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

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.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

SEC ANNOUNCES FRAUD CHARGES AGAINST HEDGE FUND INVOLVED WITH TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
Press Release
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Hedge Fund Manager Charged in Scheme Involving Terminally Ill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-162

Washington D.C., Aug. 15, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against a hedge fund manager and his firm accused of paying terminally ill individuals to use their names on purportedly joint brokerage accounts so he could purchase investments on behalf of his hedge fund and redeem them early by invoking a survivor’s option.
An SEC examination of investment advisory firm Eden Arc Capital Management uncovered the scheme alleged by the SEC Enforcement Division in an order instituted today.  Donald Lathen of New York City allegedly used contacts at nursing homes and hospices to identify patients with less than six months to live, and he successfully recruited at least 60 of them by paying $10,000 apiece to use their names on accounts.  When a patient died, Lathen allegedly redeemed investments in the accounts by falsely representing to issuers that he and the terminally ill individuals were joint owners of the accounts.  Lathen’s hedge fund was the true owner of the survivor’s option investments.  Issuers paid out more than $100 million in early redemptions as a result of the alleged misrepresentations and omissions by Lathen and Eden Arc Capital.

The SEC Enforcement Division further alleges that Lathen violated the custody rule by failing to properly place the hedge fund’s cash and securities in an account under the fund’s name or in an account containing only clients’ funds and securities, under the investment adviser’s name as agent or trustee for the client.

“We allege that Lathen deceived issuers by falsely claiming that he and the deceased jointly owned the bonds when the hedge fund was the true owner of the investments,” said Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office.  “Lathen allegedly put hedge fund client assets at risk by keeping them in accounts in his and the terminally ill individuals’ names rather than following the custody rule.”

The SEC Enforcement Division alleges that Lathen, Eden Arc Capital Management, and Eden Arc Capital Advisors violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5.  The Enforcement Division further alleges that Eden Arc Capital Management violated Section 206(4) of the Advisers Act and Rule 206(4)-2, and Lathen aided and abetted and caused those violations.

The matter will be scheduled for a public hearing before an administrative law judge, who will prepare an initial decision stating what, if any, remedial actions are appropriate.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Janna Berke, Judith Weinstock, Frank Milewski, Adam Grace, and Michael Birnbaum.  The case was supervised by Lara Shalov Mehraban and the litigation will be led by Alexander Janghorbani, Ms. Weinstock, and Ms. Berke.  The SEC examiners who detected the wrongdoing during the examination of Eden Arc Capital Management are Kathleen Raimondi, Lawrence Chinsky, and George DeAngelis.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

FORMER HEAD RMBS TRADER AT GOLDMAN SACHS SETTLES FRAUD CHARGES

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
Former Goldman Sachs Trader Settles Fraud Charges
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-163

Washington D.C., Aug. 16, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that the former head trader in residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) at Goldman Sachs has agreed to be barred from the securities industry and pay $400,000 to settle charges that he repeatedly misled customers and caused them to pay higher prices.

An SEC investigation found that Edwin Chin generated extra revenue for Goldman by concealing the prices at which the firm had bought various RMBS, then re-selling them at higher prices to the buying customer with Goldman keeping the difference.  On other occasions, Chin misled purchasers by suggesting he was actively negotiating a transaction between customers when he was merely selling RMBS out of Goldman’s inventory.

“With no public exchange showing the price for each RMBS trade as it occurs, investors purchasing these securities rely on dealers to be honest about the purchase price they paid,” said Michael J. Osnato, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Complex Financial Instruments Unit.  “Chin repeatedly abused his fundamental duty to serve as an honest transmitter of market information so he could increase Goldman’s trading profits and, indirectly, his own compensation.”

The SEC’s order finds that Chin’s misconduct began in 2010 and continued until he left Goldman in 2012.  Without admitting or denying the findings, Chin agreed to the entry of the order finding that he violated Section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5.  He agreed to pay $200,000 in disgorgement, $50,000 in prejudgment interest, and a $150,000 penalty.

