SEC Fraud Actions

SEC
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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the United States agency with primary responsibility for enforcing federal securities laws. The SEC oversees the key participants in the securities world, including securities exchanges, securities brokers and dealers, investment advisors, and mutual funds. The SEC was created a few years after the market crash of 1929 through passage of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC’s mission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. The federal securities laws, and the SEC’s efforts to enforce them, focus on achieving these goals by: (1) requiring companies offering securities to the public to tell the truth about their businesses, the securities being sold, and the risks involved in investing; and (2) requiring those who sell and trade securities to treat investors fairly and honestly.

In July 2010, in response to the 2008 financial crisis, Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. One important feature of this legislation was the establishment of the SEC whistleblower program. This program encourages those with knowledge of violations of the federal securities laws to share this information with the SEC by providing both monetary rewards and protection against retaliation by employers.

Below are summaries of the most recent enforcement actions litigated by the SEC. If you believe you have information about securities fraud, please click here to contact one of our experienced whistleblower attorneys.

December 21, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges and an asset freeze against a group of unregistered funds and their owner who allegedly bilked thousands of retail investors, many of them seniors, in a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme. SEC investigators filed this action to prevent further dissipation of investor assets after obtaining court orders in September and November in subpoena enforcement actions that forced the unregistered companies to open their books. According to the SEC’s complaint, unsealed today in federal court in Miami, Florida, Robert H. Shapiro and a group of unregistered investment companies called the Woodbridge Group of Companies LLC formerly headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, defrauded more than 8,400 investors in unregistered Woodbridge funds. SEC

December 19, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Wall Street stockbroker with illegally accepting more than $1 million in undisclosed kickbacks for giving certain customers preferential access to lucrative IPOs, enabling them to reap major trading profits in the secondary markets. The SEC alleges that Brian Hirsch subverted allocation policies and procedures at two brokerage firms where he worked on the wealth syndicate desk, making long-running arrangements with certain customers to give them larger allocations of coveted public offerings being marketed by the firms.  In most instances, the customers sold their stock into the market as soon as possible to turn a substantial profit at the expense of the firms’ other brokerage customers and the issuers’ interests in raising capital from long-term investors. SEC

December 12, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a biopharmaceutical company with committing a series of accounting controls and disclosure violations, including the failure to properly report as compensation millions of dollars in perks provided to its then-CEO and then-CFO. According to the SEC, Tennessee-based Provectus lacked sufficient controls surrounding the reporting and disclosure of travel and entertainment expenses submitted by its executives.  The order further finds that Provectus’ former CEO, Dr. H. Craig Dees, obtained millions of dollars from the company using limited, fabricated, or non-existent expense documentation, and that these unauthorized perks and benefits were not disclosed to investors.  Provectus’ former CFO, Peter R. Culpepper, also allegedly obtained $199,194 in unauthorized and undisclosed perks and benefits. SEC

December 11, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a former day trader with making more than $1 million in illegal insider trading profits as part of a ring that allegedly stole confidential information from investment banks and clients so they could trade in advance of secondary stock offerings. The SEC alleges that Joseph Spera schemed with former colleagues, posing as legitimate portfolio managers to induce investment bankers to bring them ”over the wall” and share nonpublic details about upcoming secondary offerings while agreeing not to disclose the information to others or trade before the offerings were announced.  Spera and the others involved allegedly violated those agreements and tipped each other with confidential information that enabled them to trade for a profit ahead of public announcements. SEC

December 7, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged a registered representative in Pennsylvania with operating a long-running offering and investment advisory fraud. The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, alleges that Paul W. Smith raised approximately $2.35 million from approximately 30 investors – many of whom were his brokerage customers – by representing that he would invest their money in publicly traded securities through The Haverford Group, an outside partnership that Smith formed and did not disclose to his broker-dealer employers. However, Smith allegedly made very few securities investments and instead largely used investors’ money to repay other investors and for his own personal use. SEC

December 6, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today continued its crackdown on brokers who defraud customers, charging two New York-based brokers with making unsuitable trades that were costly for customers and lucrative for the brokers.  The case follows similar charges of excessive trading by brokers brought in January, April, and September. The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that Zachary S. Berkey of Centerreach, New York, and Daniel T. Fischer of Greenwich, Connecticut, conducted in-and-out trading that was almost certain to lose money for customers while yielding commissions for themselves.  According to the complaint, 10 customers of Four Points Capital Partners LLC, where Berkey and Fischer previously worked, lost a total of $573,867 while Berkey and Fischer received approximately $106,000 and $175,000, respectively, in commissions. SEC

