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.

July 24, 2018 - 

The SEC announced Yao Li, Vice President of Technology at Alliance Fiber Optic Products, has agreed to pay disgorgement of $196,203, prejudgment interest of $23,062, and a $196,203 penalty (for a total of $415,468) to settle charges that he made nearly $200,000 in illicit profits by trading on inside information in advance of three disappointing earnings announcements by the company. SEC

July 24, 2018 - 

The SEC announced New York entrepreneur William Z. McFarland has agreed to a permanent officer-and-director bar and disgorgement of $27.4 million to settle charges of fraudulently inducing investments into his companies Fyre Media, Inc., Fyre Festival LLC, and Magnises, Inc. SEC

July 20, 2018 - 

Two subsidiaries of Deutsche Bank will pay just under $75M to settle allegations that they improperly handled “pre-releases” of American Depository Receipts (ADRs). ADRs are U.S. securities that represent foreign shares of a foreign company and require a corresponding number of foreign shares to be held in custody at a depository bank. The SEC found that the companies’ practices allowed inappropriate short selling and inappropriate profiting around ADR dividend payments. SEC

July 18, 2018 - 

The SEC has charged Temenous Advisory, a Connecticut-based investing advisory firm, of putting $19M investor money into high-risk investments and also receiving high commissions from those investments. The misled senior citizens and individuals approaching retirement into buying stakes in four risk, illiquid private offerings. SEC

July 11, 2018 - 

The SEC filed fraud charges against a second defendant in connection with a scheme to manipulate the price of Fitbit securities through false regulatory filings. According to the SEC’s complaint, Mark E. Burns purchased Fitbit call options just minutes before he and his co-conspirator, Robert W. Murray, filed a fake tender offer on the SEC’s EDGAR system purporting to acquire Fitbit’s shares at a substantial premium. The SEC charged Murray last year and he recently was sentenced to prison in a parallel criminal case. The false tender offer was made in the name of ABM Capital LTD – a nonexistent company for which the defendants created an EDGAR account. Fitbit’s stock price temporarily spiked when the tender offer became publicly available on Nov. 10, 2016, and Burns sold all of his options for a 350 percent profit of approximately $13,000. SEC

July 5, 2018 - 

The SEC announced that Credit Suisse Group AG will pay approximately $30 million to resolve SEC charges that it obtained investment banking business in the Asia-Pacific region by corruptly influencing foreign officials in violation of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Credit Suisse also agreed to pay a $47 million criminal penalty to the U.S. Department of Justice. According to the SEC’s order, several senior Credit Suisse managers in the Asia-Pacific region sought to win business by hiring and promoting individuals connected to government officials as part of a quid pro quo arrangement. SEC

July 2, 2018 - 

The SEC charged global engineering and construction company KBR Inc. with inflating a key, non-financial statement performance metric known as work in backlog.  KBR agreed to pay a $2.5 million penalty to settle the SEC’s charges. According to the SEC’s order, KBR’s public disclosures of its work in “backlog” were important to investors because the metric was supposed to represent the amount of revenue that KBR expected to receive in the future from “firm orders” under previously awarded contracts. However, the SEC’s order found that in the second quarter of 2012, KBR improperly included $459 million in its publicly disclosed backlog for a pipe fabrication and modular assembly contract in Canada, even though KBR had not actually received – and the counterparty was not obligated to provide – any orders under the contract. SEC

June 29, 2018 - 

The SEC announced that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MSSB) has agreed to pay a $3.6 million penalty and to accept certain undertakings for its failure to protect against its personnel misusing or misappropriating funds from client accounts. According to the SEC’s order, MSSB’s insufficient policies and procedures contributed to its failure to detect or prevent one of its advisory representatives, Barry F. Connell, from misusing or misappropriating approximately $7 million out of four advisory clients’ accounts in approximately 110 unauthorized transactions occurring over a period of nearly a year. SEC

June 28, 2018 - 

The SEC charged a former Equifax manager with insider trading in advance of the company’s September 2017 announcement of a massive data breach that exposed Social Security numbers and other personal information of approximately 148 million U.S. customers. This is the second case the SEC has filed arising from the Equifax data breach.  In March, the former chief information officer of Equifax’s U.S. business unit was charged with insider trading. SEC

