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February 9, 2024

Five broker-dealers, seven dually registered broker-dealers and investment advisers, and four affiliated investment advisors have been ordered to pay more than $81 million in total for longstanding, widespread violations of the recordkeeping provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.  The firms were found to have failed to maintain and preserve electronic communications since at least 2019.  The firms include Northwestern Mutual Investment Services LLC, Northwestern Mutual Investment Management Co. LLC, and Mason Street Advisors LLC, who will pay $16.6 million; Guggenheim Securities LLC and Guggenheim Partners Investment Management LLC, who will pay $15 million; Oppenheimer & Co. LLC, who will pay $12 million; Cambridge Investment Research Inc. and Cambridge Investment Research Advisors Inc., who will pay $10 million; Key Investment Services LLC and KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., who will pay $10 million; Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. and Lincoln Financial Securities Corp., who will pay $8.5 million; U.S. Bancorp Investments Inc., who will pay $8 million; and The Huntington Investment Company, Huntington Securities Inc., and Capstone Capital Markets LLC, who will pay $1.25 millionSEC

February 9, 2024

Simple Health Plans LLC and CEO Steven J. Dorfman have been ordered to pay $195 million for violating the FTC Act and Telemarketing Sales Rule and misleading consumers into believing they were signing up for healthcare plans that covered a wide array of services.  Despite  paying as much as $500 per month for benefits, consumers were essentially uninsured and exposed to limitless medical expenses.  FTC

February 8, 2024

The CFPB has ordered that Consumer First Legal Group, LLC, and attorneys Thomas G. Macey, Jeffrey J. Aleman, Jason Searns, and Harold E. Stafford pay $12 million in consumer redress and penalties for charging millions in advance fees to homeowners seeking foreclosure relief.  The advance fees charged were allegedly for legal representation, but the company and the attorneys failed to provide any.  CFPB

January 10, 2024

National auto title lending company Community Loans of America (CLA) has agreed to pay $2.2 million in restitution and cancel $3.7 million in outstanding debt after an investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office found it subjected Pennsylvanian borrowers to unlawful lending practices and exorbitant interest rates.  Title loans are effectively prohibited in Pennsylvania because they are high-cost loans and lenders typically charge interest rates that are far above the state’s 25% annual interest limit.  CLA still managed to collect money and repossess vehicles from Pennsylvanian consumers by claiming to have offices in the state but redirecting consumers to locations in Delaware.  PA AG

January 10, 2024

German software company SAP SE (SAP) has agreed to pay over $220 million and enter into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ to resolve allegations of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to government officials in Azerbaijan, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania from at least 2014 to 2022.  The company allegedly paid third parties to pay the bribes, then recorded the bribes as legitimate business expenses in its books and records.  To resolve parallel investigations with other authorities, SAP has agreed to pay almost $100 million to the SEC, which will be offset by a $59 million payment already made to the South African government.  DOJ; SEC

January 8, 2024

Invitation Homes, which owns and manages about 12,000 rental homes across California, has agreed to pay $2.04 million in civil penalties to resolve allegations of violating the state’s price gouging law and Tenant Protection Act (TPA).  California’s price gouging law prohibits landlords from increasing rent by more than 10% in the aftermath of a state of emergency, while the TPA prohibits increasing rent by more than 5% plus the percentage change in the annual cost of living.  Yet between 2019 and 2022, that is exactly what the company did.  In addition to paying civil penalties, Invitation Homes is required to restore lawful rental rates to California tenants and ensure compliance with all state and local laws.  CA AG

January 5, 2024

A Florida man, Karel Felipe, and Florida woman, Tamara Quicutis, have been sentenced to 8 years and 5 years respectively for their roles in a $93 million fraud scheme against Medicare.  Felipe and Quicutis were found guilty last October of submitting claims on behalf of three Michigan-based home health companies, for services never rendered, using stolen patient information, and then laundering the proceeds through dozens of shell companies and hundreds of bank accounts.  Their fellow co-conspirators—Jesus Trujillo, Didier Arcia, Alexey Gil, and Jeffrey Avila—have already been sentenced for their roles.  DOJ

December 26, 2023

A temporary restraining order was issued on December 21 against ArciTerra Companies LLC and its CEO Jonathan M. Larmore, along with Cole Capital Funds LLC, an entity formed by Larmore. Larmore and other charged entities misappropriated more than $35 million from private real estate funds and other investment vehicles to fund his family's lavish lifestyle. In another scheme, Larmore issued a press release from Cole Capital Funds, announcing they were buying 51% of WeWork's minority ownership shares at nine times the current trading price. Not disclosed was that Larmore had purchased more than 72,000 call options in the days prior to the press release. Larmore's intent was to earn a windfall on the options; instead, the press release was delayed so most of the call options expired before he could exercise them. SEC

December 22, 2023

Brooge Energy Limited, former CEO Nicolaas Lammert Paardenkooper, and former Chief Strategy Officer and interim CEO Lina Saheb settled SEC fraud charges for misstating Brooge's revenues from 2018 to 2021 connected to a $500 million securities sale. Brooge fabricated invoices to support the inflated revenues and provided them to auditors to hide the fraud. Brooge will pay a $5 million penalty for violating the antifraud, proxy statement, reporting, and books and records provisions of the federal securities laws. Paardenkooper and Saheb will each pay $100,000 and are subject to permanent officer and director bars. SEC

December 20, 2023

Avinash Singh and Highrise Advantage, LLC will pay over $100 million in restitution and civil penalties and are permanently banned from registering with the CFTC and from trading on any registered entity. Despite bringing in almost $58 million from investors and feeder funds, Singh and Highrise used less than $2.5 million on forex trades and used over $25 million on personal expenses and to make payments on their Ponzi-like scheme. CFTC
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