ASTAR Air Cargo Alleges Merrill Lynch Fraud; Files Complaint Regarding Auction Rate Securities

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ASTAR Air Cargo (ASTAR) announced today that it has filed an arbitration claim against Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. seeking compensatory damages of $9.125 million and punitive damages of at least $27.375 million. ASTAR's counsel, Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A. of Miami, filed the claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) to gain access to ASTAR's funds that currently are frozen in illiquid Auction Rate Securities (ARS) in the company's Merrill Lynch account.

Merrill Lynch decided to saddle ASTAR with an illiquid investment rather than risk more of its own capital in the ARS market

    As alleged in its Statement of Claim, ASTAR instructed Merrill Lynch to place its cash reserves in products that would provide complete safety of principal and complete liquidity. In response, Merrill Lynch recommended that the company purchase various ARS. Merrill Lynch told ASTAR that ARS were completely safe and extremely liquid, with auctions occurring no less frequently than every 35 days. ASTAR agreed to invest significant amounts of cash in ARS sold by Merrill Lynch. In early 2008, ASTAR's investments became locked up and entirely illiquid. As a direct result of Merrill Lynch's fraudulent misconduct, ASTAR is now unable to access substantial assets critical to its business operations.

"Merrill Lynch decided to saddle ASTAR with an illiquid investment rather than risk more of its own capital in the ARS market," said Scott Dimond, ASTAR's lead litigation counsel. "When Merrill Lynch concluded that ARS were a 'hot potato' they decided that ASTAR would be the one to get its hands burned. ASTAR never would have invested any of its money in ARS if Merrill Lynch had informed the company of the true liquidity risks of the securities and of the apparent liquidity problems at Merrill," Dimond said.

Background

Between October 2004 and December 2007, ASTAR maintained, on average, between $20 million and $25 million in ARS in its Merrill Lynch accounts, always believing that such investments gave the company ready access to its funds.

Beginning in fall 2007, ARS auctions began to fail nationwide, causing certain ARS to become illiquid. At that time, Merrill Lynch assured ASTAR that it would continue to support the ARS auctions that it oversaw, including the auctions for the ARS that it had sold to ASTAR. Merrill Lynch continued to hawk ARS to ASTAR without providing any additional warnings. In February 2008, however, Merrill Lynch announced that it no longer would support the ARS market it had helped to create.

As a result of Merrill Lynch's conduct, $9.125 million of ASTAR's assets are now tied up in illiquid ARS securities, and ASTAR has no confidence that it will be able to access its money in the near - or even distant - future.

ASTAR alleges the following claims against Merrill Lynch:

In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, Merrill Lynch also is liable for the payment of interest on the funds tied up in the ARS investment at Florida's statutory rate of 11 percent, minus any interest paid to ASTAR since it purchased the investment.

ASTAR is being represented in this matter by Dimond Kaplan & Rothstein, P.A. (http://www.dkrpa.com or http://www.investmentfraud-lawyer.com), a litigation and arbitration boutique that represents investors nationwide in stockbroker misconduct actions involving ARS and other securities.

About ARS

ARS are either bonds with long-term maturity (corporate or municipal bonds), or preferred shares of closed-end bond funds (also known as "auction rate preferred stock"), for which the interest rate or dividend is reset on a periodic basis through what is known as a "dutch auction." In the auction, a broker-dealer submits bids for securities to an auction agent on behalf of current and prospective investors. Brokerage firms, including Merrill Lynch, routinely marketed and sold ARS as safe, highly liquid, cash-equivalent investments.

About ASTAR Air Cargo, Inc.

ASTAR Air Cargo is a licensed U.S. air carrier operating a fleet of 43 aircraft from its operational hub in Wilmington, Ohio. The airline provides all-cargo scheduled and charter services for the DHL Worldwide Express network and charter services on a contract basis for customers including the U.S. military and the United States Postal Service. ASTAR Air Cargo corporate headquarters are located in Miami, FL. Additional information can be found at http://www.astaraircargo.us.

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Seth Horwitz
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