The SEC’s continuing investigation has been conducted by Andrew Feller, David London, and Heidi Mitza, and the case has been supervised by Celia Moore and Michael Osnato.

Friday, August 12, 2016

ALLEGED FALSE CLAIMS LEADS TO SEC FRAUD CHARGES AGAINST INVESTMENT ADVISER

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
SEC: Investment Adviser Boasted Phony Assets and Track Record, Stole From Client
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-161

Washington D.C., Aug. 11, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against a San Francisco man and his investment advisory firm accused of pretending to manage millions of dollars in assets and then stealing money from the first client who invested with them based on their misrepresentations.

The SEC alleges that Nicholas M. Mitsakos and Matrix Capital Markets, which is a state-registered investment adviser in California, solicited investors in a purported hedge fund while falsely marketing themselves as experienced money managers with a highly successful track record.  They claimed assets under management in the millions when in fact they did not manage any client assets at all, and they fabricated a hypothetical portfolio of investments earning 20 to 66 percent annual returns and passed it off to investors as real trading.  When Mitsakos and Matrix Capital Markets were given $2 million in client assets to manage in September 2015, they proceeded to steal approximately $800,000 from that client and used most of it to pay for unauthorized personal and business expenses.

“We allege that Mitsakos and his firm tried to lure prospective investors with a mirage of assets under management and phony performance results, and when they finally won some actual business from a client, they proceeded to steal a large portion of it,” said Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office.  “Whenever pitched an investment opportunity with claims of lofty historical performance, it’s important for investors to take the time to verify the information and make sure they’re getting the truth before deciding to invest.”

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York today announced criminal charges against Mitsakos.

The SEC’s complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and charges Mitsakos and Matrix Capital Markets with violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.  Mitsakos also is charged with aiding and abetting Matrix Capital’s violations.  The SEC seeks permanent injunctions and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus penalties.

The SEC’s continuing investigation is being conducted by Alison R. Levine, Kerri Palen, Alex Janghorbani, and Valerie A. Szczepanik, and the case is supervised by Lara S. Mehraban.  The litigation will be led by Alex Janghorbani and Alison R. Levine.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

SEC ANNOUNCES MORGAN STANLEY TO PAY $1 MILLION PENALTY TO SETTLE CHARGES OF FAILING TO SAFEGUARD CUSTOMER INFORMATION

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 
SEC: Morgan Stanley Failed to Safeguard Customer Data
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-112

Washington D.C., June 8, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC has agreed to pay a $1 million penalty to settle charges related to its failures to protect customer information, some of which was hacked and offered for sale online.

The SEC issued an order finding that Morgan Stanley failed to adopt written policies and procedures reasonably designed to protect customer data.  As a result of these failures, from 2011 to 2014, a then-employee impermissibly accessed and transferred the data regarding approximately 730,000 accounts to his personal server, which was ultimately hacked by third parties.

“Given the dangers and impact of cyber breaches, data security is a critically important aspect of investor protection.  We expect SEC registrants of all sizes to have policies and procedures that are reasonably designed to protect customer information,” said Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC Enforcement Division.

According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding:

The federal securities laws require registered broker-dealers and investment advisers to adopt written policies and procedures reasonably designed to protect customer records and information.
Morgan Stanley’s policies and procedures were not reasonable, however, for two internal web applications or “portals” that allowed its employees to access customers’ confidential account information.
For these portals, Morgan Stanley did not have effective authorization modules for more than 10 years to restrict employees’ access to customer data based on each employee’s legitimate business need.
Morgan Stanley also did not audit or test the relevant authorization modules, nor did it monitor or analyze employees’ access to and use of the portals.
Consequently, then-employee Galen J. Marsh downloaded and transferred confidential data to his personal server at home between 2011 and 2014.
A likely third-party hack of Marsh’s personal server resulted in portions of the confidential data being posted on the Internet with offers to sell larger quantities.

