Articles Posted in SEC Enforcement

Man Accused of Targeting Religious Congregation Members Admits to $13M Fraud

Sung “Laurence” Hong has pleaded guilty to money laundering and wire fraud, as well as to pretending to be an investment adviser so he could bilk clients of almost $13M. His plea agreement states that Hong mostly targeted members of religious organizations.

This is not the first time Hong that was caught for investor fraud. He served three years in prison after defrauding a neighbor of about $800K. Now, he may end up back in jail for decades.

SEC Files Case Against Man Accused in $250K Ponzi Scam

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against Niket Shah, who is accused of stealing over $250K from coworkers and friends in a Ponzi scam. The regulator’s case comes in the wake of complaints brought by investors.

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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 US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Wedbush Securities Inc. The regulator is accusing the brokerage firm of not supervising registered representative Timary Delorme, 59, and disregarding warning signs that she was involved in a pump-and-dump fraud that targeted retail investors. Delorme has settled the SEC’s charges against her.

According to the SEC, Delorme took part in certain trades to manipulate the stocks. She received benefits, which were paid to her spouse, for getting customers to invest in microcap stocks that were part of a pump-and-dump fraud run by Izak Zirk Engelbrecht, who also has been subject to civil, as well as criminal charges. Engelbrecht, previously called Izak Zirk de Maison before adopting his wife’s last name, is accused of running the scam that involved microcap company Gepco Ltd.

Also, Delorme and her husband are accused of selling shares for Engelbrecht and sending him the money for the sales while she was paid a commission. This purportedly allowed Engelbrecht to hide the sales.

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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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Howard Present, the ex-CEO and cofounder of F-Squared Investments, must pay more than $13M—nearly $11M of disgorgement, almost $1.4M of interest and a nearly $1.6M penalty. The final judgement, issued by U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin in Boston, comes after a federal jury found Present liable for the false and misleading statements made to investors.

It was in 2014 that the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged Present and his investment management firm with misleading investors about its AlphaSector strategy. At the time, F-Squared was the biggest market of index products that use exchange-traded funds.

The SEC accused F-Squared of false advertising related to its touting of a “successful seven-year track records” for its AlphaSector strategy that it claimed was based on real investments, real clients, and real performances, when, in fact, the algorithm that the company claimed to use didn’t even exist during that time period of this supposed success. Instead, the data that the F-Squared marketed was a product of backtesting—not real testing—even though Present and his firm specifically stated that their AlphaSector strategy had not been backtested.

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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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Fyre Festival Founder Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud and Must Pay Back Investors

Billy McFarland, the founder of the failed Fyre Festival who pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, must may pay back millions of dollars to investors whom he bilked. In Manhattan federal court, McFarland acknowledged that he received more than $26M in investor funds for the Bahamas festival that promised catered dining, luxury accommodations, and renowned performers. Instead, attendees were greeted with no food or tent accommodations.

Billboard reports that eventually prepackaged sandwiches were served, local musicians performed, and the festival was postponed even though it had already begun. Travelers who headed back home encountered rescheduled and delayed flights. Many festival employees went unpaid.

The FBI arrested McFarland last summer. He has since admitted that he solicited investors using bogus documents touting financial holdings that he didn’t possess.

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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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Direct Services LLC and Voya Investment LLC, two Voya Holdings Inc. investment adviser subsidiaries, will pay about $3.6M to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing them of failing to make certain disclosures related to securities lending. Of that amount, over $2M will go straight to mutual funds that were impacted.

The two investment advisers worked with a number of “insurance-dedicated mutual funds” that insurers affiliated with Voya Holdings and Direct Services offer to life insurance and annuity customers. The two advisers lent fund-held securities to certain parties. They then called back the securities so that the insurer affiliates would get a tax benefit. These same affiliates were record shareholders for the funds’ shares. Meantime, this led to the funds and their investors losing income while not getting to avail of the tax benefit.

According to SEC Enforcement Division Asset Management Co-Chief Anthony S. Kelly, the mutual funds and its investors were not notified that they would be losing money in order for the affiliates to get this tax benefit. The regulator said that Voya advisors did not disclose that this conflict of interest existed.

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Valor Capital Asset Management LLC and its owner, Texas-based investment adviser Robert Mark Magee, have settled US Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing them of defrauding investors by engaging in cherry picking. As part of the settlement, Magee is banned from the securities industry and will pay over $715K.

The SEC contends that while trading securities in the firm’s omnibus account, Magee would wait to allocate the trades until after watching their performances throughout the day. He would then allocate a disproportionate amount of the more profitable trades to his accounts while sending the trades that were not profitable to his clients. This allowed him to profit at cost to clients. The SEC believes that his ill-gotten gains from cherry picking was over $505K.

For example, notes the SEC, the way in which Magee traded and allocated El Pollo Loco Holdings is “representative” of how he allegedly engaged in cherry picking. For five trading days in a row, trades in LOCO that were profitable went to his own account. When the price went down on the sixth day, he allocated the shares to six Valor client accounts instead of selling the shares at a loss.

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