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.

February 2, 2018 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a purported hedge fund manager in New York City with a brazen offering and investment adviser fraud thereby putting an end to an ongoing scheme. The SEC alleges that, since at least 2014, Nicholas Joseph Genovese and his hedge fund Willow Creek Investments LP raised more than $5.3 million from at least six investors by affirmatively misrepresenting his prior money-management, securities industry experience, and size of operations. In particular, the SEC charged that Genovese: falsely stated that he managed $4 billion of the Genovese Drug Store family’s assets; falsely stated that his hedge fund’s investment adviser had $30-39 billion of assets under management, when, in reality, it appears to have had less than $10 million in assets under management; falsely stated that his advisory firm had between 42 and 60 employees, when, in reality, it had less than 10 employees; and falsely stated that his hedge fund had investment gains of 30-40 percent per year, when, in reality, it sustained losses. In addition, in furtherance of his scheme, Genovese lied about his education and prior work experience, and concealed his criminal past from investors. The SEC also alleges that Genovese and his advisory firm Willow Creek Advisors LLC misappropriated investor funds to fund securities trading in Genovese’s personal brokerage account, which sustained over $8 million of trading losses between 2015 and 2017, and Genovese’s lifestyle by paying approximately $263,000 for, among other things, ATM cash withdrawals, food, hotel and transportation charges, including being chauffeured in a Bentley. SEC

February 2, 2018 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that the Miami-based businessman behind an alleged scheme involving investments in a Vermont-based ski resort has agreed to pay back more than $81 million of investor money that he used illegally. According to an SEC complaint filed in 2016 in federal court in Miami, Ariel Quiros allegedly misused more than $50 million in investor funds to purchase a different ski resort and to fund personal expenses such as income taxes and two luxury New York City condominium purchases. Investors were told their money would specifically be used for construction projects at the Jay Peak Resort and a nearby proposed biomedical research facility. Companies owned by Quiros also allegedly failed to contribute approximately $30 million in investor funds toward Jay Peak construction, with two projects going uncompleted. This jeopardized investors’ investments as well as their participation in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program under which Quiros and his businesses solicited the money. SEC

January 30, 2018 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission obtained a court order halting an allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO) that targeted retail investors to fund what it claimed to be the world’s first “decentralized bank.” According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in federal district court in Dallas on Jan. 25 and unsealed late yesterday, Dallas-based AriseBank used social media, a celebrity endorsement, and other wide dissemination tactics to raise what it claims to be $600 million of its $1 billion goal in just two months. AriseBank and its co-founders Jared Rice Sr. and Stanley Ford allegedly offered and sold unregistered investments in their purported “AriseCoin” cryptocurrency by depicting AriseBank as a first-of-its-kind decentralized bank offering a variety of consumer-facing banking products and services using more than 700 different virtual currencies.  AriseBank’s sales pitch claimed that it developed an algorithmic trading application that automatically trades in various cryptocurrencies. SEC

January 22, 2018 - 

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against six certified public accountants – including former staffers at the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) and former senior officials at KPMG LLP – arising from their participation in a scheme to misappropriate and use confidential information relating to the PCAOB’s planned inspections of KPMG. The SEC’s Division of Enforcement and Office of the Chief Accountant allege that the former PCAOB officials made unauthorized disclosures of PCAOB plans for inspections of KPMG audits, enabling the former KPMG partners to analyze and revise audit workpapers in an effort to avoid negative findings by the PCAOB. Two of the former PCAOB officials had left the PCAOB to work at KPMG. The SEC’s Enforcement Division and Office of the Chief Accountant allege the third official leaked PCAOB data at the time he was seeking employment with KPMG. The three former KPMG partners were all in the firm’s national office. According to the SEC’s order, the misconduct began in 2015 and persisted until February 2017. Soon after the conduct was discovered, the six respondents were terminated, resigned or placed on leave before separating from KPMG and the PCAOB, respectively. The six CPAs were Brian Sweet, Cynthia Holder, Jeffrey Wada, David Middendorf, Thomas Whittle, and David Britt. SEC

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