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Category Archives: SEC News

SEC Charges Boiler Room Operators in Florida-Based Penny Stock Manipulation Scheme

The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) charged First Resource Group, LLC, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida based firm, and its founder, David H. Stern, with conducting a fraudulent boiler room scheme in which they hyped stocks in two thinly traded companies, while behind the scenes they allegedly sold the same stock themselves for illegal profits.

The SEC charged that from December 2008 to May 2010, First Resource signed contracts with two promoters to solicit investors to buy stock of TrinityCare Senior Living, Inc. and Cytta Corporation.  In return, First Resource received shares of each company’s stock as compensation for soliciting investors.  Stern and First Resource used telemarketers to contact investors.  While the First Resource telemarketers were recommending that investors purchase TrinityCare and Cytta stock, Stern was selling the shares he received as compensation.  Stern also allegedly manipulated the markets for the two stocks, purchasing small amounts of each stock at prices above the market to raise the market price and create the false appearance of legitimate trading activity.  Furthermore, First Resource and Stern allegedly acted as unregistered broker-dealers.  The SEC’s complaint alleged that First Resource Group and Stern violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Sections 10(b) and 15(a) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5.

SEC Charged a “Criminal Club” with Insider-Trading in Dell, Inc. Shares

On January 18, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged two multi-billion dollar hedge fund advisory firms as well as seven fund managers and analysts involved in a $78 million insider trading scheme based on nonpublic information about Dell’s quarterly earnings.

Insider-trading is an illegal activity when a corporation’s stock or other securities are traded by individuals with special knowledge or access to non-public information about the company, giving them an unfair advantage over regular investors.  The SEC states that this case involves insider trading by members of a network closely associated hedge fund trades who illegally obtained material nonpublic information concerning public companies Dell, Inc and/or Nvidia Corporation, exchanged that information with others, and reaped massive profits from trading on that information.

Manhattan U.S Attorney, Preet Bharara, described the group of individuals involved as “a circle of friends who essentially formed a criminal club, whose purpose was profit and whose members regularly bartered lucrative inside information. It was a club where everyone scratched everyone else’s back.”  The Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement said in a statement that “These are not low-level employees succumbing to temptation by seizing a chance opportunity. These are sophisticated players who built a corrupt network to systematically and methodically obtain and exploit illegal inside information again and again at the expense of law-abiding investors and the integrity of the markets.”

The SEC alleges that during at least 2008, investment analyst Sandeep “Sandy” Goyal illegally obtained Dell quarterly earnings information and other performance data from an insider at Dell.  Goyal then tipped Diamondback Capital Management, LLC analyst Jesse Tortora with the inside information in advance of Dell’s first and second quarter earnings announcements in 2008, Tortora then tipped his portfolio manager at Diamondback, Todd Newman, then he traded on the information on behalf of the Diamondback hedge funds he controlled.  Tortora also tipped Spyridon “Sam” Adondakis, an analyst at Level Global Investors, L.P.  Adondakis tipped his manager Anthony Chiasson, who then traded on the inside information on behalf of Level Global hedge funds.  According to the SEC’s complaint, Tortora also tipped two others at firms other than Diamondback or Level Global with the Dell inside information: Jon Horvath of New York City and Danny Kuo of San Marino, Calif.  The SEC complaint further alleges that in addition to engaging in insider trading in Dell securities, at least five of the seven individual defendants and both investment adviser firm defendants obtained material nonpublic information concerning Nvidia, and traded on the basis of that information and/or passed the information on to other who traded.

The SEC’s investigation and complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan is part of an ongoing four-year old insider-trading probe named “Operation Perfect Hedge”, which so far has resulted in 63 arrests and 56 convictions.

UBS Global Asset Management Charged by SEC for Fund Overvaluation

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged an investment advisory arm of UBS with failing to properly price securities in three mutual funds that it managed.  In the complaint, the Commission states that this proceeding concerns the misstatement of the Net Asset Values (“NAV’s”) of certain registered investment companies (the “Funds”) managed by UBSGAM. UBSGAM failed to cause certain fixed-income securities in the portfolios of the Funds to be valued in accordance with the Funds’ fair valuation procedures. UBSGAM’s failure to properly fair value these securities resulted in a misstatement of the NAVs of the Funds.

Netassetvalue (NAV) represents a fund’s per share marketvalue. This is the price at which investors buy (“bid price”) fund shares from a fund company and sell them (“redemption price”) to a fund company. It is derived by dividing the total value of all the cash and securities in a fund’s portfolio, less any liabilities, by the number of shares outstanding. A NAV computation is undertaken once at the end of each trading day based on the closing market prices of the portfolio’s securities.  This number is important to investors, because it is from NAV that the price per unit of a fund is calculated.

