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U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer says that Volkswagen AG (VW) and ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn must face an investor lawsuit related to its diesel emissions cheating scandal. Breyer turned down VW brand chief Herbert Diess’s request that the proposed securities fraud cases be dismissed from a California court. The company is still under criminal investigation by the US Justice Department.

The plaintiffs are primarily municipal pension funds that invested in Vokswagen via American Depositary Receipts. An ADR is a type of equity ownership in a non-US company that represents the company’s foreign shares that are kept on deposit by a bank in the home country of that company.

Volkswagen believes that the investor complaints at issue should be heard in Germany. Judge Breyer, however, ruled that since the US is invested in protecting investors from this country against securities fraud, the complaints should proceed in the US. Investors believe that the German automaker and its executives misled the public when it assured them that its diesel vehicles fulfilled all emission standards while downplaying the liabilities that would result because the company was not, in fact, complying with these standards.

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News that President-Elect Donald Trump has nominated Wall Street defense attorney Jay Clayton as the next of Securities and Exchange Commission Chair is causing worries that a person who has legally represented big banks may soon be in charge of the agency of the federal government that is tasked with regulating the securities industry.

For example, Clayton was the attorney for Goldman Sachs (GS) when billionaire Warren Buffet gave the firm a $5B capital infusion during the financial crisis of 2008. He also represented Barclays (BARC) when it acquired Lehman Brothers’ assets and he was the attorney for Bear Stearns when JPMorgan (JPM) bought the firm in a fire sale.

Clayton’s wife Gretchen is a Goldman Sachs wealth management advisor and broker. This means that Goldman, one of the firms that he is in charge of regulating, is also providing income to his family through her salary and any bonuses. Although Clayton will have to recuse himself when there are any enforcement rulings involving Goldman, he won’t have to in rulemaking decisions of “general application” that could impact the bank as long as other banks are also affected.

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Ex-Visium Fund Manager on Trial for Bond Fraud
Jury selection is scheduled to begin this week in the criminal trial against Stefan Lumiere, an ex-Visium Asset Management LP portfolio manager. Lumiere, who managed the Visium Credit Opportunities Fund, is accused of falsely inflating the value of securities in a fund and committing bond fraud.

Visium Asset Management LP is a New York based-hedge fund. The $8B investment hedge fund shut down in 2016 after a criminal investigation that led to charges against a number of people, including Sanjay Valvani, who  killed himself several months ago following allegations of insider trading.

According to prosecutors, from ’11 to ’13, Lumiere was among a number of people who conspired to bilk investors through the mismarking of securities’ values that were in a fund that invested in healthcare company-issued debt. The prosecution believes that the alleged misconduct caused the net asset value of the fund to be overstated by tens of millions of dollars monthly. Meantime, investors were fooled into thinking the bonds were very liquid even though they were illiquid.

Lumiere pleaded not guilty to securities fraud, conspiracy, and wire fraud charges last year.

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In its first whistleblower award this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission is awarding a tipster who worked for a company accused of wrongdoing and had gone directly to the agency with what he knew with $5.5M.

According to The National Law Journal, This is the first time since the SEC began granting whistleblower awards in 2013 that a whistleblower did not have to abide by rules established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Under those rules, whistleblower tips need to be submitted in writing by fax, mailed, or submitted through the regulator’s website in order for the person providing the information to be eligible for an award. This whistleblower, however, had started working with the Commission on the case before the tip could be eligible for the awards authorized under Dodd-Frank. This latest award means that the SEC has now awarded 38 whistleblowers a total of $142M.

Meantime, the Commission continues to take action against companies that retaliate against whistleblowers. Last month, the regulator announced that SandRidge Energy Inc. settled charges accusing it of using illegal separation agreements and taking retaliatory action against a whistleblower who had brought concerns to the oil and gas company’s attention regarding the way that reserves were calculated. SandRidge is not denying or admitting to the SEC’s findings. It will, however, pay a $1.4M penalty.

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Jesse Litvak, a former Jefferies Group LLC (JEF) bond trader, is scheduled to go on trial again. It was just two years ago that a jury found him guilty of fraud when he misled customers about the price he paid for residential mortgage-backed bonds.

The criminal charges against him were originally brought by the US attorney’s office in Connecticut three years ago. Prosecutors accused him of bilking customers of $2M when he inflated the prices of what he’d actually paid for the bonds. Because of purported misstatements, professional investment managers and hedge funds overpaid for the residential-mortgage-backed bonds. Meantime, Litvak allegedly made $100K more for his firm for every transaction than was disclosed to his customers.