December 5, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced an award of more than $4.1 million to a former company insider who alerted the agency to a widespread, multi-year securities law violation and continued to provide important information and assistance throughout the SEC’s investigation. The whistleblower is the third awarded by the SEC in the past week. “Company insiders often have valuable information that can help the SEC halt an ongoing securities law violation and better protect investors,” said Jane Norberg, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower. “The breadth of the SEC’s whistleblower program is demonstrated by this case, where the whistleblower, a foreign national working outside of the United States, affirmatively stepped forward to shine a light on the wrongdoing.” SEC

December 4, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Digi Outdoor Media Inc. and two of its senior executives, former CEO Donald MacCord Jr. and CFO Shannon Doyle with stealing more than $2 million from retail investors.  According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, MacCord Jr., and Doyle raised nearly $4.5 million in promissory notes by claiming they would use investor money to construct and install digital signs for commercial advertising around Washington, D.C.  Instead, the complaint alleges that MacCord and Doyle secretly diverted millions of dollars of investor money for their own personal use, including MacCord’s luxury cars, $20,000 per month rent on a Southern California mansion, nanny and housekeeping services, and private school tuition for his children, while Doyle diverted several hundred thousand dollars to his other unrelated businesses. SEC

December 4, 2017 - 

A California-based audit firm is being charged with conducting flawed audits and reviews of financial statements, which are critical sources of information for investors.  The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Anton & Chia LLP and its accountants ignored numerous indications of fraudulent financial reporting by three of the firm’s audit clients – microcap companies Accelera Innovations Inc., Premier Holding Corp., and CannaVEST Corp.  For example, Accelera’s public filings allegedly included revenue, assets, and liabilities from an entirely different company.  The Enforcement Division alleges that instead of standing in the way of Accelera’s fraud, Anton & Chia facilitated it. SEC

December 4, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced it obtained an emergency asset freeze to halt a fast-moving Initial Coin Offering (ICO) fraud that raised up to $15 million from thousands of investors since August by falsely promising a 13-fold profit in less than a month. The SEC filed charges against a recidivist Quebec securities law violator, Dominic Lacroix, and his company, PlexCorps. The Commission’s complaint, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, alleges that Lacroix and PlexCorps marketed and sold securities called PlexCoin on the internet to investors in the U.S. and elsewhere, claiming that investments in PlexCoin would yield a 1,354 percent profit in less than 29 days. The SEC also charged Lacroix’s partner, Sabrina Paradis-Royer, in connection with the scheme. The charges are the first filed by the SEC’s new Cyber Unit. SEC

November 30, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission  Joseph A. Rubbo and Angela Beckcom Rubbo Monaco with defrauding elderly investors in a penny stock scheme involving Florida entertainment companies and their “Spongebuddy” product.  The charges are part of the Miami Regional Office’s Recidivist Initiative which has thus far resulted in enforcement actions against 23 individuals, nine of whom also have been charged by criminal authorities. The SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, charges Rubbo and Monaco, both of Coral Springs, Florida, with defrauding investors through offerings by their companies VIP TV LLC, VIP Television Inc., and The Spongebuddy LLC.  Rubbo and Monaco are repeat offenders whose prior securities schemes resulted in criminal convictions against Rubbo and SEC injunctions against both Rubbo and Monaco. SEC

November 30, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission  announced awards of more than $8 million each to two whistleblowers whose critical information and continuing assistance helped the agency bring the successful underlying enforcement action. With this case, SEC enforcement actions involving whistleblower awards have now resulted in more than $1 billion in financial remedies ordered against wrongdoers. The first whistleblower alerted SEC enforcement staff of the particular misconduct that would become the focus of the staff’s investigation and the cornerstone of the agency’s subsequent enforcement action.  The second whistleblower provided additional significant information and ongoing cooperation to the staff during the investigation that saved a substantial amount of time and agency resources. SEC

November 21, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Oyster Bay, New York, and its former top elected official with defrauding investors in the town’s municipal securities offerings by hiding the existence and potential financial impact of side deals with a businessman who owned and operated restaurants and concession stands at several town facilities. According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Oyster Bay agreed several years ago to indirectly guarantee four separate private loans to the vendor totaling more than $20 million.  The agreement to indirectly guarantee the debts allegedly stemmed from the concessionaire’s longstanding close relationship with then-town supervisor John Venditto and other officials that involved gifts, bribes, kickbacks, and political support. SEC

