On June 5, 2017, the United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that disgorgement, a remedy that the SEC frequently utilizes to recover so-called “ill-gotten gains” from respondents in enforcement proceedings, is subject to 28 U.S.C. § 2642’s five-year statute of limitations for “an action, suit, or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture.”  As discussed previously, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the underlying case, SEC v. Kokesh (“Kokesh”), after a split in the appellate judicial circuits over whether SEC disgorgement was a “penalty” subject to the five-year statute of limitations.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Kokesh is not the first time that the Supreme Court has placed limitations on the SEC’s enforcement powers.  In Gabelli v. SEC, a case from 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that civil monetary penalties were subject to the five-year statute of limitations.

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On May 24, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint against an options trading instructor and unregistered investment adviser, Gustavo A. Guzman (“Guzman”).  The complaint alleges that Guzman obtained more than $2.1 million from investors, assuring them that their funds would be invested in equity options and real estate.  However, evidence showed that Guzman misappropriated a third of the funds “and lost the remainder through his options trading while misleading existing or prospective investors.”

Guzman was not registered as an investment adviser with the SEC or any state authority.  However, he was tasked with managing investments in two private funds specializing in options trading and one real estate hedge fund.  He also received management fees for managing these funds.  As a result, Guzman met the definition of an investment adviser in the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) and was subject to its anti-fraud provisions. Continue reading

On May 17, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC’s”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published a Risk Alert pertaining to cybersecurity.  According to the Risk Alert, an extensive ransomware attack called WannaCry, WCry, or Wanna Decryptor “rapidly affected numerous organizations across over one hundred countries.”  In light of the WannaCry attack, OCIE is urging registered investment advisers, broker-dealers, and investment companies, to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

According to the Risk Alert and an alert published by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Cert Alert TA17-132A, the hacker or hacking group who instigated the WannaCry attack obtained access to enterprise servers by way of exploiting a Windows Server Message Block vulnerability. WannaCry infects computers using software that encrypts data on a server using a .WCRY file-name extension, which prevents the rightful owner from accessing the data. Once infected, the ransomware software demands payment from the business in return for access to the business’ data. Microsoft released a patch to this vulnerability in March of 2017, but many users of Microsoft operating systems do not diligently update their software. Continue reading

On May 4, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) reached a settlement with Verto Capital Management, LLC (“Verto”), a New Jersey-based life settlement firm, and its CEO, William Schantz III (“Schantz”).  Verto and Schantz consented to pay the SEC about $4 million, which includes both disgorgement and a penalty, to settle claims that they used funds from new investors to pay older investors in a Ponzi-type manner.  The SEC also alleged that Verto and Schantz diverted investor funds for Schantz’s personal use.

The settlement resulted from a complaint filed by the SEC in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey alleging that between November 2013 and November 2015 Verto and Schantz issued about $12.5 million worth of nine-month 7% promissory notes to investors.  Verto and Schantz claimed that the funds from these promissory notes would be used to purchase “life settlements,” which are life insurance policies that have been sold by their original owners to third-party buyers.  The SEC’s complaint alleges that Verto and Schantz made a variety of misrepresentations in the sale of these promissory notes. Continue reading

On April 17, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Justin D. Meadlin (“Meadlin”), an investment adviser, and Hyaline Capital Management, LLC (“Hyaline”), his advisory firm.  The complaint alleges that Meadlin and Hyaline made fraudulent misrepresentations and omitted material facts in order to “induce clients, and prospective investors… to invest funds with them.”  These actions caused them to be in violation of Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) and Rule 206(4)-8 under the Advisers Act.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that from September 2012 to April 2013, Meadlin sent emails that exaggerated the amount of Hyaline’s assets under management (“AUM”) to clients and prospective investors.  These emails provided that Hyaline had AUM that ranged from $17.5 million to $25 million.  In reality, however, Hyaline had only $5.5 million in AUM during the relevant time period.  Meadlin also sent emails that contained false statements pertaining to expected AUM. Continue reading

On May 10, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (“Order”) against Barclays Capital Inc. (“Barclays Capital”).  The Order alleges that Barclays Capital, in its capacity as a dually-registered investment adviser and broker-dealer, overcharged advisory clients in the course of its wealth and investment management business.  In conjunction with the Order, Barclays Capital submitted an Offer of Settlement where it agreed to pay about $97 million, which includes disgorgement and a penalty.