The SEC’s order finds that Morgan Stanley violated Rule 30(a) of Regulation S-P, also known as the “Safeguards Rule.”  Morgan Stanley agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the findings.  In a separate order, Marsh agreed to an industry and penny stock bar with the right to apply for reentry after five years.  He was criminally convicted for his actions last year and received 36 months of probation and a $600,000 restitution order.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by William Martin and Simona Suh of the Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit and supervised by Joseph G. Sansone, Co-Chief of the unit.  The SEC appreciates the assistance of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Friday, June 10, 2016

SEC ANNOUNCES $17 MILLION WHISTLEBLOWER AWARD

FROM:  U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION 

Washington D.C., June 9, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced a whistleblower award of more than $17 million to a former company employee whose detailed tip substantially advanced the agency’s investigation and ultimate enforcement action.

The award is the second-largest issued by the SEC since its whistleblower program began nearly five years ago.  The SEC issued a $30 million award in September 2014 and a $14 million award in October 2013.

“Company insiders are uniquely positioned to protect investors and blow the whistle on a company’s wrongdoing by providing key information to the SEC so we can investigate the full extent of the violations,” said Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  “The information and assistance provided by this whistleblower enabled our enforcement staff to conserve time and resources and gather strong evidence supporting our case.”

Sean X. McKessy, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, added, “In the past month, five whistleblowers have received a total of more than $26 million, and we hope these substantial awards encourage other individuals with knowledge of potential federal securities law violations to make the right choice to come forward and report the wrongdoing to the SEC.”

By law, the SEC protects the confidentiality of whistleblowers and does not disclose information that might directly or indirectly reveal a whistleblower’s identity.

The SEC’s whistleblower program has now awarded more than $85 million to 32 whistleblowers since the program’s inception in 2011.  Whistleblowers may be eligible for an award when they voluntarily provide the SEC with unique and useful information that leads to a successful enforcement action.  Whistleblower awards can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the money collected when the monetary sanctions exceed $1 million.  All payments are made out of an investor protection fund established by Congress that is financed through monetary sanctions paid to the SEC by securities law violators.  No money has been taken or withheld from harmed investors to pay whistleblower awards.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

WALL STREET FIRM CHARGED WITH NOT MONITORING SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Brokerage Firm Charged With Anti-Money Laundering Failures
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2016-102

Washington D.C., June 1, 2016 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a Wall Street-based brokerage firm with failing to sufficiently evaluate or monitor customers’ trading for suspicious activity as required under the federal securities laws.

An SEC investigation found that Albert Fried & Company failed to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with bank regulators for more than five years despite red flags tied to its customers’ high-volume liquidations of low-priced securities.  On more than one occasion, an AF&Co customer’s trading in a security on a given day exceeded 80 percent of the overall market volume.  In other instances, customers were trading in stocks issued by companies that were delinquent in their regulatory filings or involved in questionable penny stock promotional campaigns.  Certain customers also were the subject of grand jury subpoenas received by AF&Co.

AF&Co agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty to settle the charges.

“Albert Fried & Company ignored numerous instances when customer trading activity should have triggered the firm to file SARs.  Brokerage firms must take their anti-money laundering responsibilities seriously so they can serve as a line of defense against misconduct and market risks,” said Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

The SEC’s order finds that AF&Co violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 17a-8.  AF&Co agreed to be censured and pay the $300,000 penalty without admitting or denying the findings in the order, which credits the firm for its cooperation and the remedial measures already undertaken.

While the SEC has charged other firms with anti-money laundering failures under the federal securities laws, this is the first case against a firm solely for failing to file SARs when appropriate.

The case stemmed from the work of the Enforcement Division’s Broker-Dealer Task Force, led by Associate Director Antonia Chion and New York Regional Office Director Andrew M. Calamari.  The task force focuses on current issues and practices within the broker-dealer community and develops national initiatives for potential investigations.

The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Matt Reilly and supervised by Melissa Hodgman with assistance from Eric Kringel, Daniel Goldberg, Damon Reed, and Andrae Eccles of the Enforcement Division’s Bank Secrecy Act Review Group.

