more than $75,000 on his short position, which began around the time Ackman announced he was shorting the stock in December.

Ackman has bet roughly $1 billion against Herbalife, arguing that its business model is nothing more than a "well-managed pyramid scheme.

Icahn has supported Herbalife, calling it a good company with good management.

Herbalife, which has corporate offices in Los Angeles, said on February 28 that it planned to add two directors chosen by Icahn, creating an 11-person board, and said Icahn may boost his stake to 25 percent.

Bank of America spokesman Bill Halldin, JPMorgan spokeswoman Tasha Pelio and Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez declined to comment on the lawsuits. An Icahn spokeswoman had no immediate comment. Herbalife, which is not a defendant in either lawsuit, also declined to comment.

Ravicher, 38, said he lives in Fort Lauderdale but practices law in Manhattan.

He is also executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, and co-counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court over whether Myriad Genetics Inc may patent two genes linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

Ravicher said he is not pursuing the Herbalife cases as a class action, but said investors with similar grievances are free to contact him.

The cases are Ravicher v. Moynihan et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-01665; and Ravicher v. Icahn in the same court, No. 13-01666.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Alison Frankel; Editing by Martha Graybow and David Gregorio)

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