Articles Posted in SEC Settlements

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has imposed a $1.75M penalty on Ameriprise (AMP) related to its sale of F-Squared Alpha Sector strategies. The financial firm must also disgorge $7.3M.

According to the regulator, F-Squared Investments made mistakes when calculating the historical performance of its Alpha Sector investment strategies. These sector rotation strategies were predicated upon the use of an algorithm that gave off a “signal” noting whether to sell or purchase certain exchange-traded funds that collectively comprised the industries in the S & P 500 Index.

However, claimed the regulator, F-Squared erred when it implemented these signals prior to when they could have happened. The Commission accused the firm of employing back-tested and hypothetical historical performance data that was inflated, rather than using what the AlphaSector’s performance would have been if there hadn’t been any signal-related errors, to come up with the investment’s track record.

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SEC Awards Whistleblower $4.1M
A company insider who notified the US Securities Exchange Commission about a “widespread, multi-year securities law violation” involving the employer, is getting a $4.1M whistleblower award. The individual, who is a foreign national employed abroad, also provided information and help during the regulator’s probe. Further details about the case have been kept confidential so as to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of the whistleblower.

This is the third whistleblower award issued this month by the SEC. The regulator awarded two other people $8M each for their help in another successful enforcement action.

To date, the SEC whistleblower program has awarded 50 whistleblowers over $179M.

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Nehal Chopra, founder of the hedge fund Ratan Capital Management, and her husband Paritosh Gupta have settled US Securities and Exchange Commission charges alleging that they acted improperly: He, by sharing confidential investment recommendations with her and she, by not disclosing to her clients that her husband was the one who gave her this information.

Gupta worked at Brahman Capital, a hedge fund firm. He later launched Adi Capital Management, also a hedge fund firm. Brahman and Ratan are competitors in their field.

According to the SEC, Gupta provided Chopra with information developed for Brahman’s own clients, as well as the timing of Brahman’s sizes and positions, and he advised her about certain investments. In one example noted by the regulator, Gupta asked his wife about the size of her firm’s position in one security. After she responded, he advised her to increase that position. Ratan would go on to buy more shares that day.

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David Webb, the ex-Illinois mayor of the city of Markham, has agreed to partially resolve fraud charges brought by the SEC accusing him of involvement in a $5.5M municipal bond scam. The regulator accused Webb of taking part in a pay-to-play scheme that involved a $75K bribe from a construction contractor. In return, Webb is accused of directing one of the city’s construction projects to the contractor. The alleged fraud involved a $5.5 muni bond offering that the city offered in 2012.

According to the Commission’s complaint, at a Markham council meeting that year, talks took place to authorize the $5.5M of general obligation bonds to help pay for certain city projects. It was during this conversation that an attendee spoke out saying she’d heard that the owner of a roller rink stood to “improperly benefit.” The owner of the rink was Markham’s city attorney at the time and the roller ring was one of the city projects involved. Webb, however, responded by saying “I don’t make deals” even though he purportedly had recently been paid the bribe to the construction contractor. The regulator claims that the pay-to-play scam involving the city’s Roesner Park development project was already in place.

The bond offering was approved.

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FINRA Orders JPMorgan Securities to Pay $1.25M
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said that J.P. Morgan Securities LLC (JPM) will pay $1.25M for not conducting proper background checks—or, in certain instances, conducting them but not in a timely enough manner—from 1/2009 through 5/2017 on 8,600 of its associated persons that were non-registered. According to the self-regulatory organization, this included the failure to properly fingerprint about 2,000 non-registered associated persons. The lapses kept the brokerage firm from knowing whether these individuals should be disqualified from employment.

Meantime, other non-registered associates persons who were fingerprinted were only screened for criminal convictions as they related to federal banking laws, as well as to list that was “internally created.” Still, said FINRA, four people who warranted disqualification due to a prior criminal conviction were allowed to work as non-registered associated persons.

Under federal securities laws, breakage firms must fingerprint certain associated staff even if they are employed in a non-registered manner because they could still pose a risk to customers otherwise. Fingerprinting allows for the identification of folk convicted of past crimes that may disqualify them from working for a firm in an associated role.

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SEC Files Fraud Charges Against Oyster Bay, NY

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed municipal securities fraud charges against the New York City of Oyster Bay along with John Venditto, who was a former supervisor of the town. According to the regulator, the Long Island Town and Venditto defrauded investors through 26 municipal securities offerings from 8/2010 to 12/15. A parallel criminal action has been brought against the ex-town supervisor.

