On June 7, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) released details of the Financial CHOICE (Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs) Act, a Republican proposal to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act. According to Chairman Hensarling’s remarks delivered to the Economic Club of New York, “Dodd-Frank has failed.” The goals of the proposed plan are: (i) to promote economic growth through competitive, transparent, and innovative capital markets; (ii) to provide the opportunity for every American to achieve financial independence; (iii) to protect consumers from fraud and deception as well as the loss of economic freedom; (iv) to end taxpayer bailouts of financial institutions and too big to fail institutions; (v) to manage systemic risk; (vi) to simplify in order to prevent powerful entities from taking advantage of complexity in the law; and (vii) to hold Wall Street and Washington accountable. Importantly, Section Three (“Empower Americans to achieve financial independence by fundamentally reforming the CFPB and protecting investors”) proposes, among other things, to replace the current single director structure of the CFPB with a five-member, bipartisan commission subject to congressional oversight and appropriations. Section Three further proposes to repeal indirect auto lending guidance. As part of its goal to end “too big to fail” institutions and bank bailouts, Section Two of the Act proposes to retroactively repeal FSOC’s authority to designate firms as systematically important financial institutions. Finally, in an effort to “unleash opportunities for small businesses, innovators, and job creators by facilitating capital formation,” Section Six of the Act proposes to repeal the Volcker Rule, along with other sections and titles of Dodd-Frank that limit capital formation.
On June 21, the SEC and DOJ announced a nearly $15 million settlement with a Massachusetts-based imaging company and its wholly-owned Danish subsidiary to resolve parallel civil and criminal actions involving FCPA violations. The SEC alleged that, from at least 2001 through early 2011, the subsidiary paid about $20 million to third parties in hundreds of sham transactions with distributors in Russia and shell companies in Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, and Seychelles. The sham transactions involved fictitious inflated invoices to the distributors with the over-payments going to third parties identified by the distributors. The subsidiary did not have a relationship with the third parties and did not know if the payments had any business purpose for the distributors.
The settlement is consistent with the settlement offer that the imaging company disclosed last December, and it reflects the company’s agreement to pay $7.67 million in disgorgement and $3.8 million in prejudgment interest to resolve the SEC’s books and records and internal controls charges, and the subsidiary’s agreement to pay $3.4 million in criminal fines in a non-prosecution agreement with the DOJ. The subsidiary’s former CFO also settled with the SEC, agreeing to pay a $20,000 penalty to settle allegations that he knowingly circumvented internal controls and falsified the subsidiary’s books and records.
SEC Reaches Non-Prosecution Agreements for Bribes of Chinese Officials; DOJ Declines to Pursue FCPA Enforcement Actions
On June 7, the SEC announced it had entered into non-prosecution agreements with two unrelated companies in connection with bribes paid to Chinese officials by foreign subsidiaries. First, a Massachusetts-based internet services provider agreed to pay $652,000 in disgorgement and $19,433 in interest. According to its agreement, the company’s foreign subsidiary had paid bribes to induce Chinese government-owned entities to purchase more services than they needed. Second, a Rhode Island-based residential and commercial building products manufacturer agreed to pay $291,000 in disgorgement and $30,000 in interest. According to that agreement, the company’s subsidiary made improper payments and gifts to Chinese officials in exchange for preferential treatment, relaxed regulatory oversight, and reduced customs duties, taxes, and fees. The agreements each stipulate that the companies are not charged with violations of the FCPA and will not pay any additional monetary penalties. Read more…
On June 8, the SEC announced that a New York-based financial services firm agreed to pay a $1 million civil monetary penalty to resolve allegations that it violated the “Safeguards Rule,” Rule 30(a) of Regulation S-P (17 C.F.R. § 248.30(a)). According to the SEC, the firm “failed to ensure the reasonable design and proper operation of its policies and procedures in safeguarding confidential customer data.” The SEC further contends that the firm failed to audit or test the authorization models that allowed employees to access the portals hosting customer data. The financial services firm settled the charges without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. As of result of the company’s alleged failures, between 2011 and 2014, a then-current employee of the firm gained access to and copied data regarding approximately 730,000 customer accounts to his personal server. The SEC alleges that the employee’s personal server was hacked, and portions of the misappropriated data were posted to at least three Internet sites, with an offer to sell more of the stolen data in exchange for payment in digital currency. Per the employee’s separate consent order, the employee agreed to an industry and penny stock bar with the right to apply for reentry after five years. He was previously criminally convicted for his actions and received 36 months of probation and $600,000 in restitution.
On June 1, the SEC announced that a Wall Street-based brokerage firm agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty to settle charges that it failed to sufficiently evaluate or monitor customers’ trading for suspicious activity and to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) in an alleged willful violation of Section 17(a) of the Exchange Act and Rule 17a-8. The broker-dealer was required to have written AML policies and procedures, which outlined specific examples of suspicious activities that, according to the SEC, “should have triggered internal reviews and, in a number of instances, [(SAR)] filings.” According to the SEC, the broker-dealer failed to file SARs on the following activity: (i) accounts that traded an aberrational percentage of a given stock in a particular day; (ii) accounts of entities that had executives charged with criminal securities fraud; (iii) customer trading that was the subject of grand jury subpoenas and regulatory inquiries; (iv) liquidation of securities followed immediately by large cash transfers; (v) transactions in securities that were subsequently subject to SEC trading suspensions; and (vi) rejections by other broker-dealers of attempts by the firm to transfer customers’ securities. Despite these red flags, the brokerage firm failed to file SARs for more than five years. The case represents the SEC’s first against a firm for solely failing to file SARs.