Articles Posted in Private Placements

Barclays Resolves Securities Fraud Claims Related to Libor Rigging
Barclays PLC (BARC) has consented to pay $120 million to resolve securities fraud claims accusing the bank of conspiring with competitors to manipulate the London Interbank Offered Rate, also known as Libor. Barclays is the first to settle allegations made by “over-the-counter” investors.

It was just last month that the British bank consented to pay $94M to resolve litigation accusing it of trying to rig Euribor, which is the euro-denominated equivalent of Libor. Barclays has admitted to rigging both benchmarks. The bank paid settlements to regulators in the United States and in Great Britain.

Libor is used to establish rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars of transactions, such as those involving student loans, credit cards, and mortgages. Banks use Libor to assess how much it will cost to borrow from each other. To date, over a dozen banks have been sued for conspiring to rig Libor.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in New York, who approved the class action settlement, said in August that the plaintiffs could win fraud claims if they proved that panel banks lied to the administrator of Libor about borrowing costs and the plaintiffs had depended on these fallacies. Buchwald, in 2013, threw out a “substantial” chunk of this private case, which included federal antitrust claims.

Investment Advisory Firm, Co-Founders to Pay $1M to Settle Custody Rule Violation Charges
Sands Brothers Asset Management LLC and co-founders Steven Sands and Martin Sands will pay a $1 million penalty to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing them of violating the custody rule. They also have consented to a year suspension from raising funds from existing or new investors. The firm will under go compliance monitoring for three years. Ex-COO and CCO Christopher Kelly will pay a $60K penalty and serve a one-year suspension from acting as a COO or practicing in front of the SEC as a lawyer.

Under the custody rule, firms have to get independent confirmation of assets when they can control or access client funds or securities. This is so that investors know their money is protected from misuse or theft. The firm, the two Sands brothers, and Kelly settled the charges without or denying or admitting to them.
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Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) has agreed to pay $714 million to settle claims that it bilked pension funds and others by overcharging for currency transactions. The settlements resolve cases by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, as well as both private cases and probes by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The lawsuits involve the bank’s “standing instruction” for its foreign exchange program: Clients are supposed to let the bank unilaterally deal with foreign-exchange transactions.

The bank admitted that it notified certain clients that it was determined to obtain them the best rates possible even as the firm gave them the ones that were among the worst interbank rates. The bank had previously denied the claims because the lawsuits were submitted in 2011, not agreeing until the following year to modify pricing disclosures. In February, Bank of New York Mellon said it would modify 4tth quarter results to make room for a $598 million litigation cost as it was getting ready to resolve certain claims, including those involving foreign exchange.

Atlas Energy LP Is inviting investors to put in at least $25,000 in an oil and gas drilling partnership in Texas and other states in exchange for shared revenue from the output from the wells. Its subsidiary, Atlas Resources LLC, is seeking to raise up to $300 million by the end of the year, with the company saying it will put in up to $145 million of its own money. However, according to Reuters, a closer look at the company’s confidential offering memorandum reveals that outside investors may not end up reaping as much as they think.

The private placement venture is called Atlas Resources Series 34-2014 LP. Private placements are unregistered securities sold to a limited number of investors via brokerage firms. Brokers can only market them to accredited investors (investors that have $1 million in assets-primary residence not included-or $250,000/year income) or institutions. Because of inflation, the number of those that qualify to be able to invest in private placements has gone up and not every investor is a high-income one. There are even retirees who now qualify.

According to the Atlas memorandum, $45 million of the money raised will go to Anthem Securities, an affiliate, to pay commissions to brokerage firms. Up to $39 million will go toward purchasing drilling leases from a different affiliate. Some of the $53 million for transport and drilling equipment may also go to affiliated suppliers. $8 million is a markup for estimated equipment costs. Atlas will get $53 million for markups and fees once drilling starts. All this lowers Atlas’s exposure by at least 40%. Once revenue starts coming in, the company is entitled to 33% of this.

The SEC Investor Advisory Committee (IAC) is recommending that the agency to make substantial revision to who should be considered a sophisticated investor. This could change who can get involved in private placements as investors.

Currently, there are about 8.5 million accredited investors. The Dodd-Frank Act obligates the SEC to reexamine the accredited-investor definition every four years.

At the moment, accredited investor standard only allows individuals who make a minimum of $200K or have a net worth of $1M—the value of their primary residence not included—to invest in private placement purchases. If a couple’s net worth is $300K together, they may qualify too.

According to state regulators, non-traded real estate investment trusts, structure products, and private placements, are some of the financial instruments that the states and insurance regulators are watching closely. First Deputy Commissioner of the Iowa Insurance Division Jim Mumford and Alabama Securities Commission director Joseph P. Borg recently spoke at a panel at the Insured Retirement Institute’s Government, Legal and Regulatory Conference.

Borg noted that a growing number of agents are now selling unlicensed financial products, with insurance agents selling private placements and getting clients away from insurance products and into Regulation 506 of Regulation D. The rule establishes a safe harbor for securities’ private offerings. Such instruments are only supposed to be made available to accredited investors and non-accredited investors that have enough sophistication to be able to assess this type of investment. Agents, however, have tried to circumvent securities laws by claiming that a (nonexistent) attorney gave them a letter stating that the private offering actually wasn’t a security.

Also up for sale lately are self-directed IRAs and promissory notes. Structured products have also been quite popular, although unfortunately, Borg noted, many agents and brokers don’t even understand what they are selling.