The jury, in 2014, found that Litvak violated securities laws and they found him guilty on 15 criminal counts, including multiple counts of securities fraud. Litvak had pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. He was then sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay a $1.75M.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory has barred a broker who worked at Merrill Lynch for almost half a century from the securities industry. Louise J. Neale left the broker-dealer and voluntarily ended her registration with the firm last year during an internal probe about her supervisory performance involving fund transactions. She later refused to testify about her resignation before FINRA. This is a violation of the self-regulatory organization’s rules and was immediate grounds for the industry bar. Although Neale worked at Merrill since 1968, it wasn’t until 2003 that she became a registered representative and later a supervisor.

In an unrelated case, FINRA barred another ex-broker for violating firm policies after he, too, refused to testify about the allegations in front of the SRO. John Simpson worked at RBC Capital Markets from 3/2009 to 2/2016. He was let go by the firm for violating its policies about discretion related to client accounts.

Meantime, FINRA has barred two ex-JP Morgan (JPM) brokers. One of the brokers, Brian Alexander Torres, had only been in the securities industry for two months when he was fired by the broker-dealer. Torres admitted that he misappropriated funds from the firm’s affiliate bank. Finra asked Torres for information and documents, but he would not provide them nor would he testify.

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IT Specialist Accused of Hacking Expedia Executives and Insider Trading

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil insider trading charges against Jonathan Ly, who worked as a technology specialist for online travel company Expedia. According to the regulator, Ly hacked senior company executives and traded on company secrets ahead of nine announcements between 2013 and 2016.

As a result of his alleged insider trading, Lyn made almost $350K in profits. To settle the SEC case against him, Ly will pay over $348K of disgorgement and more than $27K in interest. This is a deal that still has to be subject to court approval.

Meantime, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington has filed parallel criminal charges against Ly.

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US District Court Judge William Pauley III has approved a $335M settlement in a securities fraud case against Bank of America (BAC). This one of the largest class action settlements involving securities buyer claims related to the 2008 financial crisis. Among the investors that will be able to avail of the settlement are the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS), the Anchorage Fire and Police Retirement Fund, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement Fund, a number of asset managers, and two trade unions.

PSERS served as lead plaintiff for those that purchased the bank’s common stock or common equivalent securities on a US public exchanges and later sustained losses between 2/27/09 through 10/19/10. According to a PSERS Spokesperson, the Pennsylvania retirement plan lost approximately $8M of its holdings with Bank of America.

The mortgage-backed securities case accused Bank of America of misleading investors about the position it took in MBSs and of hiding debt. They also claim that the bank compelled them to purchase Bank of America stock that was sold to pay back $45B of federal bailout funds from TARP. The plaintiffs alleged that the bank was aware that it could not raise enough capital to avoid TARP restrictions on executive salaries if it were to disclose that it might have to buy back billions of dollars of securities that were backed by high-risk loans.

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A Brazilian-based petrochemical maker that trades its stock in US markets has arrived at a $95M global settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the US Justice Department, and authorities in Switzerland and Brazil. Braskem SA is accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and generating fake books and records to hide millions of dollars in bribes that it allegedly paid government officials in Brazil for the purposes of either keeping or winning business.

Braskem is accused of making about $325M in profits because of these purported bribes that were made via intermediaries and off-book accounts run by its biggest shareholder. The SEC believes that the petrochemical manufacturer lacked the internal controls to stop it from executing these bribes, which allegedly occurred over eight years.

As part of the settlement, Braskem will pay $325M in disgorgement—$65M of that will go to the SEC and $260 will go to authorities in Brazil. Another $632M will go toward criminal penalties and fines. Braskem will have to work with an independent corporate monitor for a minimum of three years.

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Federal Prosecutors in Manhattan have filed criminal charges against Navnoor Kang, a former investment manager at the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and broker Deborah Kelley. The two of them are accused of directing over $2B in business to two broker-dealers in return for bribes, including money, expensive jewelry, cocaine, Paul McCartney concert tickets, prostitutes, and other lavish expenses. This is the latest “pay-to-play” scam involving the state’s pension fund, which is the third largest in the US.

Kang, who previously served as managing director at Sterne Agee Group Inc., allegedly accepted over $100K in bribes for purportedly leveraging his role as director of fixed income for the pension fund to send up to $2.5B in state business to Kelley and another broker, Gregg Schonhorn of FTN Financial Securities Corp. As a result of Kang sending this business their way, Kelley and Schonhorn made millions of dollars in commissions.

Schonhorn has already pleaded guilty to his involvement in the pay-to-play scam. According to prosecutors, in 2014, Schonhorn’s firm did $1.5M in business with the NY pension fund. By 2016, that figure was at over $2.3B. Kelly’s broker-dealer, meantime, went from having no business with the New York pension fund in 2014 to $179M in business this year.

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