Former Chief Credit Officer Sentenced to Over Eight Years in Prison for Role in Securities Fraud Scheme

On September 1, Ebrahim Shabudin, the former Chief Credit Officer of a San Francisco-based bank, was sentenced to 97 months in prison for his involvement in a securities fraud scheme stemming from the bank’s 2009 financial collapse. In 2008, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) gave the bank roughly $298 million in federal funds. The FDIC took over the bank in 2009 and stated that it was “the ninth largest failure since 2007 of a bank insured by the FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund.” In 2013, the FDIC estimated that the bank would accrue losses exceeding $1.1 billion; however, with the United States’ economic recovery, the estimated loss dropped to approximately $677 million. Read more…

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POSTED IN: Banking, Federal Issues, Securities

DOJ and SEC Announce Parallel Action Against Former Investment Banking Analyst and Two Individuals for Alleged Involvement in Insider Trading Scheme

On August 25, the DOJ unsealed an indictment charging three defendants each with (i) one count of conspiracy to commit securities and tender offer fraud; (ii) 13 counts of securities fraud; (iii) 13 counts of tender offer fraud; and (iv) three counts of wire fraud. In a parallel action, the SEC filed a complaint in the Central District of California against the same three individuals, asserting that the three individuals violated certain provisions of the Securities Exchange Act by participating in a scheme that involved “coordinated, illegal trading in stock and stock options of two separate companies that participated in merger activity” in which the same investment bank played an advisory role. According to the SEC, having learned of impending acquisitions involving two of the investment bank’s clients and other companies, one of the investment bank’s former analysts allegedly provided information regarding the transaction to a friend before any public announcements were made. The friend then communicated the information to a third individual, and the two made a series of trades in the two companies’ securities. When the acquisitions were publicly announced, both companies’ stock prices increased, resulting in profits of more than $670,000 for the two individuals on the receiving end of the former analyst’s inside information. The SEC’s complaint seeks a final judgment ordering the three defendants “to pay disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest and penalties, and permanent injunctions from future violations of [certain] provisions of the federal securities laws.”

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FinCEN Issues NPRM Establishing BSA/AML Requirements for Investment Advisers

On August 25, FinCEN issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking to adopt minimum Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and anti-money laundering (AML) standards that would be applicable to investment advisers. Under the proposal, investment advisers would be required to implement AML programs and report suspicious activity, among other safeguards. The NPRM states that the proposal would cover investment advisers registered or required to register with the SEC. The proposal would also add such investment advisers to the definition of “financial institution.” This would result in investment advisers being required to file currency transaction reports and to comply with recordkeeping and other requirements applicable to financial institutions. With respect to supervisory authority, FinCEN stated that it would delegate its authority to the SEC for purposes of examining investment advisers for compliance with the proposed requirements.

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SEC Sues 32 Defendants Involved in Insider Trading Operation; DOJ Files Criminal Charges Against Leaders

On August 10, the SEC filed a complaint against 32 defendants in the District of New Jersey for their alleged involvement in an international scheme to profit from stolen, confidential information regarding corporate earnings announcements. According to the SEC, the defendants hacked at least two newswire services’ computer servers to retrieve unpublished corporate press releases, subsequently using it to make trades generating over $100 million in profits. The SEC further asserted that the two leaders of the scheme designed a “secret web-based location to transmit the stolen data to traders in Russia, the Ukraine, Malta, Cyprus, France, and three U.S. states, Georgia, New York, and Pennsylvania.” The SEC contends that, for five years, the two leaders of the scheme (i) disguised their identity by posing as newswire service employees, using proxy servers, and/or using backdoor access-modules; and (ii) recruited traders by making a video that displayed their ability to steal earnings information prior to public release. In return for information, the traders paid the hackers either a percentage of the profits obtained from trading the stolen information, or a flat fee. The SEC Director called the scheme “one of the most intricate and sophisticated trading rings [the agency has] ever seen.” The U.S. Attorneys’ offices for New Jersey and the Eastern District of New York also announced criminal charges against nine of the same defendants, including the two leaders of the scheme.

