FROM: U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged the operator of an online stock recommendation business with conducting several fraudulent securities offerings and siphoning some of the money raised from investors for a Caribbean vacation and plastic surgery.
An SEC investigation found that Anthony Coronati, who lives on Staten Island, initially held himself out as an investment adviser to a hedge fund that he claimed would invest in equity securities. But the hedge fund was fictitious and Coronati used investor money for other purposes. When the money began drying up, he went on to defraud investors in additional schemes involving his New Jersey-based company Bidtoask LLC. Coronati and Bidtoask sold membership interests in the company for the purpose of investing in promising technology companies that had yet to hold initial public offerings (IPOs). Investors were told that Bidtoask would invest directly in pre-IPO Facebook shares without charging any fees, commissions, or markups to investors. However, Bidtoask’s Facebook-related investments actually did require the payment of significant fees that Coronati and Bidtoask concealed from investors. Bidtoask did not even own the shares of other technology companies in which it was supposedly investing, and these companies were not actually in the process of an IPO.
Coronati and Bidtoask have agreed to settle the SEC’s charges. Coronati must pay back $400,000 in funds stolen from investors, and the money will be deposited into a Fair Fund for distribution to victims of the fraud schemes. Coronati also agreed to be permanently barred from the securities industry.
“Coronati and Bidtoask blatantly lied in order to lure investors into fraudulent schemes, and Coronati then misappropriated large sums of money entrusted to him,” said Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “The Fair Fund will help put money back in investors’ pockets.”
Coronati, who operates the website BidToAsk.com that offers stock recommendations to subscribers, was the subject of a subpoena enforcement action filed by the SEC late last year when he failed to produce documents or appear for scheduled testimony during the SEC’s investigation. As a result of his continued failure to comply with SEC subpoenas in spite of a court order, Coronati was held in contempt of court and arrested earlier this year.
“Despite Coronati’s repeated attempts to defy SEC subpoenas and impede our work, the SEC investigative staff doggedly pursued the case and gathered the necessary evidence to bring this enforcement action that makes it possible to return stolen funds back to investors,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, Senior Associate Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office.
According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding, Coronati conducted his schemes from at least 2009 to 2013. As the various schemes unraveled, he faced increasing concerns from investors. Coronati placated certain investors by making Ponzi-like payments to them using other investors’ money, and he sent a phony account statement to at least one investor purporting a position in the fake hedge fund that was worth more than $120,000. The account statement also purported that the fictitious hedge fund was more than 80 percent invested in well-known public companies such as Apple. Meanwhile, Coronati used investor funds to pay business expenses and such personal expenses as the Caribbean vacation and plastic surgery, and he also used investor money to purchase securities in a personal brokerage account he held in his own name.
The SEC’s order finds that Coronati and Bidtoask violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. Coronati additionally violated Sections 206(1), 206(2), 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 206(4)-8. Without admitting or denying the findings, Coronati and Bidtoask consented to the SEC’s order requiring them to cease and desist from further violations of those provisions of the securities laws and SEC rules. Information about the Fair Fund will be available at: www.sec.gov/litigation/fairfundlist.htm
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Jess Velona, Kenneth Byrne, and Thomas Feretic. The litigation related to the subpoena enforcement action against Coronati was led by Preethi Krishnamurthy. The case was supervised by Mr. Wadhwa and Sharon Binger.