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This is a photo of the National Register of Historic Places listing with reference number 7000063

Monday, April 10, 2017

SEC TAKES ACTION AGAINST UNDISCLOSED PAID STOCK TOUTING

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Press Release
SEC: Payments for Bullish Articles on Stocks Must Be Disclosed to Investors
27 Firms and Individuals Charged With Fraudulent Promotion of Stocks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2017-79
Washington D.C., April 10, 2017—
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced enforcement actions against 27 individuals and entities behind various alleged stock promotion schemes that left investors with the impression they were reading independent, unbiased analyses on investing websites while writers were being secretly compensated for touting company stocks.

SEC investigations uncovered scenarios in which public companies hired promoters or communications firms to generate publicity for their stocks, and the firms subsequently hired writers to publish articles that did not publicly disclose the payments from the companies.  The writers allegedly posted bullish articles about the companies on the internet under the guise of impartiality when in reality they were nothing more than paid advertisements.  More than 250 articles specifically included false statements that the writers had not been compensated by the companies they were writing about, the SEC alleges.

“If a company pays someone to publish or publicize articles about its stock, it must be disclosed to the investing public.  These companies, promoters, and writers allegedly misled investors by disguising paid promotions as objective and independent analyses,” said Stephanie Avakian, Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

According to the SEC’s orders as well as a pair of complaints filed in federal district court, deceptive measures were often used to hide the true sources of the articles from investors.  For example, one writer wrote under his own name as well as at least nine pseudonyms, including a persona he invented who claimed to be “an analyst and fund manager with almost 20 years of investment experience.”  One of the stock promotion firms went so far as to have some writers it hired sign non-disclosure agreements specifically preventing them from disclosing compensation they received.

“Deception takes many forms.  Our markets cannot operate fairly when there are deliberate efforts to reach prospective investors with positive articles about a stock while hiding that the companies paid for those articles,” said Melissa Hodgman, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

The SEC filed fraud charges against three public companies and seven stock promotion or communications firms as well as two company CEOs, six individuals at the firms, and nine writers.  Of those charged, 17 have agreed to settlements that include disgorgement or penalties ranging from approximately $2,200 to nearly $3 million based on frequency and severity of their actions.  The SEC’s litigation continues against 10 others.

The SEC also instituted separate charges against another company for its involvement in circulating promotional materials that did not comply with prospectus requirements under the federal securities laws.  The company settled the case.

The SEC today released an investor alert warning that articles on an investment research website that appear to be an unbiased source of information or provide commentary on multiple stocks may be part of an undisclosed paid stock promotion.  Investors should never make an investment based solely on information published on an investment research website.  When making an investment decision, thoroughly research the company using multiple sources.

“Stock promotion schemes may be conducted through investment research websites,” said Lori Schock, Director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.  “Investors looking for objective investment information should be aware that fraudsters may use these websites to profit at investors’ expense.”

The SEC’s investigations were conducted by Beth Groves, Ian Rupell, Shelby Hunt, Jim Blenko, and Jonathan Jacobs with assistance from Michi Harthcock, Jamie Wohlert, Suzanne Romajas, and Frederick Block.  The cases were supervised by Rami Sibay, and the litigation will be led by Ms. Romajas and Patrick Costello.

Monday, March 27, 2017

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT COMPANY ACCUSED OF SCAMMING THE ELDERLY

From:  U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Press Release
SEC Halts Fraud Targeting Seniors
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2017-72
Washington D.C., March 27, 2017—
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced an emergency asset freeze and temporary restraining order against a Chicago-based investment adviser and his financial management company accused of scamming elderly investors out of millions of dollars.

The SEC alleges that Daniel H. Glick and his unregistered investment advisory firm Financial Management Strategies (FMS) provided clients with false account statements to hide Glick’s use of client funds to pay personal and business expenses, purchase a Mercedes-Benz, and pay off loans and debts among other misuses.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Glick was barred by FINRA in 2014 and had his Certified Financial Planner designation and Certified Public Accountant license revoked for conduct unrelated to today’s SEC charges.

“As alleged in our complaint, Daniel Glick raised millions of dollars from elderly clients by claiming that he would pay their bills, handle their taxes, and invest on their behalf.  In reality, Daniel Glick used much of their money to do what was best for Daniel Glick,” said David Glockner, Director of the SEC’s Chicago Regional Office.

The SEC’s complaint also names Glick Accounting Services, Glick’s business partner David B. Slagter, and Glick’s business acquaintance Edward H. Forte as relief defendants for the purposes of recovering client funds that Glick transferred or paid them in the form of advances or loans.

The court issued a temporary restraining order against Glick and FMS at the SEC’s request, and issued an order freezing the assets of Glick, FMS, and Glick Accounting Services.

The SEC encourages investors to check the background of anyone offering to sell them investments.

