Articles Posted in Pump and Dump Scams

Chad Peter Smanjak has been sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Smanjak admitted to operating a pump-and-dump scam linked to a company founded by Daniel Ruettiger, also known as Rudy. Ruettiger’s time playing football at Notre Dame was retold in the movie “Rudy.”

Smanjak is accused of targeting over 250 investors in his penny stock scam, which made at least $5M in profits. Although he had co-conspirators, Smanjak was the only person indicted in this securities case.

The penny stock in the scam was issued by Rudy Nutrition, which Ruettiger founded. The sports drink company claimed it was selling health conscious drinks.

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SEC Files Fraud Charges Against Unregistered Representatives in $5M Fraud
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained an asset freeze against Matthew White, Daniel Merandi, and Rodney Zehner for alleged financial fraud. The three men are not registered to sell investments. They are accused of raising over $5M from investors and spending the money on expensive shopping expeditions.

According to the SEC, Merandi, White, and Zehner fraudulently issued $1B in unsecured corporate bonds using their shell company. They said the funds would go toward developing a resort. Although they never raised enough money to begin the project, they took $5.6M that they did raise from investors and went shopping at Gucci, Prada, Saks Fifth Avenue, Versace, and Louis Vuitton. The men allegedly conducted bogus transactions to raise the bond’s price even though the securities were expired and had no value.

The Commission is accusing Merandi, White, Zehner, and their companies of violating the Securities Act of 1933’s Section 17(a) antifraud provision, the Exchange Act of 1934’s Section 10(b), and Rule10b-5. It wants permanent injunctions, penalties, and disgorgement.

Broker Pleads Guilty to Fraud Involving $131M Market Manipulation Scam
Registered broker Naveed Khan has pleaded guilty to securities fraud. Khan faces up to 20 years behind bars for his involvement in a $131M pump-and-dump scam that involved the market manipulation of ForceField Energy Inc. (FNRG).

Between 1/09 and 4/15, the defendant and others sought to bilk ForceField investors. The fraudsters are accused of using nominees to sell and buy the LED company’s stock without notifying current investors and potential ones, orchestrating trading to make it seem as if the public was interested in ForceField’s stock, and hiding payments made to brokerage firms and stock promoters. These broker-dealers purportedly marketed and sold the stock under the guise of being independent.

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Government Charges Convicted Broker with More Fraud Charges
Jeffrey Martinovich is charged with 13 new counts of fraud. He is is ex-head of MICG Investment Management and was convicted of 17 fraud charges three years ago.

Martinovich is accused of improperly moving over $700K from a company hedge fund in 2010. According to prosecutors, he spent $170K of the funds for his legal defense fees and at least $59K on his personal expenses. He also purportedly took out over $147K more from the hedge fund account.

It was in 2011 that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority expelled Martinovich and his firm for securities fraud, improperly using client money, and causing false statements to be sent to investors related to the MICG Venture Strategies LLC, a proprietary hedge fund. The self-regulatory organization said that Martinovich and MICG improperly assigned asset values that were excessive to two non-public securities.

FINRA said that the assets’ value were inflated so that incentive and management fee could be increased.

Offshore Broker Pleads Guilty in $250M Pump-and-Dump Scam
Gregg Mulholland has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for operating a pump-and-dump-scam that manipulated shares of over 40 companies in the U.S. One company, Cynk Technology, saw its share price increase by 24,000%.

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Connecticut Firm Accused of Conflict of Interest Involving $43M Fraud
The Securities and Exchange Commission is filing fraud charges against Atlantic Asset Management LLC (AAM). The regulator says that the Connecticut-based investment advisory firm got clients involved in certain bonds that resulted in an undisclosed financial benefit to a brokerage firm whose parent company is part owner of AAM.

The firm is accused of investing over $43M of investor money in illiquid bonds that were issued by a Native American tribal corporation. The sales provided the brokerage-firm with a private placement fee.

The SEC says that investors should have been notified of the financial gain that resulted and the firm violated its obligation to them when it placed its own financial interests before client’s interests.