FINRA is fining GlobaLink Securities Registered Principal Junhua Michael Liao $20,000. According to the SRO’s findings, through Liao, the firm executed an agreement to sell and market a Regulation D offering comprised of promissory notes for a medical receivables financing company. The financial firm then is said to have sold over $1.2 million of the notes to certain customers, resulting in about $56,700 in commissions.

FINRA also said that during the period in question, it was Liao’s job as the compliance officer for the firm to makes sure that GlobaLink Securities set up, kept up, and enforced a supervisory system and written supervisory procedures designed to ensure compliance with regulations and laws and rules that were applicable. The agency said that while the financial firm did keep up written supervisory procedures regarding private placement sales, the WSPs were not sufficient and lacked specific details about how the firm was to perform due diligence, handle transactions, ensure that a Regulation D product was appropriate for investors, and document GlobaLink’s actions and decisions pertaining to the transactions.

FINRA said that because of the deficient WSPs and inadequate supervision, the firm did not perform proper due diligence on the offerings and that this stopped GlobaLink and Liao from finding out that the issuer had previous payment problems on other note offerings, which resulted in the private placement memorandum misrepresenting the past performance of that issuer. Liao consented to the described sanctions as well as to the SRO’s entry of findings. In addition to the fine, he received a one-month suspension from associating with any other FINRA member in any type of principal role.

Investor Jon Hanson is suing Berthel Fisher & Co. Financial Services Inc. for allegedly not conducting the necessary due diligence on the TNP 2008 Participating Notes Program or making the proper disclosures to parties like him that backed the high-risk investment. The private placement went into default in 2012.

The independent brokerage firm, which not so long ago settled the majority of investor claims over real estate deals involving Diversified Business Services and Investments Inc., (a real estate manager that is now bankrupt), could be facing a class action securities case involving a failed deal with Tony Thompson, the real estate investor. This would be the first time that a broker-could be hit with a class action over a Thompson National Properties LLC-sponsored product.

According to Hanson’s securities fraud lawsuit, Berthel Fisher allegedly know there were misrepresentations and omission in the TNP 2008 Participating Notes Program memorandum yet did not probe further into the red flags. Instead, the financial firm used the “misleading TNP 2008 PPM” to help collect about $26.2M from more than 200 investors. Although the independent broker-dealer did not sell all of the TNP 2008 Notes Program and not all of the $26M was sold to its clients, it is a defendant of this private placement case because it was the underwriter of the deal.

Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) has consented to pay $105M to investors of the now failed Medical Capital Holdings Inc. The bank had served as trustee for Medical Capital securities.

The medical receivables financing company got about $2.2 billion from thousands of investors between 2001 and 2009 via the private placement offerings that were promissory notes. The private placement was a high commission financial instrument that promised annual returns of 8.5% to 10.5%. Per court filings, investors paid Medical Capital nearly $325 million in administrative fees. Dozens of independent brokerage firms sold the notes.

It was in 2009 that the SEC accused affiliates of Medical Capital of committing securities fraud against investors. The financial scam was quickly shut down and the company soon entered receivership but investors got back just half their money. Many of them would go on to file a securities lawsuit against trustees Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) and Wells Fargo accusing the financial firms of failing to fulfill their role as trustees by neglecting to detect the fraud. Meantime, many of the brokerage firms that sold the MedCap notes are no longer in business because they sank from the securities arbitration payments and legal costs that followed as a result.

Venecredit Fined $25K for Working with Foreign Finders to Generate Retail Investor Business

According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Venecredit Securities must pay a $25,000 fine for allegedly using foreign finders to get new retail investor business. The financial firm has now been censured for two years.

The SRO says that the foreign finders served as the primary contacts between Venecredit and the clients and had access to account information via the clearing firm’s platform. These finders worked for a foreign brokerage firm that shares directors and officers with Venecredit and its wholly owned entity. FINRA contends that not only did Venecredit fail to create and put into effect proper supervisory measures that would have allowed it to look at customer complaints about the employees at the foreign brokerage firm, but also it failed to keep electronic correspondence from both the foreign traders and the personal email accounts of its registered representatives.

According to the SEC’s Whistleblower Office, during fiscal year 2012 it received 3,001 tips. The categories that received the most complaints involved the areas related to manipulation, offering fraud, and corporate disclosures and financials. Although complaints came from every state, the states with the most complaints were California, with 435 whistleblower tips, 246 from New York, while 202 tips came from Florida. Tips also were sent in from 49 countries.

During this past fiscal year, there were 143 notices of covered enforcement actions that resulted in sanctions of over $1 million—the minimum amount that needs to be collected for a whistleblower to obtain a reward. (A quality, original tip may entitle a whistleblower to 10-30% of what the government recovers). The SEC said that its Investor Protection Fund, which pays these rewards to qualifying whistleblowers, is fully funded and at the end of FY 2012 contained over $435 million. In August, the SEC paid its first whistleblower reward of $50,000 under the program.

In other securities regulator news, Scott O’Malia the CFTC commissioner announced that the agency will have to contend with a “regulatory cliff” next month when the temporary no-action relief stemming from new swaps rules expires. The regulator had put out 18 no-action letters and other guidance on October 12, providing a lot of swap market participants with a brief reprieve from rules that were scheduled to go into effect the next day. The relief for most expires on the last day of the year, and O’Malia wants the agency to take action to resolve this situation. He made his comments at the DC conference sponsored by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

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