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, is being conducted by Michelle Muñoz Durk and John Kustusch, and the case is being supervised by Jeffrey A. Shank.  The SEC’s litigation will be led by Steven C. Seeger.  The SEC’s examination that led to the investigation was conducted by Terrence Bohan, Michael Altschuler, and Christine Little, and it was supervised by Rosanne Smith.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

CASINO-GAMING COMPANY TO PAY HALF-MILLION PENALTY IN WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION CASE

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Press Release
SEC: Casino-Gaming Company Retaliated Against Whistleblower
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-204

Washington D.C., Sept. 29, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that casino-gaming company International Game Technology (IGT) has agreed to pay a half-million dollar penalty for firing an employee with several years of positive performance reviews because he reported to senior management and the SEC that the company's financial statements might be distorted.

In its second whistleblower retaliation case since the Dodd-Frank Act authorized the agency to bring such charges, the SEC found that the employee was removed from significant work assignments within weeks of raising concerns about the company's cost accounting model.  He was terminated approximately three months later.

"Strong enforcement of the anti-retaliation protections is critical to the success of the SEC's whistleblower program.  This whistleblower noticed something that he felt might lead to inaccurate financial reporting and law violations, and he was wrongfully targeted for doing the right thing and reporting it," said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

"Bringing retaliation cases, including this first stand-alone retaliation case, illustrates the high priority we place on ensuring a safe environment for whistleblowers,” said Jane A. Norberg, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower.  "We will continue to exercise our anti-retaliation authority when companies take reprisals for whistleblowing efforts."

According to the SEC's order, IGT conducted an internal investigation into the allegations made by the whistleblower, who did not oversee the company's accounting functions, and determined its reported financial statements contained no misstatements.

Without admitting or denying the SEC's findings, IGT agreed to pay the $500,000 penalty and cease and desist from committing or causing any further violations of Section 21F(h) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Brent W. Wilner, Rhoda H. Chang, and Gary Y. Leung, and the case was supervised by Diana K. Tani, John W. Berry, C. Dabney O’Riordan, and Michele W. Layne of the Los Angeles Regional Office.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

THE WANING OF THE WHIZ

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Press Release
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“Stock Trading Whiz Kid” to Pay $1.5 Million to Settle Stock Newsletter Fraud Charges
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-184

Washington D.C., Sept. 13, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that a self-proclaimed “stock trading whiz kid” and his stock newsletter company in Los Angeles have agreed to pay nearly $1.5 million to settle charges that they defrauded subscribers through false statements and misrepresentations.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Manuel E. Jesus and his newsletter company Wealthpire Inc. used advertising materials and websites touting him as “the untutored prodigy of stock investing” under the alias Manny Backus.  A self-purported “math whiz” who boasted a “skyscraping” IQ and training as a professional chess player, Backus claimed to be actively trading in the stock market with “real money” by age 19.  The SEC’s complaint also states that Wealthpire materials claimed that Backus made millions of dollars before “deciding to help other investors” by starting an alert service that let traders copy his every trading move.

The SEC alleges that from at least January 2012 to September 2014, Backus was not trading in the same stocks recommended by his services as he claimed.  He wasn’t the one making all of the recommendations either.  For instance, the SEC’s complaint alleges that Robert C. Joiner was paid by Wealthpire to make all of the stock picks for one alert service without any guidance from Backus on how to choose them.  Joiner allegedly posed as Backus during chat room sessions by signing in using a password that Backus supplied, and Joiner told investors that he was buying and selling certain recommended stocks when no such transactions were actually taking place.  Joiner also is named in the SEC’s complaint and agreed to settle the case.

The SEC’s complaint alleges a series of other misrepresentations to Wealthpire subscribers as well, including false claims about one particular stock alert service that purportedly made historic trading recommendations that yielded huge past returns higher than 1,400 percent.

“Investors who subscribe to trading alert services are relying on the purported expertise and success of those making the stock recommendations, but Wealthpire and Backus instead circulated repeated lies and falsehoods,” said Michele Wein Layne, Director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office.

The SEC has warned investors that investment newsletters can be used as tools for fraud, noting in an investor alert for example to beware false performance claims misrepresenting the track record of the newsletter’s investment recommendations and be suspicious if the newsletter does not disclose having received any compensation.

Backus and Wealthpire agreed to pay disgorgement of $1,135,145 plus interest of $112,902, and Backus also must pay a $235,000 penalty.  Without admitting or denying the allegations, Backus, Wealthpire, and Joiner consented to the entry of a final judgment permanently enjoining each of them from future violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Lucee Kirka and supervised by Robert Conrrad of the Los Angeles office.

Friday, August 26, 2016

FINANCE EXEC SENTENCE TO PRISON FOR OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Financial Services Company Executive Sentenced to 15 Months for Obstruction of Justice

The CEO of Preferred Merchants LLC, a financial services company based in Napa, California, was sentenced today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to 15 months in prison for engaging in an elaborate obstruction of justice scheme to conceal from the government millions of dollars, which were subject to a freeze order and seizure warrant.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose of the Western District of North Carolina; Special Agent in Charge Michael Rolin of the U.S. Secret Service’s Charlotte, North Carolina, Field Division; and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman III of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Charlotte Field Office made the announcement.

On March 23, Jaymes Meyer, aka James Meyer, 47, pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice.  In addition to imposing the prison term, U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. of the Western District of North Carolina entered a monetary judgment of $4.8 million against Meyer.

