News and Articles

Monthly Archives: June 2013

FINRA Disciplinary Action Against Robert Ronald Liggero

In June 2013, FINRA reported that it had fined and suspended for twenty days Florida Registered Representative Robert Ronald Liggero.

During his association with Bull & Bear Brokerage Services, Inc., Mr. Liggero signed the names of two customers on documents related to the opening of IRA accounts without the customers’ knowledge or consent.  By signing their names on documents, he violated NASD Conduct Rule 2110.  Mr. Liggero consented to a 20 day suspension and a $5,000.00 fine.

In settling this matter Robert Ronald Liggero neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.  It was unclear whether the customer initiated a FINRA arbitration, or any other type of securities arbitration.

FINRA Disciplinary Action Against Frederico Goldin

In June 2013, FINRA reported that it had fined and suspended for one month Florida Registered Representative Frederico Goldin.

During his association with ITA Financial Services, LLC, Mr. Goldin borrowed a total of $28,688.47 from customers.  When the loans were made, ITA did not have written procedures that allowed its representatives to borrow money from customers.  As a result of the foregoing, FINRA Rules 3240 and 2010 were violated.

In settling this matter Frederico Goldin neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.  Because the loans were repaid, it is unlikely that the customers initiated a FINRA arbitration, or any other type of securities arbitration.

FINRA Disciplinary Action Against Sheila J. Justin

In June 2013,  FINRA reported that it had fined and suspended for five months New York Registered Representative Sheila J. Justin.

During her association with Hazard & Siegel, Inc., Ms. Justin was listed as the broker of record on several accounts and variable annuity transactions, but allowed another individual to service the accounts and effect the transactions.  The findings state that she knew that the individual signed her name on at least 332 variable annuity applications, thus rendering these records and related books and records of her member firm inaccurate.  This conduct constitutes violations of FINRA’s rule prohibiting unethical conduct and recordkeeping.

In settling this matter, Sheila J. Justin neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings.  It is unclear whether any of the 332 customers initiated FINRA arbitration proceedings, or any other type of securities arbitration.

FINRA Fines StateTrust Investments $1 Million and Orders $353,000 in Restitution for Charging Unfair Prices in Bond Transactions

On June 26, 2013, FINRA announced that it had fined StateTrust Investments, Inc. $1.045 million and sanctioned the firm’s head trader, Jose Luis Turnes, for charging excessive markups and markdowns in corporate bond transactions and, 85, in particular, that operated as a fraud or deceit upon the customers. FINRA also ordered StateTrust to pay more than $353,000 in restitution, plus interest, to customers who received unfair prices. In addition, Turnes was suspended for six months and fined $75,000. In a related April 2012 action, Jeffrey Cimbal, StateTrust’s Chief Compliance Officer, was fined $20,000 and suspended for five months in a principal capacity for failing to supervise Turnes.

FINRA found that StateTrust charged excessive markups/markdowns to customers in a total of 563 transactions. In 227 instances, the markups or markdowns exceeded 5 percent. In 85 of those instances, StateTrust, acting through Turnes, charged excessive markups and markdowns, ranging from 8 percent to over 23 percent away from the prevailing market price, which operated as a fraud or deceit upon the customers. In each of the 85 instances, StateTrust either bought bonds from its bank or insurance affiliate and then sold the bonds to customers at a price that was 8 percent or more away from the prevailing market; or bought bonds from customers at prices that were 8 percent or more below the prevailing market, and then sold them to its bank or insurance affiliate at a slight markup. During that period, Turnes was also the chairman and largest indirect shareholder of the bank and its insurance affiliates.

StateTrust, Turnes and Cimbal neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA’s findings. FINRA’s investigations were conducted by the Departments of Market Regulation, Member Regulation and Enforcement.

SEC Charges China-Based Company and CEO in Latest Cross-Border Working Group Case

On June 20, 2013, the SEC charged a China-based company and the CEO with fraudulently misleading investors about its financial condition by touting cash balances that were millions of dollars higher than actual amounts.

The case is the latest from the SEC’s Cross-Border Working Group that focuses on companies with substantial foreign operations that are publicly traded in the U.S. The Working Group has enabled the SEC to file fraud cases against more than 65 foreign issuers or executives and deregister the securities of more than 50 companies.

