Articles Posted in Securities and Exchange Commission

To settle an Securities and Exchange Commission case, Maxwell Technologies, Inc. and one of its former sales executives and officers, Van Andrews, have agreed to pay $2.8M and $50K in penalties, respectively, but without denying or admitting to the regulator’s allegations. They are not, however, admitting to or denying the SEC’s finding that they were involved a fraudulent revenue scam that inflated the energy storage company’s reported financial results.

The regulator’s order said that the company acknowledged revenue from ultracapacitor sales “prematurely” so as to better fulfill the expectations of analysts. Andrews is accused of inflating revenues through secret customer deals and by doctoring records to hide the scam from outside auditors, as well as company finance and accounting staff.

As part of his settlement, Andrews is barred for five years from taking on an officer or director role in a public company. Also settling charges against them related to this matter are ex-Maxwell CEO David Schramm, who will pay almost $80K in disgorgement and prejudgment interest, plus a penalty. Ex-Maxwell controller James DeWitt will pay a $20K penalty. The two men are accused of not doing an adequate enough job of addressing red flags indicating that misconduct may have been afoot. Ex-Maxwell CFO Kevin Royal has not been charged by the SEC with wrongdoing. However, he repaid the company the $135,800 in compensation he received during the time that the alleged accounting violations are said to have occurred.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has fined Aegis Capital Corp. $550K for inadequate supervision and anti-money laundering systems related to its low-priced securities sales. According to the self-regulatory organization, the firm’s supervisory system that oversees trading involving delivery versus payment (DVP accounts) was not designed in a manner reasonable enough to properly “monitor and investigate” trading in the accounts, especially those involving securities transactions that were priced low.

With DVP accounts, a broker-dealer making the trades does not have to be holding the securities that are bought and sold. FINRA said that Aegis did not “adequately monitor or investigate” seven DVP customer accounts, a number of which belonged to foreign financial firms, in which trading involved the liquidation of billions of dollars of such securities. These transactions resulted in millions of dollars in proceeds. A number of these institutional clients made the transactions for underlying customers whose identities Aegis did not know.

The SRO found that Aegis failed to mark these transactions as suspect even after a clearing firm highlighted that there were anti-money laundering-related red flags. Aegis is settling FINRA’s case but without denying or admitting to the regulator’s findings.

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Howard Present, the ex-CEO and cofounder of F-Squared Investments, must pay more than $13M—nearly $11M of disgorgement, almost $1.4M of interest and a nearly $1.6M penalty. The final judgement, issued by U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin in Boston, comes after a federal jury found Present liable for the false and misleading statements made to investors.

It was in 2014 that the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged Present and his investment management firm with misleading investors about its AlphaSector strategy. At the time, F-Squared was the biggest market of index products that use exchange-traded funds.

The SEC accused F-Squared of false advertising related to its touting of a “successful seven-year track records” for its AlphaSector strategy that it claimed was based on real investments, real clients, and real performances, when, in fact, the algorithm that the company claimed to use didn’t even exist during that time period of this supposed success. Instead, the data that the F-Squared marketed was a product of backtesting—not real testing—even though Present and his firm specifically stated that their AlphaSector strategy had not been backtested.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has awarded two whistleblowers almost $50M and another over $33M in the largest whistleblower awards that the regulator has issued to date. This ups the total of SEC whistleblower awards granted to $262M to 53 individuals in the last six years.

According to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower Chief Jane Norberg, these latest awards show that whistleblowers can offer information that is “incredibly significant,” making it possible for the regulator to go after serious violations that could have gone “unnoticed. “ Until these latest awards, the largest SEC whistleblower award granted was $30M in 2014.

Whistleblowers who provide quality, unique information involving securities law violations that lead to a successful enforcement action rendering over $1M in monetary sanctions may be eligible to receive an award that is 10-30% of the funds collected.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed fraud charges against Theranos Inc., its CEO and founder Elizabeth Holmes, and its ex-President Ramesh Balwani. The regulator contends that they engaged in a years-long fraud that raised over $700M from investors.

According to the SEC’s complaint, the three of them made statements that were false, exaggerated, and/or misleading regarding the company’s business, finances, and technology. They purportedly did this in presentations to investors, media articles, and product demos.

Because of these erroneous, deceptive, and inflated statements, investors thought that Theranos’s main product, which is a portable blood analyzer, could perform comprehensive blood tests with minute blood samples. Also, Theranos claimed that the company had the technologies needed to transport a finger stick sample of blood, place the sample in a specialized device that would go into an analyzer, and the analyzer could determine the results. The findings could then be sent to the care provider or patient. Theranos’ technology was supposedly able to offer cheaper, speedier, and more accurate results than any other blood testing labs—not to mention that it was portable.

