Articles Posted in SEC

According to a Securities and Exchange Commission probe, Forcerank LLC will pay a penalty of $50K for illegally offering complex derivatives products to retail investors. The company did this via mobile phone games referred to as “fantasy sports for stocks.” Forcerank is settling the case without deny or admitting to the findings that it violated sections of the Securities Exchange Act and the Securities Act.

The SEC’s order said that Forcerank’s mobile phone games involved players predicting the order that 10 securities performed against one another.. Players earned points and sometimes even money prizes according to how accurately they predicted the outcomes. The New York-based company earned 10% of entry fees, as well as developed a data set regarding market expectations that it intended to sell to investors, including hedge funds.

The SEC said that the agreements between players and Forcerank were security-based swaps since they provided for a payment contingent upon an event linked to a possible commercial, economic, or financial result and were determined by individual securities’ values. The Commission also claims that Forcerank LLC neglected to submit a registration statement for a security-based swap offering and did not sell contracts using a national securities exchange. Both are required to make sure that full transparency about a security-based swap offering is provided to retail investors and transactions are restricted to platforms that are under the highest regulation.

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has put out an emergency asset freeze against Peter Kohli, a former broker. According to the regulator, the Pennsylvania resident bilked at least 120 investors when he fraudulently raised over $3.2M from them between 2012 and 2015. The regulator attributes the funds collapse to the ex-broker’s “extreme recklessness.”

At the time, Kohli was CEO and president of DMS Advisors, a dually-registered investment adviser and brokerage firm. He began the DMS Funds series, comprised of four emerging market mutual funds, in 2012. The SEC claims that he overstated the funds’  level of sophistication while disregarding the risk that he and DMS Advisors might not be able to cover certain expenses.

The Commission claims  that Kohli stole money from investors as the funds became beleaguered and he committed three other frauds to keep his scam going.  He also purportedly misappropriated money he solicited to invest in one of the funds and his accused of drawing in two kinds of investments in Marshad Capital Group, which was DMS advisors’ holding company.

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Three years after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission barred Ray Lucia Sr. from the securities industry, the ex-investment adviser and radio talk show host is still seeking to overturn that decision. Last week, he filed a petition asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to hear his case again.

It was just last August that the appeals court heard his petition but refused to review and vacate the SEC ruling. His latest petition was submitted en banc, which could allow all 11 members of the appeals court to refuse to hear the case or decide to do so and issue a vote.

Lucia, who once touted a “buckets of money” investment strategy for retirement was barred after an SEC administrative law judge found that the ex-investment adviser misled investors about the strategy’s approach to growing retirement assets. According to the regulator, the inflation rates Lucia employed to “back-test” his strategy failed to factor in the historical inflation rates during the time periods that were supposedly relevant.

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Florida Man Implicated in Scam Involving Black Check Companies’ Stocks
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil fraud charges against Sheldon R. Rose. The Florida man established over a dozen blank check companies, which the SEC contends are worthless and have no operations despite that they are registered to sell stock. 
According to the regulator, Rose appointed relatives and friends as figurehead officers and shareholders but concealed that he was the one controlling the entities and their securities. Although corporate filings made it seem as if the companies were legitimate startups, the SEC contends that this was only so that reverse mergers could be conducted, the  securities could be sold, and Rose and others could profit illicitly.
In addition to settling the civil charges, Rose is barred from engaging in penny stock offerings in the future or working as a director/officer of a public company. He also faces criminal charges. 
Rose’s civil case is connected to the one that the  SEC filed last year against 10 individuals in a penny stock scam involving blank check companies headed for reverse mergers. 

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Caldwell International Securities Gets $2M Fine to Settle Churning Allegations
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority has imposed a $2M fine on Caldwell International Securities Corp. It is fining Greg Caldwell, who is the principal of the financial firm, $50K. He is now barred from serving as a principal in the securities industry.

FINRA contends that supervisory failures is what allowed Caldwell International Securities’ brokers to allegedly engage in churning. This involves a trader taking part in excessive trading to make the most in commissions possible. The self-regulatory organization said that the firm’s failures caused fifteen clients to pay over $1M in commissions and fees on investment recommendations that were not appropriate for them.

FINRA believes the firm grew too fast and that this was one of the reasons its inadequate supervisory system was purportedly inadequate. The SRO said that it was this lack of proper supervision that made it possible for advisors to make unsuitable investment recommendations.

The regulator said that even after customers complained, Caldwell and other senior employees did not remedy this matter. In 2015, ex-Caldwell registered representative Richard Adams was barred by FINRA. The regulator claimed that Adams made $57K in commissions while clients sustained $3K in losses because of overtrading that took place in two customer accounts.

Alabama Attorney is Accused of Defrauding Professional Athletes, Other Investors Of Over $6M
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is charging Donald Watkins and his companies with fraud. According to the regulator, the Alabama lawyer and his Masada Resource Group LLC and Watkins Pencour LLC bilked investors, including professional athletes, out of more than $6M in supposed waste-to-energy ventures.