The regulator’s complaint claims Oyster Bay and Venditto hid a number of side deals with a businessman who ran concession stands and restaurants at local facilities. Part of the deals included agreeing to “indirectly guarantee” a number of private loans totaling over $20M to this vendor. “Gifts, bribes, kickbacks, and political support” also were allegedly involved.

UBS Financial Services Inc. (UBS) has agreed to settle US Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the brokerage firm of not ensuring that certain charitable brokerage accounts and retail retirement accounts received the sales charge waivers or reduced fee share classes to which they were entitled when they purchased certain mutual funds. However, despite settling, including agreeing to pay a $3.5M penalty, the firm did not admit to or deny the SEC’s findings.

The regulator’s order states that from at least 1/2010 through 6/2015, UBS did not confirm certain customers’ eligibility to purchase from a less costly mutual fund share class and instead recommended that they buy more expensive ones. The customers that were affected purportedly did not have enough information at their disposal to understand that UBS had a conflict of interest when recommending the costlier share classes, such as Class A shares that came with an upfront sales fee and Class B/C shares that charged contingent deferred sales fees at the back-end plus came with costlier ongoing expenses and fees. All of the customers affected had been eligible to buy either no-load Class R shares or load-waved Class A shares.

As a result, claims the Commission, 15,250 customer accounts paid more than $18.5M in excess fees and expenses, upfront sales fees, and “contingent deferred sales charges.” Also, by selling investors the more expensive share classes, UBS earned higher compensations. The brokerage firm is accused of not disclosing to these customers that buying the costlier share classes would hurt their investments’ returns.

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Latest Whistleblower Award Raises Total Granted to $162M
The US Securities and Exchange Commission has awarded a whistleblower over $1M for providing “new information and substantial corroborating documentation” that allowed the regulator to bring a successful enforcement action. The securities violation involved a registered entity and had affected retail investors.

This latest award means that the SEC has now awarded over $162M to 47 whistleblowers since the awards program went into effect in 2013. Whistleblowers who give the Commission unique and “credible” information resulting in a successful enforcement case are eligible to receive 10-30% of the funds collected when the monetary sanction imposed is over $1M.

Attorneys Accused of Involvement in Microcap Fraud Scam
The SEC is accusing James M. Schneider and Andrew H. Wilson of involvement in a microcap fraud that involved more than 20 blank check companies that were sold in reverse mergers. Now, the regulator wants ill-gotten gains, civil penalties from the two lawyers, and other relief. A related criminal fraud case has also been brought against Schneider.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, news that the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s electronic filing system was hacked is raising concerns of what rogue traders may do if they gained market-moving information before the news went public. This week, the SEC disclosed that that its Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval System (EDGAR), which stores public company filings, was hacked last year.

While the breach was noticed in 2016, regulators were not made aware that illicit trading could become a repercussion until last month. The majority of the commissioners reportedly didn’t know the hack had occurred until “recent days.” It wasn’t until SEC Chairman Jay Clayton launched a review of the agency’s “cybersecurity vulnerabilities” this Spring that the extent of the hack became clear.

The WSJ reports that according to market veterans, there are several ways in which intruders could trade using the nonpublic information available through Edgar. Companies usually submit earnings filings in advance of them become public knowledge and it is during this time, before market release, when a rogue trader could strike. Another potential target for hackers might be the 8-K form, used by companies to disclose big events, including acquisitions, not yet disclosed medical trials, and other potentially market moving information. 13-D filings submitted by investors with a greater than 5% position in a company—this is information that could generate investor interest—could also be a target.

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Ex-Amazon Employee and Former College Schoolmate Accused of Insider Trading
The US Securities and Exchange Commission has brought civil insider trading charges against Brett Kennedy and Maziar Rezakhani. Kennedy, an ex- Amazon financial analyst, is accused of leaking confidential information to Rezakhani, who was a former fraternity brother, prior to a company earnings announcement for Amazon being disclosed to the public. Kennedy is also facing criminal charges.

According to the regulator, Kennedy shared the 2015 first quarter earnings information without authorization while employed at Amazon. Rezakhani then allegedly illegally traded on the information in advance of the information’s release to the public and he made over $116K in illicit profits.

Also, on two online communications platforms involving trading, Rezakhani accurately predicted Amazon’s first quarter performance. He is accused of paying Kennedy $10K for the tip and sharing the money with Sam Sadeghi, who gave him trading advice. Sadeghi also faces civil charges.

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