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Deleted documents do double duty on rogue Web site

The operator of Web site SEC Info not only refuses to delete withdrawn Securities and Exchange Commission filings but actively promotes their availability.

    A Web site trying to make a name for itself by publishing deleted Securities and Exchange Commission filings scored a coup last month when Lehman Brothers attempted to delete a misfiled form detailing more than $20 billion of the firm's holdings.

    Fran Finnegan, a former investment banker with EF Hutton and First Boston, posted the document on his Web site, SEC Info, after receiving it through a regular feed from the SEC.

    Lehman soon realized, however, that the document gave a far more detailed look at its investments than it intended. It asked the SEC to remove the filing and replace it with a pared-down list of investments.

    The SEC complied, as did several other Web sites that post such filings. But not Finnegan, who not only refuses to delete withdrawn filings but actively promotes their availability on his site.

    Finnegan, 49, realized what he had after a Lehman attorney phoned him and requested that the 69-page, confidential document be removed.

    "I said, 'Jeez, we have an architectural structure, and we have a business plan.' He'd have to pay us a lot of money to change our business plan. Then I got to thinking, maybe I should talk to some people and get some publicity out of it," Finnegan said.

    In a business where traffic means everything, Finnegan used Lehman's misstep as an opportunity to distinguish SEC Info from the millions of other financial information Web sites on the Internet. Not only did he leave the document posted, but he has highlighted it in yellow at the top of his site.

    Publicity about the posting has resulted in a surge in traffic. Finnegan also said two companies have inquired about buying his site, although he won't say which ones.

    Lehman spokesman Bill Ahearn said the firm is not concerned about the 13F posting "because it was such an old filing. It's information as of March 31, and it's also incomplete."

    Still, Ahearn revealed his irritation with Finnegan, calling his refusal to remove the document "a very clever publicity stunt."

    Finnegan, who lives in San Francisco with his wife and two sons, ages 7 and 9, is the first to agree. "I wanted to draw attention to us," he said. "(Posting deleted SEC filings) is one of the things that makes us exclusive, and I'm trying to get in the mode of getting us well known."

    He said he is only using this "tabloid" tactic to highlight his site, which he sees as an information tool for bankers, investors and analysts. "It's not really a juicy site as much as practical," Finnegan said. "My target market is investment bankers."

    Finnegan's other victory came last March in the form of Bill Gates' Social Security number, which was accidentally filed along with a routine 13G form. This form is also highlighted on SEC Info. "Why did I highlight it?" he asked rhetorically. "Just kind of for the fun of it, and because I'm trying to say, 'This is what we have.'"

    The SEC does not approve of posting deleted filings but says there is little it can do.

    "Naturally, we delete (mistaken) filings, and we would hope (our subscribers) would delete them, but we don't have any contractual control over them," said Rick Heroux, the Edgar program manager for the SEC. "The burden is on the filer to make sure what they send us is what they want to send us."

    SEC Info is one of 21 companies that pay $44,000 annually to receive an automatic transmission of all documents, according to the SEC.