According to the SEC’s Order, Barclays Capital was the adviser and fiduciary to its advisory clients for two wrap fee programs: the Select Advisors Program and the Accommodation Manager Program, both of which were launched in September 2010.  Starting in September 2010 and ending around the close of 2014, Barclays Capital assured Select Advisors Program clients in both client agreements and in its brochure that “Barclays Capital performed initial due diligence and ongoing monitoring of third-party managers it recommended to manage its clients’ assets using specific investment strategies.”  Likewise, beginning in May 2011 and ending in March 2013, Barclays Capital assured Accommodation Manager Program clients that it conducted limited due diligence and monitoring of Accommodation Manager Program strategies. Continue reading

On January 13, 2017, the United States Supreme Court agreed to examine a case involving the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC’s”) ability to seek disgorgement of ill-gotten gains in fraud cases, including fraud cases involving investment advisers.  The case, Kokesh v. SEC, raises the issue of whether claims for disgorgement are subject to a five-year statute of limitations on civil penalties.  Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court in April.

The underlying case involves a New Mexico investment adviser named Charles R. Kokesh (“Kokesh”), who acted as an investment adviser to various funds organized as limited partnerships.  The SEC filed suit against Kokesh, alleging that from 1995 through 2006, Kokesh ordered the funds’ treasurer to take money from the funds to pay various expenses, including $23.8 million for salaries and bonuses to the funds’ officers, including Kokesh, $5 million for office rent, and $6.1 million characterized as “tax distributions.”  According to the Tenth Circuit, the payments violated the funds’ contracts because the contracts did not permit payments for salaries of the funds’ controlling persons, including Kokesh, until 2000.  The contracts also did not address bonus payments, and they only permitted payment of tax obligations if certain prerequisites were present.  A jury found that Kokesh violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, among other statutes, and the District Court ordered Kokesh to pay a $2.4 million civil penalty, plus disgorgement of $35 million based on amounts going back to 1995.

In response, Kokesh appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the disgorgement was a penalty subject to a five-year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 2462.  The SEC argued that the disgorgement was remedial and not punitive, and therefore not a penalty subject to the statute of limitations.  The Tenth Circuit agreed with the SEC and held that disgorgement was not a penalty.

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently released a final rule delaying by 60 days the implementation date of the DOL Fiduciary Rule from April 10th to June 9th. This is in response to President Trump’s February memorandum asking the DOL to review the impact of the DOL Fiduciary Rule and assess whether it negatively effects the ability of retirement investors to gain access to retirement information and financial advice. The DOL Fiduciary Rule seeks to assign fiduciary duties to all advisers to retirement investors by expanding the definition of fiduciary investment advice under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to cover a wider array of advice relationships.

Under the DOL’s final delay rule, the revised definition of fiduciary investment advice and certain provisions of the Best Interest Contract (BIC) exemption will be implemented on June 9th. At that time, advisers acting as fiduciaries and engaging in transactions covered by the exemption must comply with the impartial conduct standards of the BIC exemption. The impartial conduct standards include providing investment advice in the best interest of the retirement investor, receiving only reasonable compensation, and not making any materially misleading statements. Continue reading

On April 10, 2017, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) National Adjudicatory Council (“NAC”) updated FINRA’s Sanction Guidelines.  The purpose of these updates is to “ensure that the guidelines reflect recent developments in the disciplinary process, comport with changes in FINRA’s rules, and accurately reflect the levels of sanctions imposed in FINRA disciplinary proceedings.”

FINRA’s Sanction Guidelines are designed to acquaint FINRA-member firms with common securities-industry rule violations that take place and the variety of disciplinary sanctions that may be imposed because of those rule violations.  The Sanction Guidelines also serve as a tool to help FINRA’s adjudicators find suitable sanctions in disciplinary proceedings.  From time to time, FINRA conducts reviews of the Sanction Guidelines to account for “changes in FINRA’s rules” and to reflect accurately “the levels of sanctions imposed in FINRA disciplinary proceedings.” Continue reading

On April 10, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it brought enforcement actions against 27 firms and individuals.  According to the SEC, these firms and individuals published articles on investment websites about various companies’ stock.  The articles did not disclose to investors, however, that they were not “independent, unbiased analyses,” and they allegedly gave investors the opinion that they were.  The articles also did not have any disclaimers stating that the authors were being paid for promoting various companies’ stock.

The SEC conducted investigations through which it found that public companies engaged promoters or communications firms to create publicity for their stocks.  The promoters and communications firms then employed writers to write articles about the companies.  These articles, however, did not inform the public that the writers were receiving compensation from the public companies.  The SEC claims that, because these articles did not disclose the compensation arrangement, they created the impression that they were impartial when in fact they were “nothing more than paid advertisements.”  Moreover, the SEC found that more than 250 articles contained untrue statements that the writers were not being paid by the companies that their articles were discussing.  As a result, the SEC is alleging that the relevant firms and individuals committed fraud. Continue reading