The SEC alleged that China MediaExpress, which purports to operate a television advertising network on inter-city and airport express buses in the People’s Republic of China, began falsely reporting significant increases in its business operations, financial condition, and profits almost immediately upon becoming a publicly-traded company through a reverse merger. In addition to grossly overstating its cash balances, China MediaExpress also falsely stated in public filings and press releases that two multi-national corporations were its advertising clients when, in fact, they were not. The company’s chairman and CEO Zheng Cheng signed the public filings and attested to their accuracy. After suspicions of fraud were raised by the company’s external auditor and an internal investigation ensued, Zheng attempted to pay off a senior accountant assigned to the case.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in Washington D.C., China MediaExpress became a publicly-traded company in October 2009 and began materially overstating its cash balances in press releases and SEC filings. For example, its 2009 annual report filed on March 31, 2010, reported $57 million in cash on hand when it actually had a cash balance of merely $141,000. Later that year on November 9, 2010, China MediaExpress issued a press release boasting a cash balance of $170 million at the end of the third quarter of its fiscal year. The actual cash balance was just $10 million.

The SEC’s complaint stated that after China Media materially misrepresented its financial condition, its stock price tripled to more than $20 per share. At the same time, China Media received $53 million from a hedge fund pursuant to a sale of the company’s preferred and common stock to that fund. Zheng was financially incentivized to misrepresent China MediaExpress’ financial condition, as he had agreements to receive stock if the company met certain net income targets. For instance, when China Media met net income targets for fiscal year 2009, Zheng personally received 600,000 shares of China MediaExpress stock that were worth approximately $6 million at the time.

The SEC’s complaint charged Zheng and China MediaExpress with violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. The complaint charged China MediaExpress with violations of the reporting, books and records, and internal control provisions, and charged Zheng with violating the SEC’s rules prohibiting lying to auditors and making false certifications required under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The complaint seeks financial penalties, permanent injunctions, disgorgement, and an officer and director bar against Zheng.

SEC Charges San Diego-Based Promoter in Penny Stock Scheme

On June 18, 2013, the SEC charged a penny stock promoter for fraudulently arranging the purchase of $2.5 million worth of shares in a penny stock company in an attempt to generate the false appearance of market interest and induce other investors to purchase the stock.

The SEC alleged that David F. Bahr of Rancho Santa Fe, California, artificially increased the trading price and volume of iTrackr Systems stock when he conspired with a purported businessman with access to a network of corrupt brokers. What Bahr didn’t know was that the purported businessman was actually an undercover FBI agent. During a test run of their arrangement, Bahr paid a $3,000 kickback in exchange for the initial purchase of $14,000 worth of iTrackr shares.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California filed criminal charges against Bahr.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in San Diego, Bahr set out to give the markets a false impression of supply and demand in iTrackr stock where none actually existed. He coordinated the purchase of iTrackr shares so the stock price could remain high enough for him to effectively promote it at a later date and artificially inflate the price even higher. Bahr arranged for the dissemination of promotional material that overstated the likelihood of iTrackr’s success and future profits.

The SEC’s complaint alleged that Bahr connected with the undercover agent in November 2012 and was told that that he represented a group of registered representatives who had trading discretion over certain client accounts. In exchange for a 30 percent kickback, the brokers could arrange to purchase iTrackr stock through their customers’ accounts and hold the shares for up to a year in order to avoid sales that might decrease iTrackr’s stock price. Bahr agreed to pay the kickback and sought the purchase of 10 million iTrackr shares at an average of 25 cents per share for a total of $2.5 million. Bahr agreed not to disclose the kickback to any iTrackr investors.

According to the complaint, Bahr agreed to a test run involving the purchase of modest amounts of iTrackr stock on the open market, and Bahr would then pay a small commission. During the first week of December 2012, a total of 135,000 iTrackr shares were purchased, which represented approximately 32 percent of iTrackr’s trading volume during that time.  Bahr was then informed that the test purchases totaled approximately $14,000, and he owed a $4,000 commission. Bahr paid $3,000 through a wire transfer, and he asked another person to pay the remaining $1,000.

The SEC’s complaint alleged that Bahr violated Section 17(a)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. The complaint is seeking financial penalties, a penny stock bar, and a permanent injunction against Bahr.

SEC Charges Two Executives in Ponzi Scheme At Dallas-Based Medical Insurance Company

On June 17, 2013, the SEC charged two executives at a Dallas-based medical insurance company with operating a $10 million Ponzi scheme that victimized at least 80 investors.