June 25, 2018 - 

Wells Fargo Advisors settled charges with the SEC related to improper sales of market-linked investments. Wells Fargo allegedly gained large fees by encouraging its customers to actively trade the market-linked investments when in reality those investments were intended to be held until maturity. This strategy served only to increase Wells Fargo’s fees and reduce the return investors received. As a result of the settlement, Wells Fargo agreed to return the $930,377 in ill-gotten gains, pay $178,064 in interest, and pay a $4 million penalty. SEC

June 19, 2018 - 

The SEC has filed charges to shut down a $102M Ponzi scheme that affected investors throughout the US. According to the complaint, the scheme defrauded over 600 investors though sales of securities that the issuers controlled. The complaint charges five individuals and three companies with wrongdoing; it was filed in federal court in New York. SEC

June 12, 2018 - 

Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. has agreed to pay over $15 million to resolve allegations that its traders and salespersons overcharged Merrill Lynch customers for Residential Mortgage Backed Securities, pocketing the mark-ups as undisclosed commissions. According to the Commission, the bank failed to reasonably supervise its employees and to implement measures to prevent and detect the fraud. SEC

June 4, 2018 - 

June 4, 2018 – New York-based investment adviser deVere USA, Inc. has agreed to pay an $8 million civil penalty related to its failure to disclose conflicts of interest to its retail clients. The SEC found the firm violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, including the antifraud provisions, by failing to disclose compensation agreements with overseas product and service providers which created incentives for deVere USA to recommend pension transfers using those particular providers.  The order also finds that deVere USA made materially misleading statements to clients concerning tax treatment and available investment options. The settlement will result in the establishment of a Fair Fund for distribution of the penalty to affected clients. The SEC also announced the filing of lawsuit against former deVere USA CEO, Benjamin Alderson, and a former manager, Bradley Hamilton. SEC

June 1, 2018 - 

The SEC today announced settlements with 13 registered investment advisers who repeatedly failed to provide required information that the agency uses to monitor risk. According to the SEC’s orders, the advisers failed to file annual reports on Form PF informing the agency about the private funds they advise, including the amount of assets under management, fund strategy, performance, and use of borrowed money and derivatives. Private fund advisers managing $150 million or more of assets have been required to make annual filings on Form PF since 2012. The orders found that the 13 advisers were delinquent in their filings over multi-year periods. The SEC’s orders find that the advisers violated the reporting requirements of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Without admitting or denying the findings, the advisers agreed to be censured, to cease and desist, and to each pay a $75,000 civil penalty.  During the course of the SEC’s investigation, the advisers also remediated their failures by making the necessary filings. SEC

May 31, 2018 - 

The SEC charged an employee of a prominent investment bank with repeatedly using his access to highly confidential information in order to place illicit and profitable trades in advance of deals on which the bank was providing investment banking advisory services. According to the SEC’s complaint, Woojae “Steve” Jung, a Vice President of Investment Banking who worked in the bank’s San Francisco and New York offices, used sensitive client information in order to trade in the securities of 12 different companies prior to the announcement of market-moving events. The SEC alleges that between 2015 and 2017, Jung used an account held in the name of a friend living in South Korea to place these illegal trades and generate profits of approximately $140,000. As alleged in the complaint, by using his friend’s brokerage account, Jung attempted to evade detection by skirting his employer’s requirements that he pre-clear his trades and that he use an approved brokerage firm that would have reported the trading to his employer. SEC

May 30, 2018 - 

The SEC charged a former registered representative with defrauding long-standing brokerage customers in an $8 million investment scam. According to the SEC’s complaint, Steven Pagartanis, who was affiliated with a registered broker-dealer, told some investors – including retirees who had been Pagartanis’s customers for many years – that he would invest their funds in either a publicly-traded or private land development company. He promised that the funds would be safe and also promised guaranteed monthly interest payments on the investments. At Pagartanis’s direction, his investors wrote checks payable to a similarly-named entity that was secretly controlled by Pagartanis. In all, the customers invested approximately $8 million, which Pagartanis used to pay personal expenses and make the guaranteed “interest” payments to his customers. To conceal the scam, which unraveled earlier this year when Pagartanis stopped making the so-called interest payments to customers, Pagartanis created fictitious account statements reflecting ownership interests in the land development companies. SEC