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SEC Reportedly Investigating Wells Fargo Over Possible Inappropriate Investment Sales to Wealth Management Clients
According to news reports, the US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Wells Fargo’s (WFC) Wealth Management unit to see whether its clients were inappropriately sold certain in-house investment services even though these were not in their best interests. A source told Bloomberg that the regulator’s role in the probe has not been publicly disclosed.

However, in a regulatory filing, Wells Fargo revealed that it is looking into whether inappropriate recommendations were made related to 401(k) plan rollovers, alternative investments, and brokerage customer referrals to the firm’s “investment and fiduciary-services business.” The bank noted that it was assessing these matters in its wealth management business in the wake of inquiries made by federal agencies.

Bloomberg notes that it was in 2015 that JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) consented to pay $267M over allegations that its customers were not told that it had profited by placing their funds in certain hedge funds and mutual funds that charged particular fees.

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In a securities fraud case, the SEC has brought charges against Beaufort Securities Ltd., which is a UK-based brokerage firm, and investment manager Peter Kyriacou accusing them of engaging in manipulative trading involving shares of HD View, which is a CCTV company located in Florida. The regulator’s case is part of an undercover operation involving the FBI.The Commission claims that Kyriacou’s scam sought to create the fake impression of liquidity.

The SEC’s complaint contends that Beaufort and Kyriacou became involved in a pump-and-dump scam with a man that they didn’t know was working for the FBI. With him, they purportedly spoke about using promotions to raise stock prices, engaging in matched trades to affect the stock price, and selling the shares to make a profit.

The SEC filed another complaint contending that in recorded phone calls, HD View CEO Dennis Mancino and CEO of WT Consulting Group LLC William T. Hirschy consented to manipulate the company’s stock by utilizing the undercover agent’s broker network to create a “fraudulent” demand. The two of them were supposed to “manipulate HD View stock” so that its price would go up prior to having the brokers in the agent’s network liquidate their positions. In return, there would be a kickback paid from the money made from trading. The regulator has also filed civil charges against Mancino, Hirschy, and the entities TJM Investments Inc., WT Consulting Group, and DJK Investments 10 Inc.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against “repeat securities law violator” Steven J. Muehler, who it has barred from associating with any broker-dealer since 2016. Once again, the regulator is accusing him of defrauding small businesses.

Muehler and his companies Altavista Capital Markets LLC, Alta Vista Securities, LLC, and Alta Vista Private Client, LLC—all unregistered brokerage firms— offered broker-dealer services to a number of small business clients. Services include finding investors and raising money from them through an online securities change that was supposedly proprietary. In exchange, fees were paid to Muehler and his brokerage firms, as well as rights to a percentage of the funds raised and equity in each business.

Muehler and his firms claimed that they have been successful in raising millions of dollars on clients’ behalf. However, in a previous SEC case, he admitted defrauding small businesses.

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Medical Products Executives Settle Insider Trading Charges
The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that insider trading settlements have been reached with two ex-In Home Medical Solutions LLC officers, who are also board members. Todd M. Lavelle and Ara Chackerian are accused of illegally trading in Emeritus Corp. based on inside information.

The regulator contends that LaVelle and Chackerian purchased Emeritus securities after learning about the upcoming merger between the company and Brookdale Senior Living Inc. However, they did this before the deal was disclosed to the public. On the day of the announcement of the merger, they sold their Emeritus shares, allegedly making more than $25K and $157K, respectively, in illegal profits.

LaVelle, who is settling the case but without denying or admitting to the allegations, will pay over $25K in disgorgement, more than $2,600 in prejudgment interest, and an over $25K civil penalty. Chackerian, who is also settling without denying or admitting to the findings, will pay over $157K of disgorgement, the same amount as a civil penalty, and more than $18,600 of prejudgment interest.

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Walter A. Morales III, a money manager who for years worked with high net worth individual investors and pension funds, is now barred from the securities industry. Morales resolved the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s 2012 civil lawsuit accusing him and his Commonwealth Advisors of fraud and mismanagement this week.

The regulator contends that of the approximately $750M that his clients invested through him, Morales and his firm lost over $178M in subprime and residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBSs). According to the Commission, Morales lied about heavy mortgage-backed securities losses to clients and instead tried to conceal them through trades involving his different hedge funds while touting prices that were fraudulent.

The regulator claims that Walters and his investment adviser firm recommended that the hedge funds buy into Collybus, a collateralized debt obligation (CDO) that was considered among the most high risk of such investments and the lowest of tranches. MBSs were sold into CDOs at outdated prices even while Morales was purportedly aware that the market for RMBSs had since dropped. When the CDOs kept doing poorly, Commonwealth employees were directed to engage in manipulative trading among the hedge funds they advised to hide a $32M loss sustained by one of the funds that invested in Collybus.

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