In its complaint the SEC says that it was a representative from BFG Socially Responsible Investing Ltd., which partially owns AAM, who suggested that the investment advisory firm buy the illiquid bonds for clients. AAM purportedly knew that the bond sale proceeds would to go toward an annuity that the parent company provided.

The Commission says that after finding out that their money had been placed in the bonds, several AAM clients demanded that the investments be unwound but their requests were unsuccessful.

Ex-Investment Adviser Pleads Guilty to Securities and Annuities Scam
Janet Fooshee has pleaded guilty to 31 charges related to a $1.178M financial scam involving securities and annuities. The 63-year-old former New Jersey investment adviser admitted to fraudulently servicing over 100 financial account statements that increased 14 client accounts by about $818K collectively. She also admitted to stealing about $151K from clients, keeping over $190K in unlawful fees, defrauding another investor of almost $81K, and stealing the identities of about eight corporations. Fooshee said that she illegally took funds from over two dozen retirees and others over a period spanning a decade.

Fooshee also used the names Janet Katz and Janet Gurley. As part of the plea deal she must pay $415K in restitution. A seven-year prison term is recommended for her.
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Wedbush to Pay Trusts, Family Members Over $813,000
A Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Panel says that Wedbush securities and investment advisor Kevin Thomas Scarpelli must jointly and severally pay several investors over $813,000 to resolve allegations of professional negligence and failure to supervise related to investments made in Natural Resources USA Corp. The respondents denied the allegations and asked that the claims be thrown own.

After considering the pleadings, evidence, and testimony, the panel decided that Wedbush and Scarpelli must pay claimants: Mary L. Riscornia TTEE nearly $263,000, Jennifer Tiscornia over $252,313, Nicolas E. Toussaint over $55,300, Nicolas E. Toussaint TTEE over $1800, Michael J. Nicolai over $18,4000, Michael Nicolai TTEE over $156,221, Jeffrey M. Nicolai over $22,154, Katherine M. Nicolai over $22,000 and Alexandria P. Nicolai over $22,000 in damages, interest, legal fees, and costs. The FINRA panel denied Scarpelli’s request to have his record expunged of this securities case.

SEC Files Charges in $78M Pump-and-Dump Scam Involving Jammin’ Java Stock, Marley Trademark
The Securities and Exchange Commission is accusing ex-Jammin’ Java CEO Shane Whittle of masterminding a $78 million pump-and-dump scam involving the company’s shares. Jammin’ Java operates Marley Coffee, which uses the late reggae legend Bob Marley’s trademark to sell products.

According to the regulator, Whittle used a reverse merger to-in secret-get control of millions of Jammin’ Java shares, which he then spread to offshore entities under the control of Michael Sun, Wayne Weaver, and René Berlinger. The shares were dumped on the public after their price rose in the wake of bogus promotional campaigns. Whittle purportedly hid the scam by making misleading omissions and statements in reports submitted to the SEC.
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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed charges against California Attorney Richard Weed, Coleman Flaherty, and Thomas Brazil. The regulator contends that Weed facilitated a pump and dump scam involving CitySide Tickets Inc. stock that allowed Flaherty and Brazil to get millions of supposedly unrestricted shares.

Investors were barraged with a misleading and false promotional campaign presenting CitySide Tickets as a company in the verge of expansion and success. As the stock price went up, Flaherty and Brazil sold their shares to investors, causing the two of them to make about $3 million in illicit proceeds. Weed purportedly was well compensated for the role that he played.

The Commission charges the three men with violating federal securities laws’ antifraud provisions and related rules. The agency wants disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, interest, penalties, permanent injunctions against further violations, and penny stock bars. Meantime, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts has filed a parallel criminal case against Flaherty, Brazil, and Weed.

The SEC has filed charges against Chimera Energy, a Houston-based penny stock scam, and four individuals for their purported involvement in a pump-and-dump scam that made over $4.5 million in illicit proceeds. Investors were led to believe that the company was creating technology that would allow for oil-and-gas production that was environmentally friendly.