Monday, April 11, 2016

GOLDMAN SACHS TO PAY $5 BILLION SETTLEMENT RELATED TO MORTGAGE BUSINESS

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT  
Monday, April 11, 2016
Goldman Sachs Agrees to Pay More than $5 Billion in Connection with Its Sale of Residential Mortgage Backed Securities

The Justice Department, along with federal and state partners, announced today a $5.06 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs related to Goldman’s conduct in the packaging, securitization, marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) between 2005 and 2007.  The resolution announced today requires Goldman to pay $2.385 billion in a civil penalty under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA) and also requires the bank to provide $1.8 billion in other relief, including relief to underwater homeowners, distressed borrowers and affected communities, in the form of loan forgiveness and financing for affordable housing.  Goldman will also pay $875 million to resolve claims by other federal entities and state claims.  Investors, including federally-insured financial institutions, suffered billions of dollars in losses from investing in RMBS issued and underwritten by Goldman between 2005 and 2007.

“This resolution holds Goldman Sachs accountable for its serious misconduct in falsely assuring investors that securities it sold were backed by sound mortgages, when it knew that they were full of mortgages that were likely to fail,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery.  “This $5 billion settlement includes a $1.8 billion commitment to help repair the damage to homeowners and communities that Goldman acknowledges resulted from its conduct, and it makes clear that no institution may inflict this type of harm on investors and the American public without serious consequences.”

“Today’s settlement is another example of the department’s resolve to hold accountable those whose illegal conduct resulted in the financial crisis of 2008,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Viewed in conjunction with the previous multibillion-dollar recoveries that the department has obtained for similar conduct, this settlement demonstrates the pervasiveness of the banking industry’s fraudulent practices in selling RMBS, and the power of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act as a tool for combatting this type of wrongdoing.”

“Today’s settlement is yet another acknowledgment by one of our leading financial institutions that it did not live up to the representations it made to investors about the products it was selling,” said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner of the Eastern District of California.  “Goldman’s conduct in exploiting the RMBS market contributed to an international financial crisis that people across the country, including many in the Eastern District of California, continue to struggle to recover from.  I am gratified that this office has developed investigations, first against JPMorgan Chase and now against Goldman Sachs, that have led to significant civil settlements that hold bad actors in this market accountable.  The results obtained by this office and other members of the RMBS Working Group continue to send a message to Wall Street that we remain committed to pursuing those responsible for the financial crisis.”

The $2.385 billion civil monetary penalty resolves claims under FIRREA, which authorizes the federal government to impose civil penalties against financial institutions that violate various predicate offenses, including wire and mail fraud.  The settlement expressly preserves the government’s ability to bring criminal charges against Goldman, and does not release any individuals from potential criminal or civil liability.  In addition, as part of the settlement, Goldman agreed to fully cooperate with any ongoing investigations related to the conduct covered by the agreement.

Of the $875 million Goldman has agreed to pay to settle claims by various other federal and state entities: Goldman will pay $575 million to settle claims by the National Credit Union Administration, $37.5 million to settle claims by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines as successor to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle, $37.5 million to settle claims by the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, $190 million to settle claims by the state of New York, $25 million to settle claims by the state of Illinois and $10 million to settle claims by the state of California.

Goldman will pay out the remaining $1.8 billion in the form of relief to aid consumers harmed by its unlawful conduct.  $1.52 billion of that relief will be paid out pursuant to an agreement with the United States that Goldman will provide loan modifications, including loan forgiveness and forbearance, to distressed and underwater homeowners throughout the country, as well as financing for affordable rental and for-sale housing throughout the country.  This agreement represents the largest commitment in any RMBS agreement to provide financing for affordable housing—a crucial need following the turmoil of the financial crisis.  $280 million will be paid out by Goldman pursuant to an agreement separately negotiated with the state of New York.

