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June 28, 2022

In response to SEC charges, audit firm Ernst & Young LLP admitted that its employees cheated on CPA exams and in continuing professional education courses, and that the firm withheld evidence of this misconduct during the SEC’s investigation.  EY agreed to pay a $100 million penalty and undertake extensive remedial measures.  The cheating took place on the ethics component of CPA exams and in courses required to maintain CPA licenses, including ones designed to ensure that accountants can properly evaluate whether clients’ financial statements comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.  SEC

June 13, 2022

Charles Schwab & Co., Inc., Charles Schwab Investment Advisory, Inc., and Schwab Wealth Investment Advisory, Inc. will pay $187 million for violating the antifraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Mandated disclosures for Schwab Intelligent Portfolios—Schwab’s robo-adviser product—stated that the amount of cash in the robo-adviser portfolios utilized a “disciplined portfolio construction methodology,” and would seek “optimal return[s].” Instead, Schwab swept cash from the robo-adviser portfolios to its affiliate bank, loaned it out, and kept the difference between the interest it earned on the loans and the interest it paid to the robo-adviser clients. This resulted in customers making less money while taking on the same amount of risk. SEC

June 2, 2022

Luxembourg-based steel pipe manufacturer Tenaris will pay more than $78 million to resolve claims that between 2008 and 2013 its Brazilian subsidiary paid bribes to obtain and retain business from the Brazil state-owned entity Petrobras.  The SEC alleged that Tenaris violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  SEC

May 31, 2022

Healthcare company SCWorx Corp. has agreed to resolve SEC charges that it made false and misleading statements in an April, 2020 press release, claiming in a press release that it had received a purchase order for millions of COVID-19 rapid test kits.  The announcement caused the company’s stock price to surge, but the SEC alleged that the company had neither a legitimate supplier of COVID-19 test kits nor an executed purchase agreement with a buyer.  When the true facts became public, investors lost at least $116 million.  The company has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $125,000 and contribute stock valued at $600,000 as disgorgement and prejudgment interest to harmed investors in a private class action.  The company’s former CEO, Marc Schessel, has been indicted for securities fraud with respect to the scheme.  SEC; USAO NJ

May 25, 2022

RiverSource Distributors Inc. will pay a $5 million civil penalty for violating Section 11 of the Investment Company Act by employing sales practices wherein variable-annuities-holding customers were unknowingly switched from one variable annuity to another, increasing sales commissions for employees and boosting RiverSource’s revenues. These trades were effectuated through Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC, an affiliated broker-dealer/investment adviser. RiverSource’s compliance department caused the sales practice to stop in 2018, but only after these types of transactions saw a significant increase from 2016 until then. RiverSource was also hit with a cease-and-desist order and a censure, in addition to the civil penalty. This is the SEC’s first-ever enforcement proceeding under Section 11. SEC

May 25, 2022

Twitter will pay $150 million in civil penalties and implement new compliance measures to settle allegations of FTC Act violations by misrepresenting how it would deploy users’ nonpublic contact information, affecting more than 140 million Twitter users. From 2013 to 2019, Twitter collected users’ telephone numbers and email addresses under the guise of account security protocols, while concealing their secondary use of this information to help companies send targeted ads to consumers, which thereby increased Twitter’s primary source of revenue. In addition to the monetary penalty, Twitter is required to implement a new privacy and information security program and comply with numerous other reporting and record-keeping requirements. DOJ, USAO NDCA

May 24, 2022

Switzerland-based mining and commodity trading firm Glencore International A.G. and an affiliate have agreed to pay over $1.1 billion in criminal penalties and forfeitures, and will plead guilty to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and conspiracy to engage in commodity price manipulation.  In addition, the companies will pay over $1.186 billion in civil penalties and disgorgement in settlement with the CFTC.  As part of the criminal plea agreement, Glencore admitted that between 2007 and 2018, it corruptly provided more than $100 million in payments and other things of value to intermediaries for the payment of bribes to officials in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Brazil, Venezuela, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  With respect to the commodity price manipulation scheme, the CFTC found that from as early as 2007 through at least 2018, Glencore sought to increase profits from its physical and derivatives oil products trading by manipulating or attempting to manipulate four U.S. based S&P Global Platts physical oil benchmarks and related futures and swaps.  Criminal fines and forfeitures total over $700 million for the FCPA violations and nearly $486 million for the for the market manipulation violations, which amounts are subject to credits for amounts paid to the CFTC and foreign authorities including the United Kingdom.  The $1.186 billion CFTC resolution will also be reduced, with Glencore receiving credit for payments in the criminal resolutions.  DOJ; USAO SDNY; CFTC

May 23, 2022

Art dealer Inigo Philbrick will spend 7 years in prison and forfeit over $86 million for defrauding investors to finance his art business. Over a 3-year period, from 2016 through 2019, Philbrick misrepresented the ownership of certain artworks, selling multiple ownership interests in an artwork totaling more than 100%; created fraudulent contracts and records to further the scheme; made material misrepresentations and omissions to collectors, investors, and lenders; and sold or used artworks as collateral on loans without the knowledge of the artworks’ co-owners. The fraud was eventually exposed when investors learned of the fraudulent records and material misrepresentations Philbrick had made, and a lender notified Philbrick that he was in default on a $14 million loan. USAO SDNY

May 23, 2022

Registered investment advisor BNY Mellon Investment Adviser agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty to resolve allegations that it misstated or omitted material facts with respect to investment decisions for certain mutual funds in managed.  Specifically, the SEC alleged that BNY Mellon represented or implied that all investments in the funds had undergone a review with respect to Environmental, Social, and Governance (“ESG”) considerations, even though that was not always the case.  SEC

May 20, 2022

Wells Fargo Advisors, which is a registered broker-dealer and investment advisor, agreed to pay $7 million to resolve allegations that it had an inadequate anti-money laundering system.  As a result, the SEC alleged, Wells Fargo did not file timely suspicious activity reports including with respect to foreign wire transfers to or from its customers’ brokerage accounts.  SEC
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