November 15, 2017 - 

In its ongoing efforts to protect Main Street investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Enforcement Division today issued a report highlighting its priorities for the coming year as well as a review of enforcement actions that took place during FY 2017. In the report, Co-Directors Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin stated their overall enforcement approach: “Vigorous enforcement of the federal securities laws is critical to combat wrongdoing, compensate harmed investors, and maintain confidence in the integrity and fairness of our markets.” They also stated five core principles that will guide their enforcement decision-making:  focus on the Main Street investor; focus on individual accountability; keep pace with technological change; impose sanctions that most effectively further enforcement goals; and constantly assess the allocation of resources. SEC

November 2, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Maryland-based biotech company and four former top executives with prioritizing revenue growth over lawful accounting and misleading investors in the process. The SEC alleges that Osiris Therapeutics routinely overstated company performance and issued fraudulent financial statements for a period of nearly two years.  According to the SEC’s complaint, the company improperly recognized revenue using artificially inflated prices, backdated documents to recognize revenue in earlier periods, and prematurely recognized revenue upon delivery of products to be held on consignment.  Osiris Therapeutics and its executives also allegedly used pricing data that they knew was false and attempted to book revenue on a fictitious transaction, among other accounting improprieties. SEC

November 1, 2017 - 

A petroleum engineer who worked at Texas-based energy company Apache Corporation has agreed to settle SEC charges that he conducted insider trading ahead of a market-moving announcement about the company’s discovery of a significant new oil source. The SEC alleges that Christopher J. Lollar traded on nonpublic information while working in the company’s San Antonio office that was performing the geologic and geophysical work to explore and develop the newly discovered resource play called Alpine High.  Lollar allegedly conducted trades in Apache shares and call options in the days and weeks leading up to the company’s Alpine High announcement on Sept. 7, 2016.  The value of Lollar’s brokerage account skyrocketed approximately 2,700 percent after the announcement, and his alleged profits from insider trading totaled $214,295.07. SEC

October 31, 2017 - 

Investment advisory firm Millennium Management LLC has agreed to pay more than $630,000 to settle charges that it shorted U.S. stocks in companies planning follow-on offerings and then illegally bought shares in the follow-on offerings.    An SEC investigation found that Millennium violated an anti-manipulation provision of the federal securities laws known as Rule 105 on four occasions in 2012.  Rule 105 prohibits short selling an equity security during a restricted period (generally five business days before a covered public offering) and then purchasing that same security through the offering.  By illegally purchasing shares in the follow-on offerings, Millennium reaped $286,889 in illicit profits. SEC

October 30, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Joseph P. Willner with participating in a scheme to access the brokerage accounts of more than 100 unwitting victims and make unauthorized trades to artificially affect the stock prices of various companies. The SEC alleges that Willner generated at least $700,000 in illicit profits by trading in the same securities in his own accounts and taking advantage of the artificial stock prices that resulted from the unauthorized trades placed in the victims’ accounts. Willner’s activities were detected despite his efforts to disguise his real identity while communicating with at least one other individual through online direct messaging applications using a pseudonym, according to the SEC’s complaint.  “Legal trading too hard” is among the online messages noted in the SEC’s complaint.  To mask his payments to the other individual as part of a profit-sharing arrangement, Willner allegedly transferred proceeds of profitable trades to a digital currency company that converts U.S. dollars to Bitcoin and then transmitted the bitcoins as payment. SEC

October 25, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Mohammed Ali Rashid, a former senior partner at Apollo Management L.P., with defrauding his fund clients by secretly billing them for approximately $290,000 in personal expenditures, including his family vacations, visits to a hair salon, and purchases of designer clothing and high-end electronics. The SEC’s complaint alleges that Rashid falsely claimed that certain individuals accompanied him to dinners to make it appear various personal expenses had a business purpose, and he doctored a receipt in an effort to justify his purchase of a $3,500 suit for his father as a business expense. SEC

October 17, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged mining company Rio Tinto and two former top executives with fraud for inflating the value of coal assets acquired for $3.7 billion and sold a few years later for $50 million. The SEC’s complaint, which was filed in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that Rio Tinto, its former CEO Thomas Albanese, and its former CFO Guy Elliott failed to follow accounting standards and company policies to accurately value and record its assets.  Instead, as the project began to suffer one setback after another resulting in the rapid decline of the value of the coal assets, they sought to hide or delay disclosure of the nature and extent of the adverse developments from Rio Tinto’s Board of Directors, Audit Committee, independent auditors, and investors. “As alleged in our complaint, Rio Tinto’s top executives allegedly breached their disclosure obligations and corporate duties by hiding from their board, auditor, and investors the crucial fact that a multi-billion dollar transaction was a failure,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. SEC