The SEC alleged that Duncan MacDonald and Gloria Solomon solicited investments for Global Corporate Alliance (GCA) by promoting it as a proven business with a strong track record of generating revenue from the sale of limited-benefit medical insurance. In reality, GCA was merely a start-up company with no operating history and virtually no revenue. As they raised investor funds, MacDonald and Solomon used proceeds from new investors to pay returns to existing investors. Once they couldn’t find any new investors, MacDonald and Solomon used a stall campaign of purported excuses to delay making any further payments to investors.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas filed criminal charges against MacDonald and Solomon.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Dallas, MacDonald set out in 2008 to start an insurance company that would market medical insurance to large groups. He tried for months to find a single investor to fund the company’s initial capital needs, but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, MacDonald and Solomon began spending money on the business before raising any capital. They hired employees, heavily marketed the program, and secured a sponsorship agreement with a large national membership group. MacDonald was GCA’s president and chairman, and Solomon was chief administrative officer.

The SEC alleged that when unable to land a major investor, MacDonald fractionalized his efforts and sought individual investors who could contribute smaller amounts. When pitching GCA to investors as well as brokers assisting him in identifying investors, MacDonald significantly misrepresented the history and state of his business. Besides misleading investors to believe there were more than 100,000 premium-paying members, MacDonald misrepresented that GCA had previously sold a portion of its revenue stream from paying members to a Chinese hedge fund. GCA had no relationships with a Chinese hedge fund or any other institutional investors.

According to the SEC’s complaint, MacDonald and Solomon began fabricating enrollment numbers to make it appear that GCA was enrolling new members each month. They created a so-called “Monthly Overage Disbursement Statement” that purported to show the monthly member enrollments and cancellations. The statements were meant to look as if they were generated from a database, but they were actually made in Excel and populated by Solomon. These monthly statements were provided to the brokers by MacDonald and Solomon so they could be used to induce investments from potential investors and serve as the basis for payments to existing investors. At MacDonald’s direction, Solomon was primarily responsible for making the monthly payments to investors based on the false enrollment numbers. In reality, these were Ponzi payments rather than revenues from policyholders.

The SEC alleged that by the time the scheme collapsed, GCA had raised nearly $10 million from investors and returned about $2 million to investors in the form of Ponzi payments. MacDonald and Solomon each took around $1 million of investor funds, and spent the remaining investor funds on various business-related expenses until GCA’s accounts were left with a negative balance. After investor money was gone and GCA could no longer make monthly payments to investors, MacDonald and Solomon spent the next year concocting various reasons to investors about why they could not make payments. Meanwhile, MacDonald was pursuing alternative means of financing the company and redeeming the investors, but no more money ever came.

The SEC’s complaint charged MacDonald and Solomon with securities fraud and conducting an unregistered securities offering while acting as unregistered broker-dealers. The SEC seeks various relief for investors including disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, financial penalties, and permanent injunctions.

Any investor interested in speaking with a securities attorney may contact David A. Weintraub, P.A., 7805 SW 6 Court, Plantation, FL 33324.  By phone: 954.693.7577 or 800.718.1422.

FINRA, SEC Warn Investors: Don’t Trade on Pump-And-Dump Stock Emails

On June 12, 2013 FINRA and the SEC issued an Investor Alert titled “Inbox Alert—Don’t Trade on Pump-And-Dump Stock Emails,” warning investors of a sharp increase in email-linked “pump-and-dump” stock schemes.

FINRA and the SEC’s joint Alert noted that the latest McAfee Threats Report confirms a steep rise in spam email linked to bogus “pump-and-dump” stock schemes designed to trick unsuspecting investors. These false claims could also be made on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as on bulletin boards and chat room pages.

Pump-and-dump promoters frequently claim to have “inside” information about an impending development. Others may say they use an “infallible” system that uses a combination of economic and stock market data to pick stocks. These scams are the “inbox” equivalent of a boiler room sales operation, hounding investors with potentially false information about a company.

The fraudsters behind these scams stand to gain by selling their shares after the stock price is “pumped” up by the buying frenzy they create through the mass email push. Once these fraudsters “dump” their shares by selling them and stop hyping the stock, investors lose their money or are left with worthless, or near worthless, stock.