The SEC found that in June 2008, UBSGAM bought 54 fixed income securities; most of them were purchases of non-agency mortgage-backed securities.  Forty eight of these securities were then valued at prices substantially in excess of the transaction prices, including many at least 100% higher.  The valuations used by UBS were provided by pricing sources that did not appear to take into account the prices at which the mutual funds had purchased the securities, the SEC said.  Because the Funds did not properly or timely fair value the Securities, the NAV’s of the funds were misstated between one cent and 10 cents per share for several days in June 2008, violating rule 22c-1 adopted pursuant to Section 22c of the Investment Company Act.  Merri Jo Gillette, Regional Director of the SEC’s Chicago Regional Office said “Fortunately this misconduct was brought to light quickly, so the duration was short and the harm to investors minimal.”

UBSGAM agreed to pay $300,000 to settle the SEC’s charges.

SEC Charges Life Partners Holdings for Fraudulent Activities Involving Life Settlements

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged Life Partners Holdings, a publicly traded, Texas based financial services firm, and three of its senior executives: Chairman and CEO – Brian Pardo, President and General Counsel – Scott Peden, and its CFO – David Martin with disclosure and accounting fraud.

Life Partners buys and sells interests in life insurance policies on the secondary market. In these deals, life insurance owners sell their policies to investors in exchange for a smaller lump-sum payment.

A life settlement is a financial transaction in which the owner of a life insurance policy sells an unneeded policy to a third party for more than its cash value and less than its face value. A life settlement is an alternative to the surrender or lapse of a policy, or when the owner of a life insurance policy no longer needs or wants the policy, the policy is underperforming or can no longer afford to pay the premiums.

The SEC alleges that Life Partners executives misled shareholders by failing to disclose a significant risk to Life Partners’ business.  The company was underestimating the life expectancy rate used to price its transactions.  This estimate is an important and critical factor used to calculate the company’s revenue and profit margins.   Additionally, the accounting method used by Life Partners, overvalued the company’s assets creating the appearance of a steady stream of earnings from brokering the life settlement transactions.    As a result, the SEC says, Life Partners materially misstated net income from fiscal year 2007 through the third quarter of fiscal year 2011.

“Life Partners duped its shareholders by employing an unqualified medical doctor to assign baseless life-expectancy estimates to the underlying insurance policies,” said Robert Khuzami, head of the SEC’s enforcement division. “This deception misled shareholders into thinking that the company’s revenue model was sustainable when in fact it was illusory.”

Additionally, the SEC charged Pardo and Peden with insider trading, for allegedly selling shares of the company while having knowledge and in possession of material, non-public information showing that Life Partners, Inc. underestimated life expectancy estimates.   During this period of time, Pardo and Peden sold about $11.5 million and $300,000, respectively, of Life Partners stock at inflated prices, while knowing the revenue estimates were not accurate.

SEC Files Charges against Three Individuals in Connection with a $16 Million Ponzi Scheme

On December 29, 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil fraud action against Kevin J. Wilcox, Jennifer E. Thoennes, and Eric R. Nelson for their role in a $16 million Ponzi scheme operated by Joseph Nelson. The SEC filed a separate lawsuit against Joseph Nelson and others involved in the scheme.

A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors. Ponzi scheme organizers often solicit new investors by promising to invest funds in opportunities claimed to generate high returns with little or no risk. In many Ponzi schemes, the fraudsters focus on attracting new money to make promised payments to earlier-stage investors and to use for personal expenses, instead of engaging in any legitimate investment activity.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that from January 2007 to June 2010, Joseph Nelson and his associates, including Wilcox and Thoennes, solicited at least $16 million from more than 100 persons to invest in promissory notes offered by Joseph Nelson’s companies.  Most of the people the three targeted were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They met them at church functions and through church connections.  The investors were lured by promises of extraordinary rates of return. Most investors were given promissory notes promising returns of 14% to 60% on an annualized basis and additional premium of 20% to 60% at maturity. Some investors were simply told that they would double their money.

The SEC alleges that Nelson and his companies never purchased or sold a single merchant credit card portfolio. The money invested with Nelson and his companies was instead used by Nelson to make incremental payments to investors in a Ponzi-scheme fashion, to pay his associates, including Wilcox and Thoennes, and to pay his own lavish personal expenses, as well as those of other family members.

The SEC’s complaint also alleges that Eric Nelson, Joseph Nelson’s brother, created fictitious documents including bank account statements to lure and deceived investors into believing that Joseph Nelson and his companies were engaged in the business of buying and selling merchant credit card portfolios and that these were viable investments.

In the complaint, Wilcox, Thoennes, and Eric Nelson were each charged with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.  The complaint also alleges that Wilcox and Thoennes violated the broker-dealer and securities registration provisions of the securities laws.