Articles Posted in Investment

Cryptocurrency proponents tout the technology’s potentially “transformative” nature and its position as an arguably more stable store of value when compared with fiat money. [1] Yet SEC Chairman Gary Gensler cautioned crypto investors against an overly rosy view of the technology during a speech at the Penn Law Capital Markets Association Annual Conference this week. Instead, Gensler advocated for investor caution, along with a much broader regulatory and enforcement role for the SEC in cryptocurrency markets. [2]

Before sharing his view of the SEC’s role in crypto markets, Chairman Gensler first compared the technology to that of the dotcom bubble in 2000 and subprime lenders leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. His message: the flurry of attention on crypto and related innovations does little to vouch for its long-term viability or success. Instead, as was borne out in 2000 and again in 2008, cryptocurrency could indeed be a technology destined for failure.

The SEC’s role then, in Gensler’s view, is to protect investors from the potential financial blowback of such a failure. While Gensler lauded the spirit of entrepreneurship common in the United States, he also argued that the SEC should approach crypto regulation in a “technology neutral” way. In so doing, the SEC could carry out their mission to protect investors, facilitate capital formation, and maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, while still allowing crypto markets to flourish.

Early this month, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the indictment of five defendants, each of whom have been charged in connection with an $8.4 million “boiler room” and money laundering scheme. [1] In addition to the DOJ’s criminal indictment of the group, the Securities and Exchange Commission also filed a civil case seeking injunctions and civil penalties. [2]

“Boiler room” operations are fraudulent schemes in which high-pressure, coercive sales tactics are used to induce clients into purchasing stocks or other investments. [3] Often, these operations consist of groups of salespeople working from offices in foreign countries who cold-call clients in an attempt to defraud them. [3] The salespeople involved in boiler room schemes are rarely licensed brokers, and the stocks they purport to sell may not exist at all. [3]

In the instant case, the DOJ alleges that the defendants conspired to commit securities fraud when they engaged in a boiler room scheme involving fake investment firms and shell companies used to mislead investors. [1] The alleged scheme operated from approximately June 2019 until August 2021, and defrauded English-speaking investors across the globe of more than $8 million. [4]

When it comes to insider trading, corporate executives are often the first offenders that come to mind. Recently, however, public attention has shifted toward the investing activity of members of Congress as potential instances of illegal insider trading.

Members of Congress are inherently privy to more information about in-process legislation, forthcoming policy shifts, and potential economic impacts than the average market participant. [1] Such “insider” knowledge is a direct result of the duties entailed in a lawmaker’s job, and some argue this insider position presents an unmistakable conflict of interest. [1]

Congress previously sought to address this conflict of interest with its passage of the Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge (“STOCK”) in April 2012. [2] At its most distilled, the STOCK Act explicitly made congressional insider trading illegal, and put in place disclosure requirements for each individual stock trade made by a member of Congress. [2] Prior to the passage of this law, insider trading – that is, trading by members of Congress based on material, nonpublic information – had been perfectly legal. [2]

by
Published on:
Updated:

While the dust settles on the recent trial of Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO of Silicon Valley startup Theranos, attention is building around the Securities and Exchange Commission’s current and future role in regulating private firms.

Under existing federal law, private firms with less than 2,000 shareholders are not required to register with the SEC nor provide routine disclosures, unlike their public counterparts. [1]

While exemption from such regulatory requirements may provide private startup companies with the freedom to develop their business unimpeded by government, thus encouraging valuable innovation, the rapid growth of the private capital market has experts questioning whether some degree of SEC oversight may be warranted.

As 2021 draws to a close, it is a fitting time to revisit some of the main enforcement actions taken by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) through fiscal year (FY) 2021, which ended on September 30th, 2021.

In total, the number of new enforcement actions filed by the SEC in FY 2021 increased by 7% over the previous year, with 434 new enforcement actions. While the total number of enforcement actions – including new actions along with other “follow-on” or open proceedings  – decreased slightly year over year in FY 2021, the SEC remained committed to its role as “cop on the beat for America’s securities laws,” as described by Chair Gary Gensler. [1] The SEC maintained a sharp focus on protecting the integrity of the country’s capital markets through enforcement actions against bad actors even in the face of the persisting COVID-19 pandemic persisted.