The settlement includes a statement of facts to which Goldman has agreed.  That statement of facts describes how Goldman made false and misleading representations to prospective investors about the characteristics of the loans it securitized and the ways in which Goldman would protect investors in its RMBS from harm (the quotes in the following paragraphs are from that agreed-upon statement of facts, unless otherwise noted):

Goldman told investors in offering documents that “[l]oans in the securitized pools were originated generally in accordance with the loan originator’s underwriting guidelines,” other than possible situations where “when the originator identified ‘compensating factors’ at the time of origination.”  But Goldman has today acknowledged that, “Goldman received information indicating that, for certain loan pools, significant percentages of the loans reviewed did not conform to the representations made to investors about the pools of loans to be securitized.”
Specifically, Goldman has now acknowledged that, even when the results of its due diligence on samples of loans from those pools “indicated that the unsampled portions of the pools likely contained additional loans with credit exceptions, Goldman typically did not . . . identify and eliminate any additional loans with credit exceptions.”  Goldman has acknowledged that it “failed to do this even when the samples included significant numbers of loans with credit exceptions.”
Goldman’s Mortgage Capital Committee, which included senior mortgage department personnel and employees from Goldman’s credit and legal departments, was required to approve every RMBS issued by Goldman.  Goldman has now acknowledged that “[t]he Mortgage Capital Committee typically received . . . summaries of Goldman’s due diligence results for certain of the loan pools backing the securitization,” but that “[d]espite the high numbers of loans that Goldman had dropped from the loan pools, the Mortgage Capital Committee approved every RMBS that was presented to it between December 2005 and 2007.”  As one example, in early 2007, Goldman approved and issued a subprime RMBS backed by loans originated by New Century Mortgage Corporation, after Goldman’s due diligence process found that one of the loan pools to be securitized included loans originated with “[e]xtremely aggressive underwriting,” and where Goldman dropped 25 percent of the loans from the due diligence sample on that pool without reviewing the unsampled 70 percent of the pool to determine whether those loans had similar problems.
Goldman has acknowledged that, for one August 2006 RMBS, the due diligence results for some of the loan pools resulted in an “unusually high” percentage of loans with credit and compliance defects.  The Mortgage Capital Committee was presented with a summary of these results and asked “How do we know that we caught everything?”  One transaction manager responded “we don’t.”  Another transaction manager responded, “Depends on what you mean by everything?  Because of the limited sampling . . . we don’t catch everything . . .”  Goldman has now acknowledged that the Mortgage Capital Committee approved this RMBS for securitization without requiring any further due diligence.  
Goldman made detailed representations to investors about its “counterparty qualification process” for vetting loan originators, and told investors and one rating agency that Goldman would engage in ongoing monitoring of loan sellers.  Goldman has now acknowledged, however, that it “received certain negative information regarding the originators’ business practices” and that much of this information was not disclosed to investors.
For example, Goldman has now acknowledged that in late 2006 it conducted an internal analysis of the underwriting guidelines of Fremont Investment & Loan (an originator), which found many of Fremont’s guidelines to be “off market” or “at the aggressive end of market standards.”  Instead of disclosing its view of Fremont’s underwriting, Goldman has acknowledged that it “[u]ndertook a significant marketing effort” to tell investors about what Goldman called Fremont’s “commitment to loan quality over volume” and “significant enhancements to Fremont underwriting guidelines.”  Fremont was shut down by federal regulators within several months of these statements.
In another example, Goldman was aware in early-mid 2006 of certain issues with Countrywide Financial Corporation’s origination process, including a pattern of non-responsiveness and inability to provide sufficient staff to handle the numerous loan pools Countrywide was selling.  In April 2006, while Goldman was preparing an RMBS backed by Countrywide loans for securitization, a Goldman mortgage department manager circulated a “very bullish” equity research report that recommended the purchase of Countrywide stock.  Goldman’s head of due diligence, who had just overseen the due diligence on six Countrywide pools, responded “If they only knew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .”
Meanwhile, as Goldman has acknowledged in this statement of facts, “[Around the end of 2006], Goldman employees observed signs of uncertainty in the residential mortgage market [and] by March 2007, Goldman had largely halted new purchases of subprime loan pools.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Colleen Kennedy and Kelli Taylor of the Eastern District of California investigated Goldman’s conduct in connection with RMBS, with the support of the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Office of the Inspector General (FHFA-OIG) and the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP).

