Investors have filed a class-action suit against Salomon Smith Barney for allegedly breaching its fiduciary duty between March 22, 1999 and March 22, 2004 by claiming its financial advisers were selling mutual funds objectively when, in fact, they were steering them into the firm's "inferior" proprietary family of more than 220 funds.

"The proprietary funds were poor performers in relation to the rest of the market," according to the suit. "Moreover, defendants improperly charged and collected excessive fees and used those fees to compensate SSB financial advisers for steering more clients to the proprietary funds, thereby perpetuating the unlawful and deceitful scheme," it continues.

To encourage SSB advisers, managers and branch managers to push proprietary funds, the firm allegedly offered 12b-1 fees, directed-brokerage payments, commissions, as well as non-monetary compensation, which it only made known in a prospectus dated March 22, 2004.

The suit, being filed by the law firm of Girard Gibbs & De Bartolomeo, is pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

A spokeswoman for Salomon Smith Barney said the firm believes the suit is without merit and plans to vigorously contest it.

Copyright 2004 Thomson Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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