Term Sheet

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Venture capitalist charged with fraud

August 31, 2011: 5:44 PM ET

SEC accuses former venture capitalist of stealing deals from his own firm.

When we last checked in with Matt Crisp, he had just settled a nasty piece of litigation with some of his former partners at (now-defunct) venture capital firm VSP Capital -- including current San Francisco mayoral candidate Joanna Rees. Lots of allegations of adultery, hacked email, fraud, etc. And it didn't work out well for Crisp, who agreed to pay an undisclosed amount in a settlement.

Now Crisp is back in hot water, this time with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Upon leaving VSP, Crisp had joined Adams Street Partners as a Silicon Valley partner focused on VC investments. He left shortly thereafter, claiming to have joined an undisclosed startup. At the same time, however, there were rumors that his swift departure from Adams Street had been anything but voluntary.

According to the SEC, the split came after Crisp admitted to having formed a secret investment fund to siphon opportunities away from Adams Street. From the SEC:

While working as a partner and fiduciary of Adams Street Partners... Crisp and a friend secretly formed a private investment vehicle called AV Partners LP. Crisp then usurped from Adams Street's funds, for AV Partners, a lucrative investment opportunity in a private company....

Crisp further enriched himself with a personal payment of $150,000 during a later buyout of the same private company. That money should have gone to Adams Street to reduce the fees due from its private equity funds. Crisp's deceit also secured for AV Partners a second investment opportunity in another private company in which Adams Street's funds invested. Further, Crisp attempted to arrange a second payout to AV Partners from that same company. Although later forced to repay the money, Crisp initially profited by over $2 million from this conduct, at the expense of Adams Streets and its private equity funds.

What a ridiculous mess. Adams Street isn't known for having the VC world's top compensation, but why on earth would Crisp feel the (alleged) need to commit such blatant fraud? Particularly after having just been involved with VSP -- an experience that others spent years trying to distance themselves from? The only thing I can think is that he wanted money to help fight his existing lawsuit -- someone once suggested to me that he settled with VSP because they had too many financial resources -- but that would be a remarkably short-sighted explanation.

No comment yet from Adams Street, and I'm still trying to track Crisp down. As of now, he does not seem to have formally responded to the SEC. Here is the Agency's entire release:

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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