SEC Charges Top Officials At Investment Adviser in Scheme to Hide Theft From Pension Fund of Detroit Police and Firefighters

On June 10, 2013, the SEC charged the leader of a Detroit-based investment adviser for stealing nearly $3.1 million from the pension fund that the firm manages for the city’s police officers and firefighters so he could buy two strip malls in California. The SEC charged four other top officials at the firm for helping him try to cover up the theft.

The SEC alleged that Chauncey C. Mayfield, who is the founder, president, and CEO of MayfieldGentry Realty Advisors, took the money from the Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit without obtaining permission. He used it to purchase the shopping properties and title them in the name of a MayfieldGentry affiliate. Other executives at MayfieldGentry gradually became aware that Mayfield had siphoned money away from their biggest client. Rather than come clean about the theft and risk losing the sizeable business the firm received from the pension fund, MayfieldGentry officials instead devised a plan to secretly repay the pension fund by cutting costs at the firm and selling the strip malls. Their plan ultimately failed when MayfieldGentry could not raise enough capital to put the stolen amount back into the pension fund.

Mayfield and his firm agreed to settle the charges by paying back the stolen amount.

The other MayfieldGentry executives charged in the SEC’s complaint are chief financial officer Blair D. Ackman, chief operating officer Marsha Bass, chief investment officer W. Emery Matthew, and chief compliance officer and general counsel Alicia M. Diaz.

The SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Detroit, alleged that Mayfield took the money from a trust account for the pension fund in 2008. The stolen money could have provided a year of benefits for more than 100 retired police officers, firefighters, and surviving spouses and children. Shortly thereafter, Mayfield told Ackman about the misappropriation, and by May 2011 the other principals at MayfieldGentry were aware of the misdeed. They proceeded to hide the theft by affirmatively misleading the pension fund.

According to the SEC’s complaint, MayfieldGentry and its executives continued to cover up the theft until they finally informed the pension fund on the evening before the SEC filed a complaint against Mayfield and his firm in May 2012 for their participation in a “pay-to-play” scheme involving the former mayor and treasurer of Detroit. Upon learning of the theft, the pension fund promptly terminated its relationship with MayfieldGentry.

The SEC’s complaint alleged that MayfieldGentry and Chauncey Mayfield violated Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and Ackman, Bass, Matthews, and Diaz aided and abetted those violations. Mayfield and his firm agreed to pay disgorgement in the amount of $3,076,365.88 and be permanently enjoined from violating Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Advisers Act. They neither admit nor deny the allegations in the settlement, which is subject to court approval. In a parallel criminal matter, Mayfield is awaiting sentencing in connection with his guilty plea for participation in the pay-to-play scheme.

SEC Freezes Assets of Thailand-Based Trader for Insider Trading Ahead of Smithfield Foods Acquisition Announcement

On June 6, 2013, the SEC announced an emergency court order to freeze the assets of a trader in Bangkok, Thailand, who made more than $3 million in profits by trading in advance of last week’s announcement that Smithfield Foods agreed to a multi-billion dollar acquisition by China-based Shuanghui International Holdings.

The SEC alleged that Badin Rungruangnavarat purchased thousands of out-of-the-money Smithfield call options and single-stock futures contracts from May 21 to May 28 in an account at Interactive Brokers LLC. Rungruangnavarat allegedly made these purchases based on material, nonpublic information about the potential acquisition, and among his possible sources is a Facebook friend who is an associate director at an investment bank to a different company that was exploring an acquisition of Smithfield. After profiting from his timely and aggressive trading, Rungruangnavarat sought to withdraw more than $3 million from his account on June 3.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed under seal in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Smithfield publicly announced on May 29 that Shuanghui agreed to acquire the company for $4.7 billion, which would represent the largest-ever acquisition of a U.S. company by a Chinese buyer. Smithfield, which is headquartered in Smithfield, Va., is the world’s largest pork producer and processor. Following the announcement, Smithfield stock opened nearly 25 percent higher than the previous day’s closing price.

The SEC obtained the emergency court order late on June 5, 2013 on an ex parte basis. The order froze the proceeds of Rungruangnavarat’s securities purchases, granted expedited discovery, and prohibited Rungruangnavarat from destroying evidence.

The SEC’s complaint alleged that Rungruangnavarat violated Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. In addition to the emergency relief, the SEC is seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains with prejudgment interest, a financial penalty, and a permanent injunction.