Articles Posted in Securities Laws

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. has introduced a bill that would give the Securities and Exchange Commission a longer period of time to uncover and impose penalties for financial fraud. Under his proposal the statute of limitations for pursuing civil penalties would be extended from five years to ten years.

The bill comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gabelli v. SEC, in which the Court held that the current five-year statute to take action against wrongdoers begins when the fraud happened and not upon discovery. According to an announcement about the new legislation, which was published on the Senator’s website, the ruling in Gabelli has made it even harder for the Commission to take action against offenders by shortening how much time the regulator has to investigate and pursue violations of securities laws.

The Gabelli case involved allegations of fraud by Marc J. Gabelli, an investment adviser who managed the Gabelli Global Growth Fund, which is a mutual fund. The SEC said that the alleged fraud took place from 1999 and 2002.

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The US Supreme Court has decided not to review a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirming a $62M award against Michael Lauer, an ex-Lancer Group Hedge Fund manager, in the securities lawsuit filed against him by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The federal appeals court had said that the district court’s decision granting the Commission’s motion for summary judgment on liability and remedies was proper.

Per the SEC fraud lawsuit, Lauer is accused of misrepresenting the hedge funds’ true value by artificially inflating the value of holdings found in shell companies that were thinly traded. The Commission contends that he hid his scam by making false statements in investor newsletters, private placement memoranda, and phone calls. (Lauer has since been acquitted of related criminal charges.)

In his certiorari petition filed earlier, Lauer argued that federal court couldn’t strike a defendant’s motion to dismiss due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction without evaluating whether it had such jurisdiction. He also claimed that the appeal’s court ruling that the district court’s decision was grounded in enough evidence was not de novo review.

In a letter to the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Administrator of National Banks, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) spoke out against what they are calling the current draft of the Volcker rule’s “JPMorgan loophole,” which they say allows for the kinds of trading activities that resulted in the investment bank’s recent massive trading loss. Merkley and Levin want the regulators to make sure that the language in October’s draft version is more stringent so that “clear bright lines” exist between legitimate activities and proprietary trading activities that should be banned (including risk-mitigating hedging and market-making).

According to Levin and Merkley, who are both principal co-sponsors of the Volcker rule and its restrictions on proprietary trading, the regulation’s latest draft disregarded “clear legislative language and clear statement of Congressional intent” and left room for “portfolio hedging.” Under the law, risk-mitigating hedge activities are allowed as long as they aim to lower the “specific risks” to a financial firm’s holdings, including contracts or positions. This is supposed to let banks lower their risks by letting them to take part in actual, specific hedges. However, the senators are contending that because the language that was necessary to enforce wasn’t included in the last draft, hence the “JPMorgan loophole” (among others) that will allow proprietary trading to occur even after the law goes into effect. They blame pressure from Wall Street lobbyists for these gaps.

The senators are pressing the regulators to get rid of such loopholes and put into effect a solid Volcker Rule, with stricter language, and without further delays. They noted that despite getting trillions of dollars in public bailout money, a lot of large financial firms continue to fight against the “most basic… reforms,” which is what they believe that Wall Street has been doing with its resistance to the Volcker rule. (Also in their letter, Levin and Merkley reminded the regulators that it was proprietary trading positions that resulted in billions of dollars lost during the recent economic crisis.)

SSEK Talking to Investors About JPMorgan Trading Losses
JPMorgan Chase‘s (JPM) over $2 billion loss was on a series of complex derivative trades that it claims were made to hedge economic risks. Now, according to a number of people who work at trading desks that specialize in the kind of derivatives that the financial firm used when making its trades, the financial firm’s loss has likely grown to closer than $6 billion to $7 billion.

Read the Letter by Merkley and Levin

Volcker Rule Resource Center, SIFMA

More Blog Posts:
JPMorgan Chase Had No Treasurer When Chief Investment Office Made Trades Resulting In More than $2B Loss, Reports WSJ, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 19, 2012

JPMorgan Chase Shareholders File Securities Lawsuits Over $2B Trading Loss, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, May 17, 2012

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro Stands By Agency’s 2011 Enforcement Record, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, March 15, 2012

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According to the Securities and Exchange Commission Enforcement Division’s Chief Counsel Joseph Brennan, the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus Capital Group Inc. v. First Derivative Traders is impacting the types of violations the federal regulator is now filing against defendants. Brennan says to look out for more possible control person liability and aiding and abetting claims. Speaking at the SEC Speaks conference by the Practising Law Institute in Washington, Brenner said the views he was expressing are his own.

In the high court’s 2011 ruling, the decision honored, under Rule 10b-5 of the 1934 Securities Exchange Act, a narrow perspective of primary liability in a private lawsuit. The majority held that an investment adviser who was a legally separate entity from the mutual fund that submitted an allegedly prospectus couldn’t be held primarily liable in a private action even if that adviser had played a key role in developing the statement. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the statement’s maker is the entity or person with final authority over the statement (including its content and how it should be communicated).

