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 »
Over the last two weeks, the SEC has put robo-advisers on notice that they are on the staff’s radar. First, on February 23, 2017, the SEC’s Division of Investment Management, along with the SEC’s Office of Compliance, Inspections, and Examinations, issued a Guidance Update for robo-advisers. The term “robo-adviser” refers to registered automated investment advisers that provide investment advice that uses computer algorithms. Robo-advisers generally collect information about a client’s financial goals, income, assets, investment horizon, and risk tolerance by way of an online or electronic questionnaire. With limited human interaction, robo-advisers use this information to create and manage investment portfolios for clients. Robo-advisers are often more economical than traditional investment advisers. Robo-advisers, which began as an appeal to millennials, are now widely becoming popular with all age groups and types of investors.
The Guidance Update focused on in three unique … Read More »
Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Acting Chairman, senior leadership across Divisions and Offices, and former SEC Commissioners spoke at the “SEC Speaks” Conference 2017. Senior leadership from the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (OCIE) used its panel and workshop to provide guidance on the reshaping of its examination programs that it began in 2016. Below we outline the revamped OCIE.
OCIE’s Reorganization & Reallocation of Resources
The OCIE panel included OCIE’s Acting Director and its Deputy Director. The commentators for the panel were former SEC Chairman Hon. Harvey L. Pitt and former SEC Commissioners Hon. Paul S. Atkins and Hon. Daniel M. Gallagher. At the beginning of the presentation, OCIE’s Acting Director reminded the audience that OCIE’s mission is to protect investors, ensure market integrity, and support responsible capital formation through risk-focused strategies that: 1) improve compliance; … 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 3, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit rejected an accountant’s argument that the imposition of both criminal charges and SEC sanctions on the basis of the same alleged conduct violated the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause. This appellate court ruling illustrates that defendants in SEC investigations and enforcement proceedings must be mindful that the imposition of civil penalties, disgorgement, and permanent bars do not preclude the prospect of criminal prosecution.
Thomas D. Melvin (“Melvin”), a certified public accountant, agreed in April 2013 to pay the SEC a civil penalty of $108,930 and disgorgement of $68,826 to settle alleged violations of Sections 10(b) and 14(e) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 10b-5 and 14e-3 thereunder. According to the SEC, Melvin purportedly had disclosed confidential insider information that he received from a … 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 »
In January, the SEC settled no fewer than seven enforcement proceedings with companies that involved alleged violations of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). While the sheer number of settlements would have been remarkable on its own, when examined individually, these proceedings reveal both emerging enforcement initiatives and recent historical trends in accounting-based actions. This article spotlights three particularly noteworthy observations from the first month of 2017.
The Emergence of Non-GAAP Financial Measures
In 2016, the SEC placed growing emphasis on perceived abuses of non-GAAP financial measures under Regulation G and Item 10(e) of Regulation S-K. This included the Division of Corporation Finance’s (CorpFin) Compliance & Disclosure Interpretations in May and former Chair Mary Jo White’s speech before the International Corporate Governance Network in June. On January 18, 2007, the SEC settled its first enforcement action predicated on this alleged activity. Exchange … Read More »
Philadelphia partner Mary Hansen and counsel Stephen Stroup authored an article for Law360 titled “When SEC Knocks: 8 Immediate Actions for Every Company.” The article details the essential steps that an investment company or public company should undertake to best position itself from the outset during an SEC formal or informal investigation. These steps include:
Retaining experienced SEC counsel;
Promptly contacting the SEC staff;
Preserving potentially relevant documents;
Examining pertinent insurance policies;
Assessing external disclosure obligations;
Conducting internal inquiries;
Identifying probable conflicts of interest; and
Weighing the benefits of cooperation.
On January 12, 2017, the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) announced its examination priorities for 2017. This year’s priorities are focused around three topics: (1) retail investors, (2) senior investors and retirement investments, and (3) market-wide risks. These priorities affect investment advisers, investment companies, broker-dealers, transfer agents, clearing agencies, private fund advisers, national securities exchanges, and municipal advisers.
Protecting retail investors remains a primary concern of OCIE. So it’s no surprise that its detailed areas of focus continue to include: risks related to electronic investment advice (i.e. “robo-advising”), “wrap fee” programs where investors are charged a single fee for bundled advisory and brokerage services, and “Never-Before Examined Investment Advisers,” an initiative started in 2014. OCIE will also continue to focus on its Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs).
To protect senior investors, OCIE will continue its ReTIRE initiative with focuses on investment … Read More »