“Goldman Sachs had a fiduciary responsibility to investors, which they blatantly side stepped,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigation Rene Febles of FHFA-OIG.  “They knowingly put investors at risk and in so doing contributed significantly to the financial crisis.  The losses caused by this irresponsible behavior deeply affected not only financial institutions but also taxpayers and one can only hope that Goldman Sachs has learned the difference between risk and deceit.  Two Federal Home Loan Banks suffered significant losses so we are pleased to see both entities receive a portion of this settlement.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold those accountable who have engaged in misconduct.”

“Goldman took $10 billion in TARP bailout funds knowing that it had fraudulently misrepresented to investors the quality of residential mortgages bundled into mortgage backed securities,” said Special Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero for TARP.  “Many of these toxic securities were traded in a taxpayer funded bailout program that was designed to unlock frozen credit markets during the crisis.  While crisis investigations take time, SIGTARP is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect taxpayers and bring accountability and justice.”

The settlement is part of the ongoing efforts of President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s RMBS Working Group, which has recovered tens of billions of dollars on behalf of American consumers and investors for claims against large financial institutions arising from misconduct related to the financial crisis.  The RMBS Working Group brings together attorneys, investigators, analysts and staff from multiple state and federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HUD’s Office of Inspector General, the FHFA-OIG, SIGTARP, the Federal Reserve Board’s OIG, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and multiple state Attorneys General offices around the country.  The RMBS Working Group is led by Director Joshua Wilkenfeld and five co-chairs: Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mizer, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Director Andrew Ceresney of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, U.S. Attorney John Walsh of the District of Colorado and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.  This settlement is the fifth multibillion-dollar RMBS settlement announced by the working group.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

MAN WHO RAN OFFSHORE BROKERAGE SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN INTERNATIONAL STOCK FRAUD

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Friday, March 18, 2016
Former Head of Offshore Brokerage Sentenced to 18 Years for Conspiracy to Commit International Stock Fraud and Money Laundering

A California man was sentenced to 216 months in prison today for two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering in connection with an international “pump and dump” scheme involving stocks traded on the over-the-counter (OTC) market.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Harold Bailey Gallison II, 58, of Valley Center, California, pleaded guilty on Dec. 10, 2015, and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia, who also ordered Gallison to pay $1,724,770 in restitution.  Gallison was charged in an indictment unsealed on July 14, 2015, along with eight other individuals for their roles in complex international stock manipulation and money laundering schemes.

In his guilty plea, Gallison admitted that he conspired to artificially “pump” or inflate the trading volume and price of the shares of Warrior Girl Corp., quoted on the OTC market under the ticker symbol WRGL, and Everock Inc., quoted on the OTC market under the ticker symbol EVRN, by touting business activities and deceptive revenue forecasts and by engaging in coordinated trading activity to create the appearance of increasing market demand.  Gallison also admitted that he and others then “dumped” or sold the shares at the inflated prices and laundered proceeds through bank accounts in the United States and overseas.  Gallison facilitated the schemes through an offshore brokerage and money laundering platform that went by various names, including Sandias Azucaradas, Moneyline Brokers and Trinity Asset Services (collectively Moneyline), he admitted.  According to the plea, through Moneyline, Gallison created nominee accounts in the names of shell companies to conceal both the true source and ownership of the securities and the flow of funds.  In addition, Gallison pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to launder the proceeds of a number of securities fraud schemes, including Warrior Girl and Everock, totaling more than $25 million.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office is investigating the case.  Senior Trial Attorney N. Nathan Dimock and Trial Attorney Michael O’Neill of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kosta S. Stojilkovic of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.  The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

MORGAN STANLEY RESOLVES CLAIMS RELATED TO IT'S RESIDENTIAL BACKED SECURITIES SALES

FROM:  U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT 
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Morgan Stanley Agrees to Pay $2.6 Billion Penalty in Connection with Its Sale of Residential Mortgage Backed Securities