The regulator claims that Andrew I. Farmer set up Chimera Energy and secretly got control of all the shares issued in an IPO. He then set up a promotional campaign to hype the stock, touting technology that would extract shale oil without fracking.

In the alleged Texas securities fraud, Chimera Energy claimed that an entity named China Inland gave it an exclusive license to develop and commercialize the non-hydraulic extraction technologies. The SEC says that China Inland is not a real company and that Chimera Energy had no such technology or even a license.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said that as part of Operation Shell-Expel, its initiative to fight microcap fraud, it is suspending trading in 255 dormant shell companies that it says are “ripe for abuse in the over-the-counter market.” The regulator’s Office of Market Intelligence in its Enforcement Division has been looking through penny stocks and finding inactive companies.

Already, several hundred dormant shell companies have been suspended to protect them from fraudsters and from pump-and-dump scams, which is common with microcap companies. Schemers will use misleading and false statements to talk up a company’s thinly traded microcap stock. They will then buy the stock at a low figure to inflate the price to make it appear as if there is market activity. The next step involves getting rid of the stock by selling at that higher price and making huge profits.

These latest suspensions involve companies in two foreign countries and 26 US states. If a stock gets suspended from trading, relisting is not possible unless the company gives current financial data to show that it is still in business. Because many dormant shell companies are unlikely to do this, the shells become worthless to fraudsters.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority is charging John Carris Investments LLC with misleading and bilking investors. It seeks a cease and desist order against the financial firm and George Carris, its CEO, to immediately stop soliciting customers to buy Fibrocell Science, Inc. stock without giving them the correct disclosures. The SRO contends that in May 2013, JCI made solicitations to customers without revealing that Carris and another principal of the firm were selling their shares.

In an amended complaint, FINRA accused Carris, JCI, and five other firm principals of committing securities violations and other fraud. The SRO alleges that as JCI played the role of placement agent for FIbrocell, the firm and Carris artificially inflated Fibrocell stock’s price by pre-arranging trading and making Fibrocell stock buys that were not authorized in the accounts of customers.

FINRA contends that JCI and Carris fraudulently sold notes and stock in Invictus Capital, Inc., the firm’s parent company, without disclosing that its financial state was poor. The SRO believes that there was no reason to believe that investors would gain anything economically and Carris and JCI misled investors of Invictus by paying dividends to the latter’s early investors with funds that came from the sales of the company’s securities. Also, FINRA is accusing JCI of putting out false documentation that did not show payments the firm made for Carris’s personal spending and not remitting employee payroll taxes to the US Treasury.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is charging Canadian stock promoters James Hinton, John Kirk, and Benjamin Kirk, and their associates with employing misleading and false promotions to inflate trading in two microcap companies. As a result, they allegedly made millions of dollars after dumping their shares in a pump-and-dump scheme.

Also charged are California-based lawyers Wade Huettel and Luis Carillo, who allegedly assisted Kirk, Hinton, and Kirk in hiding their ownership stakes in the companies by putting together public filings that were misleading and giving legal opinions that were also intended to lead others astray, and Gibraltar Global Securities, which is a brokerage firm located in the Bahamas. The broker-dealer is accused of issuing misleading statements and fake affidavits that let one of the stock promoters sell shares of the company he was pushing in secret. Meantime, Carrillo Huettel LLP, the law practice of Luis and Carillo, was allegedly given stock sale proceeds disguised as a fake “loan” in secret.

The regulator contends the Luniel de Beer, the president of Tradeshow Marketing Company Ltd. and chairman of Pacific Blue Energy Corporation, was paid over $330,000 in secret kickbacks for his alleged involvement in the pump-and-dump scam. Pacific Blue President Joel Franklin, whom the SEC accused of misleading representations and playing a role in the stock sales being able to happen, has already settled the Commission’s charges against him. As for the others mentioned above (and in the SEC’s securities case), they are charged with violating US anti-fraud rules and laws, as well as US securities laws.

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