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SEC Enforcement Actions

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the United States agency with primary responsibility for enforcing federal securities laws. Whistleblowers with knowledge of violations of the federal securities laws can submit a claim to the SEC under the SEC Whistleblower Reward Program, and may be eligible to receive  monetary rewards and protection against retaliation by employers.

Below are summaries of recent SEC settlements or successful prosecutions. If you believe you have information about fraud which could give  rise to an SEC enforcement action and claim under the SEC Whistleblower Reward Program, please contact us to speak with one of our experienced whistleblower attorneys.

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 8, 2022

CohnReznick LLP and its partners Stephen M. Wyss, Stephen H. Jackson, and Robert G. Hilbert were charged with improper professional conduct in their engagement with clients Sequential Brands Group, Inc. and Longfin Corp, violations of Rule 102(e) of the SEC’s Rules of Practice, Rule 2-02(b)(1) of Regulation S-X, and violations of Section 13(a) of the SEC Act of 1934. CohnReznick failed to obtain sufficient evidence to support Sequential’s conclusion that its goodwill was not impaired or reduced in value, despite the firm’s own valuation specialists expressing concern. In its Longfin audit, CohnReznick failed to address known issues involving related party transactions used to fraudulently inflate Longfin’s revenues. CohnReznick’s $1.9 million penalty will be returned to investors. SEC

June 8, 2022

Michael Gastauer, of Germany, and his 6 related entities will pay over $15 million for aiding and abetting an international securities scheme wherein Gastauer used his U.S. bank accounts to disburse illegal stock sale proceeds to offshore brokerage accounts, masking the sellers’ true identities. The scheme was orchestrated by UK citizen Roger Knox and his Swiss-owned entity, Wintercap SA. In a parallel criminal action, Knox was indicted on and pled guilty to one count of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Knox’s sentencing is pending. SEC

June 7, 2022

Morningstar Credit Ratings, LLC will pay a civil monetary penalty of $1,150,000 for disclosure and internal controls violations related to rating commercial mortgage-backed securities. Analysts were permitted to adjust key stresses in the rating model, without disclosing they had done so, impacting 30 transactions from 2015 to 2016. Additionally, effective internal controls were neither established nor enforced for these adjustments from 2015 to 2017, impacting 31 transactions. SEC

June 7, 2022

Synchronoss Technologies, Inc. and seven senior employees were charged with accounting improprieties running from 2013 to 2017, including improperly accounting for numerous transactions, filing with the SEC materially misleading financial statements, and having material weaknesses in its internal financial reporting controls. Synchronoss will pay a civil penalty of $12.5 million. 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.  SEC

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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