Articles Tagged with Securities Fraud

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is accusing Equitybuild Inc., a real estate investment firm that is based in Florida, and its owners of operating a $135M Ponzi scam that defrauded approximately 900 investors. The regulator contends that the company, its President/CEO Jerome Cohen, and Vice President Shaun Cohen, who are father and son, promised investors double-digit returns of 12-20%, even as their business was incurring massive losses. Meantime, investors were paid returns using earlier investors’ money in Ponzi-like fashion.

Equitybuild investors were mostly unsophisticated, non-accredited investors without much experience in investing in real estate. The Cohens allegedly touted a purportedly original strategy for identifying an undervalued property in Chicago, Illinois’ South Side that they claimed would render huge returns. Investors were promised promissory notes that named a specific property. Third parties were supposed to buy the properties with mortgages that the investors had funded and this would generate returns.

Unfortunately, there don’t appear to have been many third-party buyers. Equitybuild was the one that owned most of the properties and the real estate investment company purportedly stopped searching for third-party buyers a few years ago.


ICFBCFS and Chardan Capital Markets Accused of Anti-Money Laundering

FINRA has fined the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Financial Services LLC (ICBCFS) $5.3M for “systemic anti-money laundering compliance failures.”  The self-regulatory organization contends that when clearing and settling the liquidation of over 33 billion penny stock shares between 1/2013 and 9/2015, the firm did not have in place an anti-money laundering program that was reasonable enough to identify and report possibly suspect transactions, especially when penny stocks were involved.  ICBCFS is settling the case without denying or admitting to the self-regulatory authority’s findings. It has, however, consented to an entry of the findings.

ICBCFS also agreed to pay an $860K penalty to settle a US Securities and Exchange Commission case alleging anti-money laundering violations and the failure to report billions of suspect penny stock sales.


Panasonic Fined by United States in Bribery Scheme

Panasonic Corp. will pay over $143M in disgorgement plus prejudgment interest to resolve a US Securities and Exchange Commission case involving a bribery scheme, accusing the company of accounting fraud violations and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Panasonic consented to the order, which finds that the Japan-based corporation violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. In a parallel criminal, the company will pay a $137M penalty in a deferred prosecution deal reached with the US Justice Department, which accused  Panasonic of violating the FCPA over books and records.

The SEC contends that Panasonics Avionics Corp. a Panasonic subsidiary that offers in-flight entertainment and communications systems, offered a government official a consulting position at a state-owned airline to incentivize that individual into assisting the avionics company in garnering business. During the time of the scam, said the SEC’s order, the avionics company was negotiating two deals valued at over $700K with the airline.


Altaba is Fined $35M For Not Disclosing World’s Largest Data Breach

Altaba, formerly Yahoo! Inc., will pay a $35M penalty in a data breach settlement to resolve US Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the entity of misleading investors because it did not disclose a major cyber-security data breach. Despite settling, Yahoo is not denying or admitting to the findings.

The data breach, one of the largest in the world to date, involved Russian hackers stealing personal information involving hundreds of millions of user accounts in 2014. The information that was taken included usernames, birth dates, email addresses, passwords that were encrypted, phone numbers, and both security questions and answers. Yahoo’s information security team found out about the breach soon after it happened.

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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The LJM Preservation and Growth Fund (LJMIX, LJMAX, LJMCX) is facing allegations that it made false and misleading statements to investors. In particular, the fund represented that it was appropriate for capital preservation investors who wanted conservative growth of their account. In reality, the mutual fund exposed investors to high risks that made them vulnerable to massive losses when it lost nearly all of its value within two days, dropping more than 80% earlier this month. In a filing with securities regulators, The LJM Partners, LTD., which is based in Chicago, announced that it was shuttering operations by March 29 and is going into liquidation.

The latest earnings report for the fund, filed at the end of October, noted $768 million of net assets. Reuters reports that the fund’s net assets were $812 million at the start of month but that is now reduced to $14 million. After this massive drop, the fund announced that it would no longer be open to new investments. Soon after, investors brought a class action securities lawsuit against the mutual fund. The plaintiffs are alleging that the LJM Preservation and Growth Fund violated the Securities Act and misled them by claiming it was committed to “preserve capital, particularly in down market.”

LJM, operated by Anthony Caine and Anish Parvatanen, was among a number of companies involved in selling liquid alternative funds that were complex and came with high fees. Investors that sought these funds out were generally hoping to enhance their returns even while reducing the risks. However, the fund did not accomplish that goal. It instead embarked on a risky strategy involving complex options trading and other investments that are not appropriate for any investor seeking capital preservation.

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. says that Pershing, a Bank of New York Mellon Corp. (BK) unit, must pay $3 million for violations involving the Customer Protection Rule. According to the self-regulatory organization, for about nine months between ’10 and ’11, the clearing firm did not put aside the money needed for a reserve account, per FINRA’s deposit requirements.

The SRO said that deficiencies, from $4 million to $220 million, came from Pershing’s “misinterpretation” of aspects of the rule, as well as inadequate supervision over the way the firm calculated what needed to be put in reserve. Also, over a certain time period, Pershing did not promptly get or keep up physical possession or control of certain customers’ margin securities. This resulted in nearly four dozen new control or possession deficits, while significantly raising the number of existing control or possession deficits.

The Customer Protection Rule mandates that brokerage firms maintain custody of customer cash and securities in order to comply with the following requirements: keep a cash reserve or qualified securities in a bank account that has at least the equivalent value of the net cash the broker-dealer owes customers, as well as obtain and keep up control or physical possession over customers’ excess and fully paid margin securities.

New Hampshire Says Merrill Lynch Must Pay $400,000 For Not Complying with Telemarketing Rules

Bank of America (BAC) Merrill Lynch has consented to pay $400,000 to resolve claims made by the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation accusing the firm of improperly soliciting business when it called people who were on do-not-call lists and were not clients. As part of the deal, Merrill Lynch will improve its telemarketing procedures and policies. A spokesperson for the brokerage firm says it has already enhanced internal controls to avoid making inappropriate calls moving forward.

According to the regulator, not only did the broker-dealer fail to fully comprehend how to comply with the state’s rules for telemarketing but also the firm did not reasonably supervise its agents’ telemarketing activities in New Hampshire.

The SEC is charging Reliance Financial Advisors and its co-owners Walter F. Grenda Jr. and Timothy S. Dembski with securities fraud. The agency says that the Buffalo, NY-based investment advisory firm and the two men misled clients when recommending that they get involved in a hedge fund managed by portfolio manager Scott M. Stephan.

Grenda and Dembski of Reliance Financial Advisors guided senior investors toward making highly speculative investments in the Prestige Wealth Management Fund, which Stephan managed, even though they allegedly knew he was inexperienced in this type of investing. The clients, who were either close to retirement, retired, or living on fixed incomes, collectively invested around $12 million.

Stephan was supposedly going to employ a trading strategy that involved a specific computer “algorithm,” which actually only day traded. Instead, he started making trades manually, his approach eventually playing a part in the hedge fund’s failure. The SEC has said that Stephan’s investing experience was greatly exaggerated in offering materials. (The majority of his career involved collecting car loans that were overdue.)

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