The Exchange Act’s SEC Rule 10-b5(b) makes it illegal to either issue any statement of material fact that is untrue or leave out a key fact. The Supreme Court’s ruling establishes an even higher pleading bar in private securities fraud cases where the plaintiff wants to hold defendants liable for other’s misstatements.

The ruling, however, has not had a big impact on who the SEC can charge. It also hasn’t had a big influence on SEC enforcement decisions involving other statutes and provisions.

Also discussing Janus at the same gathering was SEC Deputy Solicitor John Avery. He noted while that the decision signified a significant “change” and the “narrowing” of how primary liability for issuing false or misleading statements is defined, it remains unclear whether SEC actions are covered under the ruling. While some district courts have found that Janus applies to SEC actions, federal appellate courts have not issued any decisions related to this matter.

Avery said that the ruling has, however, changed the way the SEC files charges. The federal agency, which is authorized to pursue aiders and abbettors accused of violative conduct, might now charge those that played a role in creating the statement as abbettors and aiders even though they wouldn’t be liable per Janus. However, in certain cases, this authority won’t work too well.

Meantime, federal courts are starting to deal with whether Janus is applicable beyond the context of Rule 10b-5. In four out of five SEC cases, the courts have ruled against applying Janus outside the rule.

Contact our securities fraud law firm to request your free case evaluation.

SEC Looking to Aiding/Abetting Claims In Wake of Janus Decision, Official Says, BNA Securities Law Daily, February 27, 2012

Janus Capital Group Inc. v. First Derivative Traders and the Law of Unintended Consequences, Forbes, September 21, 2011

Read the Supreme Court’s Opinion (PDF)

More Blog Posts:

Securities Fraud: Mutual Funds Investment Adviser Cannot Be Sued Over Misstatement in Prospectuses, Says US Supreme Court, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 16, 2011

Janus Avoids Responsibility to Mutual Fund Shareholders for Alleged Role in Widespread Market Timing Scandal, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, June 11, 2007

SEC Chairwoman Defends ‘No Wrongdoing’ Settlements, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, February 27, 2012

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With regulators tasked with finalizing the Volcker rule, Democratic lawmakers want them to make sure that the rule makes clear that banks are allowed to invest in venture capital funds. The proposed rule is geared toward lowering financial system risk by not letting banks to take part in proprietary trading, while limiting how much they can invest in private equity and hedge funds.

The lawmakers, 26 of whom have written to the federal agencies working on the rule, noted that venture capital firms are not as high risk as private equity and hedge funds. The Volcker rule would be an implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s Section 619. Once finalized, it will go into effect on July 21.

Meantime, European Union Council of Ministers President Margrethe Vestager wants to make sure that the Volcker rule treats non-U.S. sovereign debt and US government securities the same. Vestager wrote to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke making her case that the federal agencies need to make sure the extraterritorial application of the Volcker rule doesn’t happen. Vestager is concerned that otherwise the competition for non-US banks would be impeded.

According to FINRA CEO and Chairman Richard G. Ketchum, the SRO may put out a second concept proposal about its stance regarding disclosure obligations related to a possible Securities and Exchange Commission rulemaking about formalizing a uniform fiduciary duty standard between broker-dealers and investment advisers. Currently, the 1940 Investment Advisers Act defines the investment advisers’ fiduciary obligation to their clients, while broker-dealers are upheld to suitability rules that will be superseded next August by two FINRA rules regarding broker-dealer suitability standards.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s Section 913, however, said that it is SEC’s responsibility to determine whether these current regulatory and legal standards s are still effective and if any regulatory shortcomings that exist need to be filled. In July 2010, the SEC asked stakeholders for feedback about this mandates. After receiving over 3,000 public comments, it issued a study recommending that there be a uniform fiduciary standard for both types of representatives when giving advice to retail clients. The SEC could put out its proposed rule by the end of this year.

FINRA is working with the Commission on this and plans to stay involved in the process. It was just last year that the SRO put out a concept proposal seeking public comment about the idea that broker-dealers should have to provide retail investors with certain disclosures at the start of a business relationship. These clients would be required to give a written statement detailing the kids of services and accounts they provide, any conflicts of interests, and limits on duties that they are entitled to expect. FINRA said that regardless of what a unified fiduciary standard would look like, retail investors would benefit from getting this disclosure document at the start and that such a mandate is an “outright necessity.

Without denying or admitting to wrongdoing, Banco Espirito Santo S.A. a banking conglomerate based in Portugal, has consented to pay nearly $7M in disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties to settle Securities and Exchange Commission allegations that it violated securities transaction, investment adviser, and broker-dealer registration requirements. The bank has also agreed to a bar from future violations, as well as an undertaking that it pay a minimum interest rate to US clients on securities bought through BES.

According to the SEC, between 2004 and 2009 and while not registered as an investment adviser or broker-dealer in the US, BES offered investment advice and brokerage services to about 3,800 US resident clients and customers. Most of them were immigrants from Portugal. Also, allegedly the securities transactions were not registered even though they did not qualify for a registration exemption.