The Justice Department today announced that Morgan Stanley will pay a $2.6 billion penalty to resolve claims related to Morgan Stanley’s marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS).  This settlement constitutes the largest component of the set of resolutions with Morgan Stanley entered by members of the RMBS Working Group, which have totaled approximately $5 billion.  As part of the agreement, Morgan Stanley acknowledged in writing that it failed to disclose critical information to prospective investors about the quality of the mortgage loans underlying its RMBS and about its due diligence practices.  Investors, including federally insured financial institutions, suffered billions of dollars in losses from investing in RMBS issued by Morgan Stanley in 2006 and 2007.

“Today’s settlement holds Morgan Stanley appropriately accountable for misleading investors about the subprime mortgage loans underlying the securities it sold,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery.  “The Department of Justice will not tolerate those who seek financial gain through deceptive or unfair means, and we will take appropriately aggressive action against financial institutions that knowingly engage in improper investment practices.”

“Those who contributed to the financial crisis of 2008 cannot evade responsibility for their misconduct,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “This resolution demonstrates once again that the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act is a powerful weapon for combatting financial fraud and that the department will not hesitate to use it to hold accountable those who violate the law.”

An RMBS is a type of security comprised of a pool of mortgage loans created by banks and other financial institutions.  The expected performance and price of an RMBS is determined by a number of factors, including the characteristics of the borrowers and the value of the properties underlying the RMBS.  Morgan Stanley was one of the institutions that issued RMBS during the period leading up to the economic crisis in 2007 and 2008.

As acknowledged by Morgan Stanley in a detailed statement of facts that is a part of this agreement (and is quoted below), the company made representations to prospective investors about the characteristics of the subprime mortgage loans underlying its RMBS – representations with which it did not comply:

In particular, Morgan Stanley told investors that it did not securitize underwater loans (loans that exceeded the value of the property).  However, Morgan Stanley did not disclose to investors that in April 2006 it had expanded its “risk tolerance” in evaluating loans in order to purchase and securitize “everything possible.”  As Morgan Stanley’s manager of valuation due diligence told an employee in 2006, “please do not mention the ‘slightly higher risk tolerance’ in these communications.  We are running under the radar and do not want to document these types of things.”  As a result, Morgan Stanley ignored information – including broker’s price opinions (BPOs), which are estimates of a property’s value from an independent real estate broker – indicating that thousands of securitized loans were underwater, with combined-loan-to-value ratios over 100 percent.  From January 2006 through mid-2007, Morgan Stanley acknowledged that “Morgan Stanley securitized nearly 9,000 loans with BPO values resulting in [combined loan to value] ratios over 100 percent.”
Morgan Stanley also told investors that it did not securitize loans that failed to meet originators’ guidelines unless those loans had compensating factors.  Morgan Stanley’s offering documents “represented that ‘[the mortgage loans originated or acquired by [the originator] were done so in accordance with the underwriting guidelines established by [the originator]’ but that ‘on a case-by-case-basis, exceptions to the [underwriting guidelines] are made where compensating factors exist.’”  Morgan Stanley has now acknowledged, however, that “Morgan Stanley did not disclose to securitization investors that employees of Morgan Stanley received information that, in certain instances, loans that did not comply with underwriting guidelines and lacked adequate compensating factors . . . were included in the RMBS sold and marketed to investors.”  So, in fact, “Morgan Stanley . . . securitized certain loans that neither comported with the originators’ underwriting guidelines nor had adequate compensating factors.”
Likewise, “Morgan Stanley also prepared presentation materials . . . that it used in discussions with potential investors that described the due diligence process for reviewing pools of loans prior to securitization,” but “certain of Morgan Stanley’s actual due diligence practices did not conform to the description of the process set forth” in those materials.
For example, Morgan Stanley obtained BPOs for a percentage of loans in a pool.  Morgan Stanley stated in these presentation materials that it excluded any loan with a BPO value exhibiting an “unacceptable negative variance from the original appraisal,” when in fact “Morgan Stanley never rejected a loan based solely on the BPO results.”
Through these undisclosed practices, Morgan Stanley increased the percentage of mortgage loans it purchased for its RMBS, notwithstanding its awareness about “deteriorating appraisal quality” and “sloppy underwriting” by the sellers of these loans.  The bank has now acknowledged that “Morgan Stanley was aware of problematic lending practices of the subprime originators from which it purchased mortgage loans.”  However, it “did not increase its credit-and-compliance due diligence samples, in part, because it did not want to harm its relationship with its largest subprime originators.” Indeed, Morgan Stanley’s manager of credit-and-compliance due diligence was admonished to “stop fighting and begin recognizing the point that we need monthly volume from our biggest trading partners and that . . . the client [an originator] does not have to sell to Morgan Stanley.”
“In today’s agreement, Morgan Stanley acknowledges it sold billions of dollars in subprime RMBS certificates in 2006 and 2007 while making false promises about the mortgage loans backing those certificates,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Brian J. Stretch of the Northern District of California.  “Morgan Stanley touted the quality of the lenders with which it did business and the due diligence process it used to screen out bad loans.  All the while, Morgan Stanley knew that in reality, many of the loans backing its securities were toxic.  Abuses in the mortgage-backed securities industry such as these helped bring about the most devastating financial crisis in our lifetime.  Our office is committed to dedicating the resources necessary to hold those who engage in such reckless actions responsible for their conduct.”

