We previously blogged about the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Raymond J. Lucia Cos v. SEC, which rejected the petitioner’s constitutional challenges to the SEC’s use of administrative law judges that are not appointed by the President. Yesterday, the D.C. Circuit issued a two sentence per curiam order denying an en banc review by an equally divided court.
We noted that the panel’s original opinion was the first appellate ruling of its kind. Although the panel’s decision remains in effect because the full court did not rehear the case, the strength of that ruling is now severely undermined. As we previously reported, the Tenth Circuit has already disagreed with the D.C. Circuit’s panel and held that the SEC’s administrative law judges are subject to the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. Yesterday’s order likely sets the stage for a Supreme Court challenge.
Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Acting Enforcement Director Stephanie Avakian and former federal prosecutor Steven Peikin had been named Co-Directors of the Division of Enforcement. In making the announcement, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton advised:
There is no place for bad actors in our capital markets, particularly those that prey on investors and undermine confidence in our economy. Stephanie and Steve will aggressively police our capital markets and enforce our nation’s securities laws as Co-Directors of the Division of Enforcement. They have each demonstrated market knowledge, impeccable character, and commitment to public service, and I am confident their combined talents and experience will enable them to effectively lead the Division going forward.
Prior to being named Acting Director in December 2016, Ms. Avakian served as Enforcement’s Deputy Director since June 2014. Mr. Peikin joins the SEC … Read More »
On June 5, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States released its unanimous opinion in Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission and established that “SEC disgorgement constitutes a penalty within the meaning of § 2462” and therefore is restricted by the applicable 5-year statute of limitations. As predicted in our previous blog post, the Court determined that the SEC cannot impose disgorgement fees without regard to statute of limitations.
The Supreme Court determined that SEC disgorgement “bears all the hallmarks of a penalty” and therefore should be subject to the 5-year statute of limitation in § 2462 for three main reasons: (1) “SEC disgorgement is imposed by courts as a consequence for violation” of public laws, i.e. for violations committed against the United States rather than a “aggrieved individual”; (2) “SEC disgorgement is imposed for punitive purposes” such as deterrence, … Read More »
SEC Puts Administrative Proceedings within Tenth Circuit on Hold After Court Rules Them Unconstitutional
The SEC announced this week that it would stay all administrative proceedings involving certain provisions of the Securities Act, the Securities Exchange Act, and the Investment Company Act in the wake of the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Bandimere v. SEC, 844 F.3d 1168 (10th Cir. 2016).
In Bandimere, the Tenth Circuit held that the SEC’s administrative law judges (“ALJs”) were “inferior officers” who are subject to the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The appeals court granted the petition for review on constitutional grounds because the ALJ was not constitutionally appointed and his duties involved the exercise of significant authority. The court denied the petition for rehearing en banc on May 3, 2017.
The SEC explained that “[i]n light of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s recent decision denying rehearing en banc in Bandimere v. SEC, we find it … Read More »
Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission: A New Limitation to the Government’s Enforcement Power?
The United States Supreme Court will soon decide whether the SEC can continue to impose disgorgement fees without regard to any statute of limitations. Based on the oral argument in Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission, held on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, it appears likely that the Court will determine that the SEC does not have the wide power it claims in pursuing disgorgement, or the return of profits made from illegal actions.
The petitioner, Charles Kokesh, was the owner of two registered investment advisers. Between 1995 and 2006, he misappropriated $34.9 million from the business development companies operated by the investment advisers. The SEC pursued civil enforcement actions against him in 2009 and the jury found he violated the Securities Exchange Act, the Investment Advisers Act and the Investment Company Act. The United States District Court for the District of … Read More »
Broker Pays $2.5 Million Fine for Using Market Volatility to Hide Markups Yielding Unearned Commissions
Last week, Louis Capital Markets, L.P. (“LCM”) agreed to disgorge $2.5 million in settlement of charges that it charged false execution prices to its customers in order to generate secret commissions.
LCM executed orders to purchase and sell securities for its clients, without holding any securities in its own account and thus bore no market risk, i.e., riskless principal trades. It purported to generate profits by charging customers small commissions, typically between $0.01 and $0.03 per share. LCM, however, unbeknownst to customers, inflated those commissions, by embedding undisclosed markups and markdowns into reported execution prices. LCM provided those false execution prices—either lower sales prices or higher purchase prices than LCM actually obtained in the market—to its customers. Critically, LCM did not engage in this deceptive behavior for every trade, rather “LCM opportunistically added markups/markdowns to trades at times when customers were … Read More »
On March 3, 2017, the SEC published its complaint against Desarrolladora Homex, once one of Mexico’s leading homebuilders. The complaint alleged that Homex committed “massive fraud” when it reported the construction and sale of 100,000 homes that did not even exist.
The complaint alleges that Homex booked revenue from a development in the Mexican state of Guanajuato where it claimed that homes were built and sold by the end of 2011. However, satellite images taken in March 2012 showed that tens of thousands of those homes were “nothing but bare soil.” According to the SEC, through this fraudulent scheme Homex overstated its revenue by 355% (or approximately $3.3 billion).
Signs of trouble for Homex began as early as 2013 when Homex’s builder and his competitors suffered incredible losses on stocks and bonds. In 2014, Homex filed for the Mexican equivalent of bankruptcy … Read More »
Acting SEC Chairman Michael Piwowar has apparently revised the staff’s ability to subpoena records and investigative testimony (“formal order authority”) by returning the authority to grant formal order authority to the agency’s Director of Enforcement. While the SEC has not formally recognized this policy shift, multiple sources, including Law360 and the Wall Street Journal, have reported that Acting Chair Piwowar has recently implemented this change, which revokes the delegated authority to regional directors and enforcement associate directors to approve the staff’s requests for formal order authority.
In 2009, under Chair Mary Schapiro and as part of certain initiatives to enhance enforcement’s capabilities in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the SEC delegated its authority to authorize formal order authority to the Director of Enforcement. The Director of Enforcement, in turn, delegated this authority to regional directors and enforcement associate directors. As … Read More »
On February 7, 2017, the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) issued a Risk Alert discussing the five most frequent compliance topics identified in OCIE examinations of investment advisors. The Alert was compiled based on deficiency letters from over 1,000 investment adviser examinations completed during the past two years. The top five topics are: (1) the Compliance Rule; (2) Regulatory Filings; (3) the Custody Rule; (4) the Code of Ethics Rule; and (5) the Books and Records Rule.
The Compliance Rule
The Compliance Rule requires: (1) written and policies and procedures reasonably designed to prevent violations of the Advisers Act; (2) annual review of the policies and their implementation; and (3) a chief compliance officer who monitors the policies and procedures. Examples of common Compliance Rule problems included:
Advisers did not follow their compliance policies and procedures;
Annual reviews were not performed or … Read More »
District Court Invalidates Tolling Agreements in Criminal Securities Fraud Prosecution Case Due to Misunderstanding of Applicable Statute of Limitations
On January 30, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed the government’s indictment against Guy Gentile for a pump-and-dump securities fraud scheme. After his arrest Gentile admitted to having engaged in the scheme and agreed to cooperate, which included signing two tolling agreements, each extending the statute of limitations for one year. In dismissing the indictments, the court held that the tolling agreements were invalid and the applicable statute of limitations for securities fraud was five years, not six years.
According to the opinion, Gentile engaged in a securities fraud scheme that indisputably ended in June 2008, at which time the statute of limitations for securities fraud was five years. In 2010, however, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act extended the statute of limitations to six years for certain criminal securities fraud … Read More »