October 12, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that a whistleblower has earned an award of more than $1 million for providing the SEC with new information and substantial corroborating documentation of a securities law violation by a registered entity that impacted retail customers. “Today’s award reflects the impact that whistleblower information can have in uncovering violations that harm the retail investor,” said Jane Norberg, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower.  “We welcome high-quality information about potential securities-law violations from those in and outside a company.” More than $162 million has been awarded to 47 whistleblowers.  By law, the SEC protects the confidentiality of whistleblowers and does not disclose information that might directly or indirectly reveal a whistleblower’s identity.  Whistleblowers may be eligible for an award when they voluntarily provide the SEC with original, timely, and credible information that leads to a successful enforcement action. SEC

October 11, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today James M. Schneider and Andrew H. Wilson alleging they helped facilitate a microcap fraud scheme involving undisclosed “blank check” companies secretly bound for reverse mergers. In complaints filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the SEC alleges that Schneider of Hillsboro Beach, Florida, and Wilson of Nevada City, California, contributed to a fraud involving at least 22 undisclosed blank check companies. Such companies have no operations, making them attractive targets for those seeking reverse mergers for use in pump-and-dump schemes.  Despite claims of legitimate business plans, separate management, and independent shareholders, the 22 companies and their securities were secretly controlled by Steven Sanders, along with Daniel P. McKelvey or Alvin S. Mirman, and sold in reverse mergers.  The SEC previously filed an enforcement action against Sanders, McKelvey, and Mirman, who were separately convicted of related criminal charges and sentenced to prison. SEC

October 11, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Lisa Bershan, her husband Barry Schwartz, and their business associate Joel Margulies for defrauding investors in a company that falsely claimed to be developing a caffeinated chocolate snack and nearing an acquisition by Monster Energy or Coca-Cola Co. The SEC’s complaint alleges Bershan, Schwartz, and Margulies, falsely promised investors that after being acquired, Starship Snack Corp. investors would get a one-to-one exchange of Starship shares for Monster or Coca-Cola shares. According to the SEC’s complaint, Bershan and Margulies also falsely claimed that investors had “no down-side risk” and Bershan personally guaranteed that investors could get their investment back with 5 percent interest if the shares failed to appreciate over a year. According to the SEC’s complaint, Starship had no agreement with Monster Energy or Coca-Cola , and Bershan and Schwartz used investor funds as their own personal piggy bank, spending them to rent and decorate a New York City apartment, and on travel, meals, and other personal expenses. SEC

October 5, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Michael Scronic with fraud stemming from lies to retail investors about the value of their investments in a Ponzi-like scheme. The SEC alleges that, starting in approximately 2010, Scronic began to raise money from at least 42 friends and acquaintances, many of whom were from his suburban community, in order to invest in a risky options trading strategy. He allegedly lured investors by informing them that he had a long and impressive track record of proven returns. He also allegedly lied to investors about the liquidity of investments, telling one investor that “what’s cool about my fund is that i’m [sic] only in publicly traded options and cash so any redemptions are met within 2 business days so if you do need to withdraw for your business needs it will be quick and painless.” However, the SEC alleges that Scronic was actually hemorrhaging investor money through massive trading losses, with at least $15 million in investment losses since April 2010. For the period ending June 30, 2017, Scronic allegedly reported to investors total assets of at least $21,837,475 while the balance in his brokerage account on June 30, 2017 was just under $27,500. SEC

October 3, 2017 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Rockey “Roc” G. Hatfield, Steve E. Lovern, and NanoSave Technologies Inc  with defrauding investors in penny stock companies that claimed to have valuable patents.  One of those charged had been barred from the penny stock business based on his role in another securities scheme and neither he nor his companies had ever been issued any patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the SEC alleged. Hatfield is a repeat offender whose prior securities schemes resulted in a criminal conviction, injunctions, a contempt of court finding, and broker-dealer, investment adviser, and penny-stock bars.  The SEC’s complaint alleges Hatfield controlled the two companies but concealed his role in them by having his wife and Lovern named as corporate officers and directors. According to the SEC’s complaint, the defendants hired unregistered brokers to cold call investors and pitch investments in “patent units,” using scripts written by Hatfield, including one that falsely claimed N1 Technologies had patented a cure for staph infections. SEC