According to the plea agreement, in or about 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) Division of Enforcement commenced a securities fraud investigation concerning a Ponzi scheme centering on Rex Ventures Group LLC (RVG), a North Carolina-based company for which Preferred Merchants held millions in assets in treasury and trust accounts.  As a result of its investigation, the SEC filed a civil enforcement action against RVG, resulting in an order freezing all of RVG’s assets and appointing a receiver to marshal, manage and distribute remaining RVG assets to impacted investors.  The U.S. Secret Service also obtained a seizure warrant of RVG assets held by Meyer through Preferred Merchants.  Meyer admitted that in August 2012, the SEC informed him of, among other things, the investigation and the freeze order and requested that Meyer freeze any RVG assets in his possession, custody or control.

According to the plea agreement, in response to this request, Meyer misled the SEC by falsely implying that Preferred Merchants did not exercise dominion or control over any RVG assets when, in fact, Meyer controlled approximately $17.4 million in RVG assets.  Meyer further admitted that he wired approximately $4.8 million from an RVG trust account to a brokerage account under his control after learning about the SEC’s investigation and used that money to purchase homes in Napa and the Turks and Caicos, and took additional measures to conceal his RVG assets.

Meyer also admitted that throughout the pending civil litigation surrounding the RVG scheme, he made fraudulent and misleading statements to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, the SEC and the court-appointed receiver during depositions.

In connection with his plea agreement, Meyer consented to the $4.8 million money judgment entered against him and forfeited the homes that he purchased in the Turks and Caicos and Napa as proceeds of the obstruction of justice offense.

The U.S. Secret Service and IRS-CI investigated the case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Grus Sugar of the Western District of North Carolina and Trial Attorneys Kevin Lowell and Brian D. Frey of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section – Bank Integrity Unit prosecuted the case.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

SEC ANNOUNCES CHARGES AGAINST 71 MUNICIPAL BOND ISSUERS

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
SEC Charges 71 Municipal Issuers in Muni Bond Disclosure Initiative
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-166

Washington D.C., Aug. 24, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced enforcement actions against 71 municipal issuers and other obligated persons for violations in municipal bond offerings.

The actions were brought under the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation (MCDC) Initiative, a voluntary self-reporting program targeting material misstatements and omissions in municipal bond offering documents.  The initiative offered favorable settlement terms to municipal bond underwriters, issuers, and obligated persons that self-reported certain violations of the federal securities laws.  Obligated persons are typically nonprofit entities such as hospitals and colleges that borrow the proceeds of bond issuances and are obligated to pay principal and interest on the bonds.

The SEC found that from 2011 to 2014, the 71 issuers and obligated persons sold municipal bonds using offering documents that contained materially false statements or omissions about their compliance with continuing disclosure obligations.  Continuing disclosure provides municipal bond investors with important information, including annual financial reports, on an ongoing basis.  The SEC’s 2012 Municipal Market Report identified issuers’ failure to comply with their continuing disclosure obligations as a major challenge for investors seeking information about their municipal bond holdings.

“The diversity among the 71 entities in these actions demonstrates that continuing disclosure failures were a widespread and pervasive problem in the municipal bond market,” said Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “The MCDC Initiative has brought attention to this important issue and resulted in increased compliance by municipal issuers and underwriters.”

The parties settled the actions without admitting or denying the findings and agreed to cease and desist from future violations.  Pursuant to the terms of the initiative, they also agreed to undertake to establish appropriate policies, procedures, and training regarding continuing disclosure obligations; comply with existing continuing disclosure undertakings, including updating past delinquent filings, disclose the settlement in future offering documents, and cooperate with any subsequent investigations by the SEC.

“The terms of the settlements reflect the credit these issuers earned for their cooperation in self-reporting pursuant to the MCDC initiative,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Public Finance Abuse Unit.  “Because the issuers also voluntarily agreed to take steps to prevent future violations, both they and their investors have benefited from the initiative.”

The SEC has now filed a total of 143 actions against 144 respondents as part of the MCDC Initiative.  Today’s actions are the first against municipal issuers since the first action under the initiative was announced in July 2014 against a California school district.  The SEC filed actions under the initiative against a total of 72 municipal underwriting firms, comprising 96 percent of the market share for municipal underwritings, in June 2015, in September 2015, and in February 2016.

The MCDC Initiative is being led by Kevin Guerrero of the Enforcement Division’s Public Finance Abuse Unit.  The cases announced today were investigated by members of the unit, including Michael Adler, Joseph Chimienti, Kevin Currid, Susan Curtin, Peter Diskin, Brian Fagel, Natalie Garner, Warren Greth, Sally J. Hewitt, Jason Howard, Jason Lee, Robbie Mayer, Heidi Mitza, William Salzmann, Cori Shepherd, Ivonia K. Slade, Steven Varholik, Jonathan Wilcox, Monique C. Winkler, and Deputy Chief Mark R. Zehner with assistance from Peter Moores and Ellen Moynihan of the Boston Regional Office, Howard Kaplan of the Enforcement Division’s Center for Risk and Quantitative Analytics, and Rebecca Olsen, Hillary Phelps, and Adam Wendell of the Office of Municipal Securities.

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