Articles Posted in SEC Enforcement

Four Firms Are Ordered to Pay $4.75M for Market Access Rule Violations

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, CBOE Holdings company Bats, the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and their affiliated Exchanges have fined four financial firms $4.75M collectively for violating the Securities Exchange Act of 1934’s Rule 15c3-5, which is also known as the Market Access Rule. The fines are: $2.5M for Deutsche Bank (DB), $800K for J.P. Morgan (JPM), $1M for Citigroup (C), and $450K for Interactive Brokers (IBKR).

The firms have given market access to quite a number clients that engage in millions of trades daily. However, according to FINRA, Bats, NASDAQ, and NYSE, when doing so, they purportedly did not comply with at least one of the Market Access Rule’s provisions when they did not put in place certain risk management controls and procedures so that orders that were “erroneous or duplicative,” or went beyond certain kinds of thresholds, could be detected or prevented. The firms are also accused of not having systems in place for properly supervising customer trading so that “potentially volatile and manipulative activity” could be avoided.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has brought fraud charges against two men and their company, United Business Alliance, LLC, for allegedly running a prime bank investment scam. The regulator is seeking permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties.

According to the regulator’s complaint, between 10/2013 and 7/2015, George Frank Polera and Anthony Joseph Marino, through United Business Alliance, took part in a fraudulent prime bank scam, raising over $615k from 10 investors. The two men lacked the registration required to sell investments.

The two men, who are based in Las Vegas, and their company allegedly promised investors huge return rates, including 90% every two weeks for 40 weeks on one investment and 84% per year on one note. Investors were sold securities that were either promissory notes or investment contracts.

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Lawyer Barred Over Fraud Allegations
The US Securities and Exchange Commission has barred David Lubin, a New York-based lawyer, from practicing or appearing before the regulator and acting as any company’s director or officer. The regulator is accusing him of making misleading and false statements in corporate filings and committing fraud while he was the attorney and director of Entertainment Art. He was also the public company’s biggest shareholder.

According to the SEC’s securities order, not only did Lubin draft and sign misleading public filings, but also, he concealed their “true ownership” as well as that the fact that a significant chunk of the shares were of a “restricted nature.”

As a result, after Entertainment Art’s name was changed to Biozoom, over 14 million shares were resold illegally in an unregistered distribution, rendering $34M of illicit profits. At the time, the shares had belonged to a shell investor.

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Ex-Adviser of Retired NBA Player Tim Duncan is Barred from the Industry

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has gotten a judgment barring former financial adviser Charles A. Banks IV from the securities industry. Banks, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud that involved bilking ex-NBA player Tim Duncan, was sentenced to 48 months in prison in criminal court and ordered to pay $7.5M in restitution.

Now, because he committed investment fraud, Banks is also banned from the industry, as well as prohibited from serving as a director or an officer of any public company. Banks also must pay a penalty, disgorgement, and pre-judgment interest.

Penn West Petroleum is Accused of Accounting Fraud

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Penn West Petroleum Ltd., now called Obsidian Energy Ltd., and three of its ex-finance executives with involvement in an alleged accounting fraud. According to the regulator, the Canadian-based oil and gas company fraudulently transferred hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses to capital expenditure accounts from its operating expense accounts. As a result, Penn West was able to artificially lower operating expenses by up to 20% during some periods, as well as falsely enhance the metrics having to do with profitability and oil extraction efficiency. These metrics are important for selling barrels of oil.

The SEC is accusing ex-Penn West CFO Todd Takeyasu, ex-VP of Accounting and Reporting Jeffery Curan, and ex-Operations Controller Waldermar Grab of running the accounting fraud. The regulator claims that the three men violated federal securities laws related to antifraud, books and records, reporting, and internal controls provisions.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is charging two-ex Nomura (NMR) head traders with fraud. Kee Chan and James Im ran Nomura Securities International Inc.’s commercial mortgage-backed securities desk. The regulator claims that they purposely lied to customers to inflate profits for themselves and the firm. As a result, said the SEC, the two of them made an additional over $750K in trading profits for the desk. They received healthy bonuses as a result.

Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities
CMBSs are asset-backed securities that have commercial real estate loans as their underlying assets. These debt obligations are often called bonds. CMBSs are illiquid securities.

According to the Commission, while serving as trade intermediaries with customers seeking to sell and buy CMBSs on the secondary market, Im and Chan made it seem as if they were working out bond purchases with a third-party seller at more than what Nomura paid to obtain the bonds. Im even allegedly told a customer that he had sought to deceive on purpose. Meantime, Chan is accused of modifying a customer email to protect his lie regarding a bond’s bid price.

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Barclays Must Pay Back Sales Charges, Advisory Fees
The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Barclays Capital (BARC) has settled securities charges accusing the firm of overbilling clients. As part of the resolution, which includes paying over $97M, Barclays must pay back advisory fees and mutual fund sales charges to clients that were affected. The firm is settling without denying or admitting to the SEC’s findings.

The SEC’s case involved three sets of violations resulting in almost $50M in client overcharges. According to the Commission, two of Barclays advisory programs charged over 2,000 clients for services that were not conducted as presented. Meantime, 63 broker-dealer clients paid too much in mutual fund sales charges or fees because Barclays recommended that they purchase more costly share classes even though there were less expensive ones available. Also, over 22K accounts paid Barclays excess fees because the firm made billing mistakes and miscalculations.

Ex-SEC Staffer Accused of Securities Fraud
The SEC has filed charges against David R. Humphrey, one of its ex-employees, for securities fraud related to trades that he made. Humphrey worked with the regulator from 1998 to 2014.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission said that Barclays Capital (BARC) has agreed to pay over $16.5M as part of a settlement resolving allegations accusing the company of failing to properly supervise two of its ex-mortgage bond traders. The men are accused of lying to clients, as well as overcharging some of them. According to the regulator, Barclays did not put into place or execute the proper supervisory procedures that could have stopped or detected the alleged residential mortgage-backed securities fraud.

The two traders, David Wong and Yoon Seok Lee, are accused of making misleading or false statements to the firm’s customers about RMBS securities, how much Barclays makes for facilitating the trades, and other pertinent information. Lee and Wong also are accused of making excessive mark-ups on certain transactions without telling customers.

The SEC said that the ex-Barclays traders’ actions, which would have occurred between 6/2009 and 12/2012, caused Barclays to earn $15.5M in profits.

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Asset Manager Accused of Operating ETF Without Necessary Exemption

The US Securities and Exchange Commission said that BlackRock Fund Advisors (BLK) will pay $1.5M to resolve charges accusing the asset manager of advising an exchange-traded fund to violate the Investment Company Act. BlackRock ran the Russia Fund ETF with out the necessary exemptive order from 12/2010 to 1/2015. The exemptive order is necessary because there are some ETF traits that would cause the fund and dealers to violate the Act were it not for having an order.

According to the Commission, BlackRock was notified in 2011 that the exemptive relief that had been issued to other investment companies that it advised could not be applied to funds that were organized separately. Despite knowing this, BlackRock is said to have kept running the ETF without the necessary exemption. It wasn’t until 2015 when, after more talks with the SEC, that the asset manager merged the Russia Fund ETF with another investment company that it advised. It could then apply another acquired exemptive relief to the Russia Fund ETF.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission case linked to parallel criminal charges, the regulator has filed insider trading charges against Avaneesh Krishnamoorthy, the risk management VP of a New York-based investment bank. Krishnamoorthy is accused of trading on confidential information prior to the acquisition of a publicly-traded tech company by a private equity firm. He allegedly made about $48K in illicit profits. Also charged as a relief defendant is his wife Shreya Achar.

According to the SEC, Avaneesh Krishnamoorthy began trading in Neustar Securities after learning that Golden Gate Capital was going to buy the company. He used two brokerage accounts that his employer didn’t know about. Golden Gate Capital had approached the investment bank about financing the acquisition.

Meantime, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has filed its own case against Krishnamoorthy. He faces one criminal securities fraud charge.

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