Articles Posted in SEC

In a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) whistleblower case that resulted in a company probe and two successful enforcement actions, the regulator has awarded $4.5M to the individual who stepped forward to provide the key information. This person is the 62nd one to receive an SEC whistleblower award since the Commission began granting them in 2012.

According to the regulator, the whistleblower provided an anonymous tip internally to the company about the alleged wrongdoing, as well as a similar tip to the SEC within 120 days. The information compelled the company to conduct its probe into the misconduct allegations and then report them to the Commission and to a second agency. After the company concluded its investigation, it notified both agencies of the outcome.

While the SEC didn’t provide specifics about the whistleblower case—it refrains from doing so in order to protect the confidentiality of any informants/claimants—The Wall Street Journal identified the claimant as an ex-Brazilian orthopedic surgeon who brought up concerns about an alleged kickback scam run by a subsidiary of Zimmer Biomet Holdings.

Carol Ann Pederson, an unregistered investment advisor and an ex-CPA, is facing charges accusing her of defrauding more than two dozen investors. The US Securities and Exchange Commission claims that Pederson:

  • Raised at least $29M from investors.
  • Made false promises that their money would go into “federally guaranteed securities.”


Michael Scronic Pleads Guilty in Ponzi Scheme

Michael Scronic, who touted himself as the hedge fund manager of the unregistered Scronic Macro Fund, has agreed to a US Securities and Exchange Commission ban permanently blocking him from buying or selling securities. In a parallel criminal case, Scronic pleaded guilty to securities fraud that involved 45 victims in his over $22M hedge fund fraud. His victims who suffered significant investment fraud losses included acquaintances, relatives, and friends. According to Bloomberg, investors gave him amounts ranging from $23K to $2.4M to invest.

Prosecutors contend that Scronic lied about his investment fund’s performance, touting returns of up to 13% when, in reality, the fund suffered millions of dollars in losses. About $500K, also from investors, was used to fund his own expenses, including a $12K/month New York rental, mortgage payments on a Vermont vacation home, country club and beach club membership fees, and about $15K/month in credit card expenses. The investment scam went on from 2012 through June 2017.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has refused to overturn the US Securities and Exchange Commission ruling that Wedbush Securities Inc. engaged in inadequate supervision of its own regulatory compliance. The appeals court also affirmed the suspension of the brokerage firm’s president and principal Edward W. Wedbush.

The SEC’s 2016 finding had sustained a 2014 ruling by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s National Adjudicatory Council, which ordered Wedbush to pay a $350K fine for either not filing, or filing late, dozens of documents regarding complaints and judgments that had been brought against the investment firm and its financial representatives. Finra found that Wedbush Securities violated the bylaws and rules of the NASD, the NYSE, and the self-regulatory organization itself 158 times and was delinquent in submitting the documents at issue over a five-year period, from 1/2005 to 7/2010.

Wedbush and its president had tried to argue before the SEC that FINRA was wrong in finding that the broker-dealer failed to supervise reporting requirements. The brokerage firm also questioned whether the hearing it received before the SRO was a fair one since a FINRA rule did not specifically note suspension as a sanction.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is proposing a rule that would keep registered representatives and brokers from also referring to themselves as investment advisors. In almost 1,000 pages of new proposals, the regulator articulated that it wants brokerage firms to make sure that the investing public knows that while brokers can sell investment products they are not trusted fiduciary advisors—nor is it their role to continue to offer advice after a sale has been made. Under the proposed rule, brokers would no longer be allowed to call themselves a trusted “advisor” or “adviser.” They can, however, take steps to become a registered investment adviser.

Addressing the proposed package, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said that “investor confusion” about what differentiates broker-dealers from investment advisers is what prompted these latest initiatives. While both can give retail investors advice regarding possible investments, the two have different kinds of relationships with them. Clayton also noted that retail investors can suffer harm if they don’t know that certain conflicts of interest may be involved when working with either broker-dealers or investment advisers. Investors also may be giving more authority over their finances to a broker or investment adviser than they should.

In a 4-1 vote this week, the SEC’s ”Regulation Best Interests” measures for brokers was moved forward. Under the new measures, brokers would be obligated to place clients’ best interests before their own when it comes to recommending investment strategies or products. Brokers would have to set up and enforce written procedures and polices that would identify, expose, get rid of, or avoid conflicts of interest that might involve a financial incentive. While the existing broker standard requires that they recommend investment products that are suitable to each client, brokers are still allowed to endorse the products that gives them the greater financial payday.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is accusing John S. Jumper, a Tennessee businessman and ex-broker, of stealing about $5.7M from the pension plan of Snow Shoe Refractories, LLC, a Pennsylvania company. Now, the commission wants disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with interest, injunctive relief, and penalties.

According to the regulator’s complaint, three times, between 3/2015 and 2/2016, Jumper stole money from the Snow Shoe Refractories, LLC Pension Plan for Hourly Employees by forging documents that supposedly showed he had authority over the fund’s money. He then allegedly used the funds to “capitalize” several businesses to which he had some ties, including, in some cases, ownership. These companies, Alluvion Securities, Speedee Brakes, American Investment Funds II, Thousand Hills Capital, and Evertone Records, have been named relief defendants in the SEC’s pension plan fraud case. The regulator contends that they have no “legitimate claim” on the pension fund’s monies.

Jumper previously worked as a registered representative at a number of brokerage firms for almost two decades. He was the CEO, owner, and registered representative of Alluvion Securities. He also was an investment adviser and President of Alluvion Investments.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed fraud charges against investment adviser Amrit J.S. Chahal, who founded Kane Capital Investment Group, LLC. Chahal is accused of using his company to solicit about $1.4M from about 50 people, some of them friends and family members. Now, the regulator wants a permanent injunction, penalties, and disgorgement.

According to the SEC’s securities fraud complaint, from at least 2/2015, the investment advisor targeted prospective investors by telling them he was a seasoned trader who could make clients “above-market returns” by employing a trading strategy whose risks were low. In truth, contends the Commission, Chahal had no previous substantive experience in the securities industry or in trading securities for others.

Investors gave Chahal their money with the understanding that he would use the funds to buy and sell futures, options, and commodities. He told them they would have to pay a $2.5% yearly fee and a performance-based fee that was 10% of an investor’s returns that went beyond a yearly 30% return rate. Chahal also falsely claimed that Kane Capital employed the most current software to help it garner the “highest possible profit” from every investment, with a focus on choosing investments that were high-yield and low-risk. In truth, said the Commission, the accused investment advisor “traded risky options and margins,” as well as sold and purchased commodities and futures.

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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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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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges against Ameriprise Financial Services (AMP). The regulator is accusing the brokerage firm and investment adviser of recommending to retail retirement account customers that they purchase mutual fund shares that charged higher fees. Ameriprise purportedly failed to employ sales charge waivers when applicable.

The Commission’s order contends that the broker-dealer neglected to determine when certain retirement account customers qualified for mutual fund share classes that were not as costly.

Instead, the firm would recommend and sell the more costly mutual fund shares even when the less pricey options were available. Ameriprise is accused of not letting these customers know that the firm would make more from the costly mutual fund shares even as their overall investment returns were harmed.

The SEC said that about 1,971 customer accounts paid nearly $1.8M in up-front sales fees that were not warranted, costlier ongoing fees, “contingent deferred sales charges,” and other expenses because of the way that Ameriprise handled the recommendation and sale of mutual funds to retirement account clients.

The firm is cooperating with the regulator and has paid back customers that were affected with interest. Retirement account customers eligible for the less expensive mutual fund share classes have been moved to those classes free of charge.

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