May 29, 2018 - 

The SEC announced it has obtained a court order halting an ongoing fraud involving an initial coin offering (ICO) that raised as much as $21 million from investors in and outside the U.S. The court also approved an emergency asset freeze and the appointment of a receiver for Titanium Blockchain Infrastructure Services Inc., the firm behind the alleged scheme. An SEC complaint unsealed today charges that Titanium President Michael Alan Stollery, a/k/a Michael Stollaire, a self-described “blockchain evangelist,” lied about business relationships with the Federal Reserve and dozens of well-known firms, including PayPal, Verizon, Boeing, and The Walt Disney Company. The complaint alleges that Titanium’s website contained fabricated testimonials from corporate customers and that Stollaire publicly – and fraudulently –claimed to have relationships with numerous corporate clients. The complaint alleges that Stollaire promoted the ICO through videos and social media and compared it to investing in “Intel or Google.” SEC

May 16, 2018 - 

The SEC announced fraud charges against three former Constellation Healthcare Technologies Inc. executives who falsified financial and other information they provided to a private firm in the course of negotiating the private firm’s acquisition of a majority stake in Constellation. Houston-based Constellation filed for bankruptcy in March, a little more than a year after the January 2017 acquisition. According to the SEC’s complaint, the executives convinced a private firm to acquire a majority of Constellation’s equity and provided fake information, including financial statements for three fictitious subsidiaries supposedly acquired for more than $62 million. The complaint alleges that the former executives funded the sham acquisitions with stock sales in London and then diverted the proceeds to themselves. The complaint charges former Constellation chief executive Parmjit (Paul) Parmar, former chief financial officer Sotirios (Sam) Zaharis, and former company secretary Ravi Chivukula. In September 2017, amid concerns about Constellation’s financial condition, Parmar resigned and Zaharis and Chivukula were put on administrative leave. SEC

May 16, 2018 - 

The SEC charged the owner of a Manhattan-based alternative investment firm with misappropriating close to $6 million in investor funds earmarked to finance the construction of an international airport in Belize. The SEC’s complaint alleges that between 2014 and 2017, Brent Borland sold more than $21 million of promissory notes to dozens of investors, promising that the funds would be used as bridge financing for development of an international airport in Placencia, Belize, and that the investments would be protected by pledges of real estate as collateral. Borland marketed and sold the notes through two companies, Borland Capital Group LLC, which purports to be active in “alternative investment,” and Belize Infrastructure Fund I, LLC, which purports to be in the business of construction finance. SEC

May 16, 2018 - 

The SEC announced settled charges against broker-dealers Chardan Capital Markets LLC and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Financial Services LLC (ICBCFS) for failing to report suspicious sales of billions of penny stock shares. Broker-dealers are required to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) for transactions suspected to involve fraud or with no apparent lawful purpose. According to the SEC, from October 2013 to June 2014, Chardan, an introducing broker, liquidated more than 12.5 billion penny stock shares for seven of its customers and ICBCFS cleared the transactions. Chardan failed to file any SARs even though the transactions raised red flags, including similar trading patterns and sales in issuers who lacked revenues and products. The SEC found that ICBCFS similarly failed to file any SARs for the transactions despite ultimately prohibiting trading in penny stocks by some of the seven customers. The SEC’s orders found that Chardan and ICBCFS violated the Exchange Act and an SEC financial recordkeeping and reporting rule and that Chardan’s anti-money laundering (AML) officer, Jerard Basmagy, aided and abetted and caused the firm’s violations. The SEC also found that ICBCFS failed to produce documents promptly to SEC staff.  Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, the parties agreed to settlements requiring Chardan to pay a $1 million penalty, ICBCFS to pay $860,000, and Basmagy to pay $15,000.  Both firms consented to censures and, along with Basmagy, to cease and desist from similar violations in the future.  Basmagy also agreed to industry and penny stock bars for a minimum of three years. SEC

May 15, 2018 - 

The SEC charged four individuals for their roles in a fraudulent scheme that generated nearly $34 million from unlawful stock sales and caused significant harm to retail investors. The SEC’s complaint charges Francisco Abellan Villena, Guillermo Ciupiak, James B. Panther Jr., and attorney Faiyaz Dean. According to the SEC’s complaint, the defendants manipulated the market for and illegally sold the stock of microcap issuer Biozoom Inc. As part of the alleged scheme, the defendants hid their ownership and sales of Biozoom shares by using offshore bank accounts, sham legal documents, a network of nominees, anonymizing techniques, and other deceptive practices. The defendants also allegedly directed a wide-ranging promotional campaign and employed sophisticated, manipulative trading techniques to artificially inflate Biozoom’s share price. The alleged scheme culminated in the defendants’ illegal sales of Biozoom, which netted them nearly $34 million in unlawful proceeds. SEC