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SEC Adopts Final CEO Pay Disclosure Rule

On August 5, the SEC adopted a rule requiring public companies to disclose the pay ratio of their CEO to the median compensation of their employees. The rule gives companies some flexibility in the method of determining the pay ratio while providing investors with information to assess the compensation of CEOs. Methods companies may employ to identify the median employee include using (i) a statistical sample of the total employee population; (ii) payroll or tax records that contain a consistently applied compensation measure; or (iii) yearly total compensation as calculated under the existing executive compensation rules. The total compensation for CEOs and total compensation for average employees must be calculated in the same manner. Under the new rule, companies must also disclose the methodology used for identifying the median employee’s annual compensation. Companies will be required to provide disclosure of their pay ratios for their first fiscal year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017. Smaller reporting companies, emerging growth companies, foreign private issuers, MJDS filers, and registered investment companies are exempt from the pay ratio rule, which will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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Former Derivatives Trader Convicted and Sentenced in U.K. on Libor Manipulation Charges, Also Facing Criminal Charges in U.S.

On August 3, a jury in the United Kingdom convicted former derivatives trader Tom Hayes on eight counts of fraud for his role in the manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) for Japanese Yen. Hayes was subsequently sentenced to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors had argued that Hayes, a former trader at two international banks, had asked traders at his bank who were responsible for submitting the bank’s daily Libor submissions for publication – as well as submitters at other banks and brokers involved in the Libor process – to raise or lower their submissions for the Yen Libor from 2006 to 2010 to help Hayes increase the profit on his trades. Hayes was the first individual to be tried in U.K. courts for Libor manipulation, with some of Hayes’ alleged co-conspirators set to go to trial in late September. Hayes is also facing criminal charges for the same conduct in the U.S.

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SEC Opens FIFA-Related Investigations

Although not yet confirmed by the SEC, media reports suggest that the SEC has opened several investigations of publicly traded companies who contracted with FIFA. Indictments in the FIFA cases have alleged that certain companies paid kickbacks to officials of FIFA and related organizations in order to win marketing and apparel contracts. The specific companies targeted in the SEC’s new probe have not yet been named. Without the apparent involvement of a foreign official in the FIFA cases, presumably the SEC will be focusing on the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA, along with other potential violations.

Previous BuckleySandler coverage of this investigation can be found here.

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POSTED IN: Federal Issues, Securities

DC Circuit Bars Retroactive Application of Dodd-Frank Act Provisions Permitting SEC to Bar Association with Municipal Advisors and Rating Organizations

On July 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Dodd-Frank Act provisions authorizing the SEC to punish certain misconduct by barring association with municipal advisors and rating organizations may not be applied with respect to misconduct that took place prior to the effective date of the provisions. Koch et al. v. SEC, No. 14-1134 (D.C. Cir. Jul. 14, 2015). The Koch appeal arose from an SEC finding that the defendants had violated the securities laws by engaging in a market manipulation practice known as “marking the close,” and the SEC’s imposition of sanctions that, among others, prohibiting Koch from associating with municipal advisors and rating organizations. The DC Circuit upheld the finding of violations, but vacated the part of the order barring Koch from associating with municipal advisors and rating organizations on the basis the relevant Dodd-Frank provisions authorizing that sanction had not been enacted at the time of the misconduct. The court determined that applying those provisions was impermissibly retroactive, as there was no showing that Congress intended the provisions to apply retroactively and because it triggered additional legal consequences not existing at the time of the misconduct. The court did not disturb the other remedial orders in the case, including bars to association with other securities industries.

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SEC Settles with Post It-Eating Middleman in Law Firm Insider Trading Case

On July 13, the SEC announced a settlement with Frank Tamayo, who acted as a middleman in a $5.6 million insider trading scheme.   According to the SEC, a law firm clerk used the firm’s internal databases to access confidential information concerning clients’ pending corporate transactions, and tipped Tamayo at coffee shops to the pending transactions.  Tamayo wrote ticker symbols of target companies on a Post-It note or napkin, met a stockbroker in Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse, flashed the Post-It or napkin to the stockbroker, and then immediately chewed up and swallowed it.  Tamayo also conveyed additional information about the pending deals, in total passing information on over a dozen companies.  The stockbroker then traded in the shares of the subject companies on behalf of the co-conspirators and other customers. The settlement involved no monetary penalties based on Tamayo’s extensive cooperation with the SEC.  A $1 million disgorgement as part of the settlement can be satisfied by forfeiture or restitution in a parallel criminal proceeding pending in the District of New Jersey, where Tamayo has already pleaded guilty.

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U.S. Senators Introduce Legislation Seeking to Increase SEC Penalty Amounts

On July 9, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced Senate bill 1730, the Stronger Enforcement of Civil Penalties Act of 2015 (SECPA), aimed at increasing the SEC’s ability to combat securities’ laws violations to better protect investors and bolster oversight and accountability. Specifically, the SECPA “increase[es] the statutory limits on civil monetary penalties, directly linking the size of these penalties to the scope of harm and associated investor losses, and substantially raising the financial stakes for repeat securities law violators.” In addition, the legislation calls for expanded penalty authority for violations of previously imposed injunctions or bars, and would categorize individual injunction violations as separate charges.