In announcing its progress on enforcement actions during FY 2021, the SEC concentrated on several key priority areas. Some of these priority areas, per a recent SEC Press Release, included “holding individuals accountable,” “ensuring gatekeepers live up to their obligations,” “rooting out misconduct in crypto,” “policing financial fraud and issuer disclosure,” “cracking down on insider trading and market manipulation,” and “swiftly acting to protect investors.” [1]

While investors should always be alert and even skeptical of unsolicited communications about their investments, an SEC investor alert from November 19, 2021, further highlights how important this vigilance is.

According to the alert provided by the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (“OIEA”),  the SEC has received reports of several individuals receiving communications from people posing as SEC personnel. Whether these communications come in the form of emails, phone calls, or letters, the SEC warns investors that they are “in no way connected to the SEC.” [1]

The fraudulent phone and voicemail messages are particularly misleading because they come from phone numbers that appear to be connected to the SEC. [1] The communications have targeted victims by raising investment-related concerns, such as “suspicious activity” in both checking and cryptocurrency accounts.[1]

In today’s ever-interconnected society, protecting the stability and security of cyber infrastructure and the personal information stored therein has never been of greater importance. Recognizing this need, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has taken marked steps to protect the security of investor records and information that broker-dealer firms possess.

In fact, the SEC has recently begun sanctioning the very victims of cyberattacks – investment firms that have fallen prey to such attacks – citing their deficient cybersecurity procedures as partly to blame for the unauthorized third-party access to investor’s private information. [1]

On August 30, 2021, the SEC released three orders sanctioning eight firms for their failures in protecting their customers’ personally identifiable information due to inadequate cybersecurity policies and procedures. These orders each proceeded as violations of Rule 30(a) of Regulation S-P, colloquially known as the “Safeguards Rule.” [2]

On September 27th, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced affinity fraud charges against a Miami payday lender, Sky Group USA LLC (“Sky Group”), and its CEO, Efrain Betancourt. [1] The SEC’s complaint lists eight violations of federal securities law centering on allegations of material misrepresentations and omissions regarding Sky Group’s use of investor funds, its profitability, and the safety and security of the promissory notes it sold. [2]

According to the SEC’s complaint, Sky Group ran its fraudulent scheme from at least January 2016 through March 2020. During this time, Sky Group raised approximately $66 million through the sale of promissory notes while representing itself as a payday lender soliciting investors to fund its business. [2]

In particular, Sky Group targeted Venezuelan-American investors in South Florida, who in turn often spread information about the investment opportunity by word-of-mouth. Betancourt specifically pitched Sky Group investments as “a great opportunity for members of the Venezuelan immigrant community to generate investment income,” touting its supposed $70 million loan portfolio as evidence of the investment’s safety.

In an order issued on September 24th, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) settled with Thomas Powell, Stefan Toth, and two entities they owned, Homebound Resources LLC (“Homebound”) and Resolute Capital Partners LTD LLC (“RCP”) on several charges of investment and securities fraud relating to oil and gas securities offerings. [1]

The SEC’s order concerns a period of time from 2016 through 2019, during which the SEC alleged that respondents made material misrepresentations and omissions about their oil and gas securities offerings. [1] The order states that neither Powell nor Toth were registered nor even associated with a registered broker-dealer during the relevant time period as they sold unregistered securities to investors. [2]

RCP is described as a private equity firm that “gives smart investors access to beyond-Wall Street assets, such as oil and gas wells” by creating, and then offering, oil and gas debt and equity investment vehicles for oil and gas wells. [2] In so doing, RCP relies on Homebound to identify and purchase these oil and gas wells. [2] During the relevant time period, Thomas Powell owned RCP while Stefan Toth owned and managed Homebound. [2]

Contact Information