A June 15, 2017 settlement with two former executives of a publicly-traded, multinational freight forwarding and logistics company provides the most recent example of two emerging SEC enforcement initiatives in financial reporting and accounting-based actions that we spotlighted recently – a non-reliance on financial statement materiality and an absence of fraud-based allegations. Exchange Act Rel. No. 80947 (Jun. 15, 2017). According to the SEC, Eric W. Kirchner and Richard G. Rodick, the former chief executive officer and chief financial officer of UTi Worldwide, Inc. (“UTi”), purportedly were responsible for inadequate Management’s Discussion & Analysis (“MD&A”) disclosures in a Form 10-Q that UTi issued during fiscal year 2013. Without admitting or denying the findings, both agreed to settle purported violations of Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-13, and 13a-14, thereunder, and to pay a $40,000 civil penalty.
According … Read More »
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 Insider Trading Update: A New Remedy, A Governmental Insider Case, & An Emboldened SEC After Salman
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently announced two significant insider trading cases. These pronouncements serve as reminders that the new Commission under the Trump Administration, while pursuing its agenda, will continue to ensure that the financial industry is “playing by the rules.” In addition, these particular cases involve: the SEC using a remedy that it had not used before in this context; and the SEC continuing to investigate and bring cases that involve governmental “insider” information.
Regarding the SEC extending the use of a “tool” from its remedy arsenal to the insider trading area, last week the SEC entered into a settlement with a billion-dollar hedge fund and its founder, which included an undertaking for an independent compliance consultant. The novel extension of this remedy to an insider trading settlement prompted the Acting Enforcement Division Director to issue a statement. … 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 »
Chicago partner Jim Lundy and associate Carrie DeLange, members of Drinker Biddle’s SEC & Regulatory Enforcement Team, authored “Compliance and Legal Officer Guidelines to Prevent Non-Line Supervisory Liability” for the National Society of Compliance Professionals’ (NSCP) professional journal, Currents, March 2017 edition.
The article provides guidance and recommendations to compliance officers and in-house attorneys with investment management and broker-dealer firms regarding the legal background and recommended practices to avoid supervisory liability with respect to the violative conduct of business personnel. Specifically, the article examines the applicable statutes and rules, the controversial “Gutfreund Standard,” and the SEC’s more recent guidance from a Division of Trading and Markets “FAQ” and speeches. Jim and Carrie build on this information to provide recommendations for investment management and broker-dealer compliance and in-house personnel to manage satisfying their compliance obligations while dealing with the potentially problematic conduct … 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 »
Ninth Circuit: You Don’t Need to Report Securities Violations to the SEC to Be Protected by the Dodd-Frank Anti-Retaliation Provision
On March 8, 2017, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the anti-retaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act protects individuals who make purely internal disclosures of alleged securities violations. The decision, Somers v. Digital Realty Trust, Inc., No. 15-17352 (9th Cir. March 8, 2017), aligns the Ninth Circuit with the Second Circuit, which reached the same result in Berman v. Neo@ogilvy, LLC, 801 F.3d 145 (2d Cir. 2015). These opinions stand in stark contrast to the position of the Fifth Circuit, which concluded in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), L.L.C., 720 F.3d 620 (5th Cir. 2013), that in order to enjoy the protection of the anti-retaliation provision an individual must report the alleged securities violation to the SEC. While the Ninth Circuit’s decision is the latest entry in this evolving circuit … 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 »