Articles Tagged with Disgorgement

On August 2, 2017, a federal court in Connecticut ordered Steven Hicks (“Hicks”), a hedge fund manager, and his hedge fund advisory firms to pay almost $13 million.  This payment includes disgorgement and a penalty.  In 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint against Hicks and his two hedge fund advisers, Southridge Capital Management LLC (“Southridge Capital”) and Southridge Advisors, LLC (“Southridge Advisors”).  The complaint alleged that Hicks, Southridge Capital, and Southridge Advisors committed fraud by placing investor money in illiquid securities when investors were told that “at least 75% of their money would be invested in unrestricted, free-trading shares.”

According to the SEC’s complaint, starting in 2003, Hicks started soliciting investors.  He told them that 75% of any money they invested in two funds he was starting would be invested in unrestricted, free-trading shares.  Free-trading shares are shares that are eligible to be sold.  Evidence shows that some potential investors were also told that the funds would invest “in short-term transactions that would take only 10 or 15 days, such as equity line of credit (‘ELC’) deals.”  Continue reading

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 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 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.

On March 8, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (“Order”) against Voya Financial Advisors, Inc. (“Voya”), an SEC-registered investment adviser.  The Order, to which Voya consented, obligates Voya to pay disgorgement of $2,621,324, prejudgment interest of $174,629.78, and a civil money penalty of $300,000.

The SEC’s Order claims that Voya did not inform its clients that it was receiving compensation from a third-party broker-dealer and that these receipts created a conflict of interest.  Section 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”) states that investment advisers are forbidden from participating in “any transaction, practice, or course of business which operates as a fraud or deceit upon any client or prospective client.”  Section 207 provides that investment advisers are not allowed to “make any untrue statement of a material fact in any registration application or report filed with the Commission, or to omit to state in any such application or report any material fact which is required to be stated therein.”  Finally, Rule 206(4)-7 under the Adviser’s Act compels investment advisers to “[a]dopt and implement written policies and procedures, reasonably designed to prevent violation” of the Adviser’s Act and the rules thereunder. Continue reading

On December 1, 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it had filed a complaint for injunctive and other relief in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida against Onix Capital LLC (“Onix Capital”), an asset management company, and its owner, a Chilean national by the name of Alberto Chang-Rajii (“Chang”).  The complaint alleges that Onix Capital and Chang “violated the federal securities laws by fraudulently raising approximately $7.4 million from investors based on material misrepresentations regarding the investments offered, the use of the funds raised, and the background and financial success of Chang himself.”

Onix Capital was not an SEC-registered adviser, nor was Chang registered as an investment adviser or broker-dealer.  However, the SEC alleged that Onix Capital and Chang violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (“Advisers Act”).  Specifically, the SEC alleged that Chang, “for compensation, engaged in the business of advising… investors… as to the value of securities or as to the advisability of investing in, purchasing, or selling securities,” and therefore met the definition of an “investment adviser” subject to the anti-fraud provisions of the Advisers Act. Continue reading

The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently settled charges against a New Jersey private fund administrator, Apex Fund Services (“Apex”), for failing to notice or correct what it contended were clear indications of fraud by two of its clients, ClearPath Wealth Management (“ClearPath”) and EquityStar Capital Management (“EquityStar”). The SEC’s Division of Enforcement noted that Apex failed to “live up to its gatekeeper responsibility” and thereby enabled the fraudulent activities of these two investment advisers.

Apex provided accounting and administrative services to various private funds, including several managed by ClearPath and EquityStar. Its duties as fund administrator included keeping records, preparing financial statements, and preparing investor account statements. The SEC charged both ClearPath and EquityStar with securities fraud in enforcement actions, finding that ClearPath had allegedly misappropriated fund assets and used fund assets for unauthorized investments, and that EquityStar had allegedly made materially false and misleading statements to investors and prospective investors of its funds regarding undisclosed withdrawals of fund assets.

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