The $2.6 billion civil monetary penalty resolves claims under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA).  FIRREA authorizes the federal government to impose civil penalties against financial institutions that violate various predicate offenses, including wire and mail fraud.  The settlement expressly preserves the government’s ability to bring criminal charges against Morgan Stanley, and likewise does not release any individuals from potential criminal or civil liability.  In addition, as part of the settlement, Morgan Stanley promised to cooperate fully with any ongoing investigations related to the conduct covered by the agreement.

In conjunction with today’s announcement of the federal government’s settlement with Morgan Stanley, the states of New York and Illinois – also members of the RMBS Working Group – have announced settlements with Morgan Stanley for $550 million and $22.5 million, respectively, arising from its sale of RMBS.  Among other resolutions, Morgan Stanley previously paid $225 million to  resolve claims brought by the National Credit Union Administration arising from losses related to corporate credit unions’ purchases of RMBS; $1.25 billion to resolve claims by Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for Morgan Stanley’s alleged violations of federal and state securities laws and common law fraud in connection with RMBS purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; and $86.95 million to resolve federal and state securities laws claims brought by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as receiver on behalf of failed financial institutions.  Morgan Stanley also previously entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to pay $275 million to resolve certain RMBS claims.  With today’s announcement, Morgan Stanley will have paid nearly $5 billion to members of the RMBS Working Group in connection with its sale of RMBS.  

Today’s settlement is part of the ongoing efforts of President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s RMBS Working Group, which has recovered billions of dollars arising from misconduct related to the financial crisis.  The RMBS Working Group is a federal and state law enforcement effort focused on investigating fraud and abuse in the RMBS market that helped lead to the 2008 financial crisis.  The RMBS Working Group brings together attorneys, investigators, analysts and staff from multiple state and federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, the SEC, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HUD’s Office of Inspector General, the FHFA Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Federal Reserve Board’s OIG, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and multiple state Attorneys General offices around the country.  The RMBS Working Group is led by Director Joshua Wilkenfeld and five co-chairs: Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Director Andrew Ceresney of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, U.S. Attorney John Walsh of the District of Colorado and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“The securitization of defective mortgages and the billions of dollars that were lost as a result caused such a hardship to our economy, the housing industry and our nation as a whole that we are still feeling the effects years after,” said Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Rene Febles of FHFA-OIG.  “Morgan Stanley is responsible for their role, which caused enormous losses to investors.  This settlement is one step in recovering from those losses.  We are proud to work with the RMBS Working Group and the U.S. Department of Justice on this and all RMBS matters.”

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort between the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California, with investigative support from FHFA-OIG and the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

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