The SEC says that by acting as an unregistered investment adviser and broker-dealer BES violated sections of the Exchange Act and the Advisers Act. The bank violated the Securities Act when it allegedly sold and offered securities in this country without registration or the exemption.

The SEC says BES used its Department of Marketing, Communications, and Customer Research in Portugal to send out marketing materials to clients outside the country. Customers in the US ended up getting materials not specifically designed for US residents. BES also worked with a customer service call center to service its US customers. Via phone, these clients were offered securities and other financial products. The representatives were not registered as SEC broker-dealers and had no US securities licenses even though they serviced US clients. US Customers were also offered brokerage services through ESCLINC, which is a money transmitter service in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. ESCLINC acted as a contact point for the investment and banking activities of BES’s US clients.

Registration Provisions
The SEC has set registration provisions in place to help preserve the securities markets’ integrity as well as that of the financial institutions that serve as “gatekeepers,” said SEC New York regional office director George S. Canellos. He accused BES of “brazenly” disregarding these provisions.

State securities laws and US mandate that investment advisers, brokers, and their financial firms be registered or licensed. You should definitely check to make sure that whoever you are investing with or seeking investment advice from his properly registered. It is also important for you to know that doing business with a financial firm or a securities broker that is not registered can make it hard for you to recover your losses if that entity were to go out of business and even if the case is decided in your favor (whether in arbitration or through the courts.)

Banco Espirito Santo To Pay Nearly $7 Mln To Settle SEC Charges, The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2011

Portugese Bank Agrees to $7M Settlement With SEC Over Alleged Registration Breaches, BNA Broker-Dealer Compliance Report

More Blog Posts:
President Obama Supports Senate Bill Raising SEC Registration Exemption to $50M, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, September 16, 2011

Dodd-Frank Reforms Will Lower Deficit by $3.2B Over the Next Decade, Estimates CBO, April 8, 2011

EagleEye Asset Management LLC Sued by SEC and CFTC for Alleged Forex Trading Scam, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, September 28, 2011

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President Barack Obama says he supports Senate bill, S. 1544, which would let companies sell up to $50 million in securities in a public offering without having to register with the SEC. That’s a huge leap from the current $5 million threshold that is allowed under Regulation A of the 1933 Securities Act.

Called the Small Company Capital Formation Act, Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced the bill earlier this month. If passed, Tester said it would relieve some regulatory burdens. S. 1544 is almost identical to H.R. 1070, which Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) introduced in the House earlier this year.

Senator Tester says that the new rule will help entrepreneurs create jobs and raise additional capital. Greater transparency of offers would also be enhanced, giving investors access to more information. On his Web site, Tester speaks about the need to do everything possible to push for “innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation.” Tester says the bill streamlines new companies’ ability to be successful and have the capital they need for growth. With this capital, they can concentrate on succeeding rather than getting mired in “government paperwork.” Senator Pat Toomey has the Small Company Capital Formation Act will make it easier for small companies and start-ups to go public.

Meantime, Republican lawmakers have introduced a series of job bills that could also affect securities laws. The Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, H.R. 2930, exempts crowdfunding from the 1933 Securities Act‘s registration requirements for business individuals who invest under $10,0000 or under 10% of their annual income and companies that raise under $5 million. In his jobs plan, President Obama has also said that he supports this proposed measure.

Other Republican Bills:
H.R. 2930: Introduced by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), this bill would exclude crowdfunding from the 500 shareholder cap of the 1934 Securities Exchange Act, while preempting state regulation. McHenry said that if passed the bill would give smaller investors a chance to get into startups, which they currently cannot do because of current SEC regulation.

S. 1538: Known as the Regulatory Time-Out Act, this bill would set up a one-year moratorium on key regulations with a $100 million or greater yearly effect on the economy.

Access to Capital for Job Creators Act: Introduced by GOP whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the bill would get rid of the SEC’s current ban on general solicitation. Currently, the Commission’s Section 4(2) of the 1933 Act or its Rule 506 of Regulation D doesn’t let private placement issuers use general solicitation or advertising to get investors to put money in their offerings. McCarthy believes that this ban keeps small companies from being able to draw in capital that they need.

Our securities fraud attorneys are here to help investors that have been victims of financial fraud recoup their losses.

Republican Lawmakers Sponsor Slew Of Job Bills Impacting Securities Laws, BNA Securities Law Daily, September 16, 2011

American Jobs Act, White House, September 8, 2011

Tester, Toomey introduce bill to help businesses raise capital, cut red tape, and create jobs,, September 12, 2011

More Blog Posts:
Wedbush Securities Ordered by FINRA to Pay $2.8M in Senior Financial Fraud Case Over Variable Annuities, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 31, 2011

FDIC Objects to Bank of America’s Proposed $8.5B Settlement Over Mortgage-Backed Securities, Stockbroker Fraud Blog, August 30, 2011

$63 Million Mortgage-Backed Securities Lawsuit Against Bank of America is Second One Filed by Western and Southern Life Insurance Co. Against the Financial Firm, Institutional Investor Securities Blog, August 29, 2011

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