The SEC complaint said that the defendants made the false claim that an international waste treatment company was considering acquiring Watkins’ two companies and their affiliated companies in a multi-billion dollar deal. In reality, said the regulator, Waste Management Inc. only had a brief first meeting with the defendants in 2012. This was over a year after the defendants started telling investors that talks were moving forward and an acquisition was going to happen.

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Richard Weed, a financial services lawyer, has been sentenced to four years in prison over his involvement in a stock scam involving a number of publicly trading companies. His sentence was issued in the U.S. District Court in Boston.
Weed was convicted of securities fraud and wire fraud in May. He and two others are accused of conspiring to make it appear as if CitySide, a ticket reseller based in Boston, was growing as a company when, in fact, it was in financial trouble.  Weed was the ticket reseller’s secretary and on its board. 
He drafted false and misleading legal opinion letters in order for his co-conspirators to get free trading stock. He also had the stock distributed to various entities under their control to hide their ownership of CitySide. Because of this, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Massachusetts, the co-conspirators were able to manipulate the reseller’s stock and sell shares at prices that were artificially inflated. 

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Investment Advisor Firm Accused of Paying Off Terminally Ill Patients to Commit Fraud
The SEC has filed fraud charges against Donald Lathen and his Eden Arc Capital Management. Lathen is accused of recruiting at least 60 individuals who had less than six months to live and agreeing to pay them $10K each for the use of their names on joint brokerage accounts. When one of these individuals would die, he would allegedly redeem the investments by falsely representing that he and the terminally individual person were joint account holders.

Lathen recruited the terminally ill patients through contacts he had at hospices and nursing homes. In reality, it was Lathen’s hedge fund that owned the option investments.

As a result, of the purported omissions and misrepresentations, issuers paid over $100M in early redemptions. Lathen is accused of violating the custody rule by not properly putting the securities and money from the hedge fund in an account under the name of the fund or in one that held only client money and securities.

SEC Stops Trading in Neromamam Ltd.
The SEC has stopped the trading of Neuromama Ltd. (NERO) shares. The shares trade on the mostly unregulated over-the-counter markets and the regulator is concerned about transactions that may be “potentially manipulative, as well as other red flags that have purportedly been cropping up for years.

Neruomama’s paper value went up times four to $35B this year despite not much volume. The company’s shares went up by four times to $56/share. (On January 15, ’14, its value was $4.73B.)

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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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SEC Wins Asset Freeze Against Two Ex-Brokers in Alleged $5M Fraud
The Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained an asset freeze from a court to stop the alleged ongoing fraud by ex-brokers Douglas Albert Dyer and James Hugh Brennan III. They are accused of raising over $5M from investors and improperly using their money. Both men have disciplinary histories.

According to the Commission, since 2008 Dyer and Brennan had sold purported shares in several companies to over 240 investors but did not register the stock. They allegedly moved this money into their personal accounts or to their wives’ accounts. They also purportedly did not disclose that Brennan was banned from the brokerage industry or that Dyer had been fined and suspended for unrelated unauthorized transactions involving customer accounts.

Also named in the SEC case is Broad Street Ventures, which is Brennan and Dyer’s company. Their wives are relief defendants. The regulator wants ill-gotten gains, interest, penalties, and permanent injunctions.

Ex-Investment Adviser Faces Criminal Charges for Allegedly Stealing Over $5.1M from Clients
Bradley Smegal is charged with securities fraud. The ex-Washington State investment advisor is accused of stealing over $5.1M from at least 14 clients.

Prosecutors say that between 8/07 and 1/13 Smegal persuaded clients to invest with entities that he said “guaranteed” specific return rates and were “conservative.” According to court documents, he failed to disclose he had a stake in the investments, and he moved $825,00K of the funds into his own account.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office has issued a statement announcing that Patrick E. Churchville, the president and owner of ClearPath Wealth Management, will plead guilty to one count of tax fraud and numerous counts of wire fraud related to the running a $21M Ponzi scam. According to prosecutors, Churchville also used $2.5M of investor money to buy a house and neglected to pay over $820K of his federal income taxes.

Court documents report that a federal probe determined that from ‘08 through October ’11 the Rhode Island investment adviser and his firm invested about $18M in JER Receivables on behalf of investors. The government said that in 6/10, Churchville found out that the investments were no longer rendering returns and that ClearPath had been the subject of misleading and fraudulent representations by JER principals. However, instead of notifying clients that he lost millions of dollars of their money, he tried to hide the losses while continuing to collect investment fees.

As a result, Churchville misappropriated about $21M of investor money, misusing their funds while bringing in money from new investors. For example, he used investor money to repay JER investors while pretending that the funds were investment returns. He also lied when he told investors that past investments with JER Receivables had resulted in high return rates.

The government’s probe, conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and the IRS Criminal Investigation, also found that Churchville set up a scam in which he used investor money as collateral and, without their permission, used the funds to help him get $2.5M to buy a home. He did not report that money as income on his personal tax returns, hence the more than $820K nonpayment of his taxes.

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