May 9, 2018 - 

The SEC announced that it has charged New York-based investment adviser Premium Point Investments LP with inflating the value of private funds it advised by hundreds of millions of dollars. The SEC also charged Premium Point’s CEO and chief investment officer Anilesh Ahuja as well as Amin Majidi, a former partner and portfolio manager at the firm, and former trader Jeremy Shor. According to the SEC’s complaint, the scheme ran from at least September 2015 through March 2016 and relied on a secret deal where in exchange for sending trades to a broker-dealer, Premium Point received inflated broker quotes for mortgage-backed securities (MBS). In addition, the defendants allegedly used “imputed” mid-point valuations, which were applied in a manner that further inflated the value of securities. This practice allegedly boosted the value of many of Premium Point’s MBS holdings and further exaggerated returns. The complaint alleges that the defendants overstated the funds’ value in order to conceal poor fund performance and attract and retain investors. SEC

May 9, 2018 - 

The SEC announced it charged a registered municipal advisor and its owner with defrauding a south Texas school district in connection with multiple municipal bond offerings. The SEC’s order instituting proceedings found that in connection with three municipal bond offerings between January 2013 and December 2014, Mario Hinojosa and his wholly-owned municipal advisor, Barcelona Strategies LLC, misrepresented their municipal advisory experience and failed to disclose conflicts of interests to their client, a local school district in South Texas. While working as a paralegal, Hinojosa set up Barcelona, registered it as an SEC municipal advisor, drafted a marketing brochure about the firm, and circulated the brochure to the school district and other municipalities. The brochure created the misleading impression that Hinojosa and Barcelona had served as a municipal advisor on numerous municipal bond issuances and failed to disclose that Hinojosa had a financial interest in the school district’s offerings. By virtue of their misrepresentations and omissions, Barcelona and Hinojosa improperly earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in municipal advisory fees. The SEC’s order found that Hinojosa and Barcelona engaged in fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative acts and breached their fiduciary duties to municipal clients. Without admitting or denying the allegations, Barcelona and Hinojosa consented to a cease-and-desist order and are jointly and severally liable for paying $362,606 in disgorgement and $19,514 in prejudgment interest.  Barcelona was also assessed a civil penalty of $160,000 while Hinojosa was assessed a civil penalty of $20,000. Finally, Hinojosa was barred from association with various regulated entities, including municipal advisors. SEC

May 8, 2018 - 

The SEC announced the hedge fund advisory firm Visium Asset Management LP has agreed to settle charges related to asset mismarking and insider trading by its privately managed hedge funds and portfolio managers. Separately, the firm’s CFO agreed to settle charges that he failed to respond appropriately to red flags that should have alerted him to the asset mismarking. The SEC’s order finds that two portfolio managers of New York-based Visium falsely inflated the value of securities held by hedge funds it advised, causing the funds to falsely inflate returns, overstate their aggregate net asset value, and pay approximately $3.15 million in excess fees to Visium. The order also finds that certain Visium portfolio managers traded in the securities of pharmaceutical companies in advance of two generic drug approvals by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The trades were based on confidential information received from a former FDA official working as a paid consultant to Visium. Trades were also made in the securities of home healthcare providers in advance of a proposed cut to certain Medicare reimbursement rates by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), based on confidential information received from a former CMS employee working as a paid consultant to Visium. Visium agreed to settle the SEC’s charges by, among other things, disgorging illicit profits totaling more than $4.7 million plus interest of $720,711, and paying a penalty of more than $4.7 million. Ku agreed to pay a $100,000 penalty and to be suspended from the securities industry for twelve months. Visium and Ku each consented to the applicable SEC order without admitting or denying the findings. SEC

May 1, 2018 - 

The SEC announced the unsealing of fraud charges against a Mississippi company and its principal who allegedly bilked at least 150 investors in an $85 million Ponzi scheme. The defendants agreed to permanent injunctions, an asset freeze, and expedited discovery. The SEC’s complaint alleges that Arthur Lamar Adams lied to investors by telling them that their money would be used by his company, Madison Timber Properties, LLC, to secure and harvest timber from various land owners located in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, and promised annual returns of 12-15%. But Madison Timber never obtained any harvesting rights. Instead, Adams allegedly forged deeds and cutting agreements as well as documents purportedly reflecting the value of the timber on the land. Adams also allegedly paid early investors with later investors’ funds and convinced investors to roll over their investments. According to the complaint, Adams used investors’ money for personal expenses and to develop an unrelated real estate project. SEC