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SEC Requests Public Feedback On Exchange-Traded Products

On June 12, the SEC issued a press release announcing that it is seeking public comment on how it should regulate exchange-traded products (ETPs), on how broker-dealers sell the securities, especially to retail investors, and on investors’ understanding of the nature and use of ETPs. In particular, the securities regulator is requesting public feedback on arbitrage mechanisms and market pricing for ETPs, legal exemptions, and other regulations related to the listing standards and trading of ETPs. Comments will be received for 60 days following publication in the Federal Register.

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Georgia District Court Rules SEC’s Use of Administrative Law Judges In Insider Trading Case “Likely Unconstitutional”

On June 8, in Hill v. Securities And Exchange Commission, Civ. Action No. 1:15-CV-1801-LMM, a Georgia federal judge ruled that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s use of an in-house Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to preside over an insider-trading case was “likely unconstitutional.” In Hill, after a nearly two-year investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) served Charles Hill, a self-employed real estate developer who was not registered with the SEC, with an Order Instituting Cease-And-Desist Proceedings under Section 21C of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”), alleging liability for insider trading in violation of Section 14(e) of the Exchange Act and Rule 14e-3. The SEC alleged that Hill, using inside information he received, purchased and then sold a large quantity of Radiant Systems, Inc. stock, profiting approximately $744,000. In addition to the cease-and-desist order, the SEC sought a civil penalty and disgorgement from Mr. Hill. The SEC sought to collect the civil penalty through an administrative hearing using an in-house ALJ. Mr. Hill filed this action to challenge the SEC’s decision to use an administrative proceeding, and asked the Court to (i) declare the proceeding unconstitutional; and (ii) enjoin the proceeding from occurring until the Court issues its ruling. The Court granted, in part, and denied, in part, his request.  Read more…

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Agencies Finalize Diversity Policy Statement

On June 9, six federal agencies – the Federal Reserve, CFPB, FDIC, NCUA, OCC, and the SEC – issued a final interagency policy statement creating guidelines for assessing the diversity policies and practices of the entities they regulate. Mandated by Section 342 of the Dodd-Frank Act, the final policy statement requires the establishment of an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion at each of the agencies and includes standards for the agencies to assess an entity’s organizational commitment to diversity, workforce and employment practices, procurement and business practices, and practices to promote transparency of diversity and inclusion within the organization. The final interagency guidance incorporates over 200 comments received from financial institutions, industry trade groups, consumer advocates, and community leaders on the proposed standards issued in October 2013. The final policy statement will be effective upon publication in the Federal Register. The six agencies also are requesting public comment, due within 60 days following publication in the Federal Register, on the information collection aspects of the interagency guidance.

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SEC Releases Agenda For Upcoming Advisory Committee Meeting

On May 28, the SEC released the agenda for its upcoming Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies meeting, which is scheduled to occur on June 3. The meeting will focus on public company disclosure effectiveness, intrastate crowdfunding, venture exchanges, and the treatment of “finders.” The Advisory Committee also is expected to vote on a recommendation to the SEC with respect to the “Section 4(a)(1½) exemption,” which shareholders may use to resell privately issued securities. The meeting will be held at the SEC headquarters, and is open to the public.

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SEC Publishes Cybersecurity Guidance for Registered Investment Companies and Advisers

On April 30, the SEC’s Division of Investment Management issued IM Guidance Update No. 2015-02 which highlights measures that investment companies and advisers may wish to consider in addressing cybersecurity risks. The guidance urges firms to adopt a three-pronged approach including, among other things: Conducting a periodic assessment of (1) the nature, sensitivity and location of information that the firm collects, processes and/or stores, and the technology systems it uses; (2) internal and external cybersecurity threats to and vulnerabilities of the firm’s information and technology systems; (3) security controls and processes currently in place; (4) the impact should the information or technology systems become compromised; and (5) the effectiveness of the governance structure for the management of cybersecurity risk. Second, creating a strategy designed to prevent, detect, and respond to cybersecurity threats, and third, implementing the strategy through written policies and procedures. The Division’s guidance also warned investment companies and advisers about third-party vendor agreements that could potentially lead to unauthorized access of investors’ information.

 

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