Articles Posted in SEC Settlements

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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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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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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In a civil settlement reached with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Deutsche Bank Securities will repay commercial mortgage-backed securities customers more than $3.7M over allegedly false and misleading statements related to their purchase of these investments. The firm and its ex-CMBS trading desk head trader Benjamin Solomon agreed to resolve the charges against them but without denying or admitting to regulator’s findings.

According to the SEC’s probe, when selling the CMBSs, Deutsche Bank (DB)’s salespeople and traders made statements that were false and misleading. This caused customers to pay too much for the securities because they were not given accurate information about how much the firm had paid for them. Deutsche Bank also is accused of not having properly designed procedures for surveillance and compliance that could stop and identify the types of wrongful behaviors that would cause commercial mortgage-backed securities buyers financial harm while allowing the firm to profit.

To resolve the CMBS fraud charges, Deutsche Bank will pay customers back all profits on the securities’ trades in which a misrepresentation was made. That figure is over $3.7M, including $1.48M of disgorgement. The bank will also pay a $750K penalty.

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The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of an investment adviser who is challenging the liability findings against him in a securities fraud case presided over by a US Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judge (ALJ). Raymond Lucia, also a former radio host, was accused of misleading prospective investors about his “Buckets of Money” investment strategy by claiming the methodology he used was back-tested when that was not the case. This created a false sense of security especially among retirees who were told that their money would grow.

An SEC ALJ found him liable for fraud, including that he violated the Investment Advisers Act. Lucia was not only barred from the securities industry but also ordered to pay a $300K fine. He appealed the ruling.

Lucia also questioned whether it was constitutional for the SEC to hire administrative law judges and if they should instead by appointed rather than brought in through human resources. In 2016, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit turned down Lucia’s appeal, finding that contrary to his contention, SEC judges are not officers with the power to make decisions but are, in fact, employees. Also, the Commission has to approve their rulings.

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In its complaint, the US Securities and Exchange Commission has submitted a civil junctive action accusing Malachi Financial Products, Inc. and its principal Porter B. Bingham, of municipal bank fraud targeting Rolling Fork, Mississippi. According to the regulator, Malachi and Bingham charged the city too much for municipal advisory services involving a muni bond offering from October 2015.

Rolling Fork had hired Malachi in the capacity of municipal adviser in 2015 because of a proposed bond offering to pay for a number of improvement projects in the city. The SEC contends that after the closing of the offering, the firm and its principal submitted two invoices to the bond trustee, one—for $33,000—was for services that were never rendered and had never been authorized by the Mississippi city. The other, for $22K, was in line with what Malachi and Rolling Fork had agreed upon.

Bingham purportedly did not disclose to Rolling Fork that he had received $2,500 from Anthony Stovall, who worked for Bonwick Capital Partners. LLC, prior to Malachi recommending to the city that it retain Stovall’s firm as an underwriter for the bond offering. Rolling Fork went on to hire the underwriting firm because of the recommendation.

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The US Securities and Exchange Group announced that Khaled Bassily, the ex-head of ConvergEx Groups’ transition management business, has settled institutional investor fraud charges accusing him of taking part in a scam to hide from certain clients, which included religious organizations, retirement funds, and charities, that they were paying substantially more than they thought for trading orders. Bassily, who agreed to pay more than $988K in disgorgement, prejudgment interest, plus a civil penalty, settled the case without denying or admitting to the charges.

The regulator brought the case against him in 2016. According to its complaint, over five years, Basily hid from transition management customers that their brokerage orders were being directed to an offshore affiliate where concealed charges were put into the price that they paid for selling and purchasing securities. These secret charges were an add on and frequently much higher than the commissions that customers paid for their orders. For example, stated the SEC’s complaint, one customer who paid $699K in commissions also paid $9.6M in these hidden fees.

Meantime, Bassily allegedly engaged in deceptive practices, including “false and misleading statements” to customers, working with traders to maximize theses hidden charges, and taking steps to hide these unauthorized charges from customers.

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