Articles Tagged with SEC

The amendments to Form ADV, Part 1 that became effective October 1, 2017 are presenting some registered investment advisers with unforeseen problems as we move into “annual amendment season” in 2018.  As we previously highlighted among those changes to Form ADV is the requirement for advisers to disclose estimated percentages of assets held within separately managed accounts in twelve categories of assets.

Advisers with more than $10 billion in regulatory assets under management are required to report the same data as of mid-year and year-end.  Smaller firms must report the same data as of year-end only.

This has not proved a simple exercise for some firms.  Many have assumed that the custodians of their clients’ assets would readily be able to categorize their clients’ holdings and provide them reports summarizing the data.  Continue reading

Whether or not the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) will formally name advertising as among its priorities in 2018, it is clear from its activity and that of the Enforcement Division in 2017 that advertising should remain a concern of every registered investment adviser and chief compliance officer.

In September 2017, OCIE published a Risk Alert identifying the most common compliance issues pertaining to Rule 206(4)-1 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, otherwise known as the “Advertising Rule.”  An advertisement includes “any notice, circular, letter or other written communication addressed to more than one person, or any notice or other announcement in any publication or by radio or television, which offers” advice regarding securities.  The Advertising Rule forbids an investment adviser from “directly or indirectly… publishing, circulating, or distributing any untrue statement of material fact, or that is otherwise false or misleading.” Continue reading

On November 22, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order Making Findings and Imposing Remedial Sanctions and Cease and Desist Order against an investment adviser, Gray Financial Group, Inc., its founder, Laurence O. Gray, and its co-CEO, Robert C. Hubbard, IV.  The SEC alleged that Gray Financial, Gray, and Hubbard “offered and sold investments in a Gray Financial proprietary fund of funds… to four Georgia public pension clients, despite the fact that they knew, were reckless in not knowing, or should have known that these investments did not comply with the restrictions on alternative investments imposed by Georgia law.”  This case brings attention to an investment adviser’s obligation to “know its clients,” including the obligation to be familiar with laws and contractual provisions that place limitations on the types and amounts of investments in which certain clients, such as pension plans, can invest.

The Public Retirement Systems Investment Authority Law (“the Act”), codified as O.C.G.A. §§ 47-20-80 through 47-20-87, allows certain large retirement systems to invest in alternative investments, such as venture capital funds and merchant banking funds, subject to certain restrictions.  For example, the Act provides that such investments cannot in the aggregate exceed five percent of the retirement system’s assets at any time.  The Act also provides that before a large retirement system can invest in an alternative investment, the alternative investment needs to have had or concurrently have four or more other investors not affiliated with the investment’s issuer. Continue reading

On November 15, 2017, Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, the Co-Directors of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement, published the Division’s Annual Report for fiscal year 2017.  Avakian and Peikin emphasized the Division’s commitment to enforcing the federal securities laws in order to “combat wrongdoing, compensate harmed investors, and maintain confidence in the integrity and fairness of our markets.”  They also emphasized their goals of shielding investors, discouraging misconduct, and reprimanding and penalizing those who violate the federal securities laws.  To accomplish these goals, five core principles, according to Avakian and Peikin, will serve as the Division’s road map.

First, the Division will focus primarily on retail investors, who Avakian and Peikin believe are not only the most common market participants, but also are the most susceptible and least equipped to handle financial loss.  The Division plans to keep confronting violations of the securities laws that can have a strong impact on retail investors, such as accounting fraud, sales of unsuitable products, Ponzi schemes, and pump and dump schemes.  The Division has also established a Retail Strategy Task Force to formulate competent methods of confronting securities law violations that affect retail investors.  The Retail Strategy Task Force will work with the SEC’s examination staff and the Office of Investor Education and Advocacy to pinpoint risk areas common to retail investors. Continue reading

In August of this year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an Order Instituting Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (“Order”) against Capital Dynamics, Inc. (“CDI”), a New York-based investment adviser.  The SEC alleged that from March 2011 to July 2015, CDI allocated certain expenses to private funds it was advising when the funds’ governing documents did not authorize the funds to pay these expenses.  CDI submitted an Offer of Settlement in conjunction with the Order.

According to the SEC’s complaint, CDI and its affiliates formed the private funds, collectively known as the “Solar Fund,” “to introduce a new investment program focused on clean energy and infrastructure.”  The documents that governed the funds provided that CDI and the funds’ general partners were obligated to pay “normal operating expenses,” such as employee expenditures and fees for specified services.  They could not charge these expenses to the funds. Continue reading

Earlier this year, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton appointed Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin as co-directors of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.  In an interview with Reuters, Avakian and Peikin expressed particular concern about cyber threats and how the SEC should make cybersecurity an enforcement priority.  According to Peikin, “The greatest threat to our markets right now is the cyber threat… That crosses not just this building, but all over the country.”

The SEC has expanded of investigations relating to cybercrimes.  There also appears to be an increase in incidents of hackers attempting to gain access to brokerage accounts.  In response, the SEC has begun obtaining statistics about cybercrimes to assess market-wide issues. Continue reading

On October 2, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Tweed Financial Services, Inc. (“TFSI”), an investment advisory firm, and its proprietor, Robert Russel Tweed (“Tweed”).  The SEC’s complaint alleges that TFSI and Tweed “defrauded their clients by misleading them about how their money had been invested and how poorly those investments were performing.”  According to the SEC, TFSI and Tweed violated the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 by deceiving their clients.

According to the SEC’s complaint, TFSI and Tweed formed Athenian Fund L.P., a private fund, in 2008.  Twenty-four investors placed money in the Athenian Fund, and the fund raised approximately $1.7 million.  The Athenian Fund’s private placement memorandum informed investors that money invested in Athenian Fund would be invested in a master fund that “had been established to trade stocks using an algorithmic trading platform developed by acquaintances of Tweed.”  However, beginning in March 2010, Tweed transferred all of the Athenian Fund’s assets to another fund.  In March 2011, TFSI and Tweed had the Athenian Fund loan $200,000 to a startup software company.  The SEC alleged that these two ventures resulted in the Athenian fund losing approximately $800,000. Continue reading

On August 14, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued an Order Instituting Administrative and Cease and Desist Proceedings (“Order”) against Coachman Energy Partners, LLC (“Coachman”), an investment adviser, and its owner, Randall D. Kenworthy (“Kenworthy”).  According to the SEC’s Order, Coachman “failed to adequately disclose its methodology for calculating the management fees and management-related expenses it charged” to four oil and gas funds it managed.  Coachman and Kenworthy submitted offers of settlement in conjunction with the Order.

The SEC found that from 2011 to 2014, Coachman acted as investment adviser to four funds specializing in oil and gas operations.  Each fund was charged an annual management fee which made up 2 to 2.5% of the total capital contributions given to each fund as of the last day of the year.  According to the SEC, however, Coachman’s offering materials and Forms ADV did not adequately disclose that the management fees were based upon year-end contributions.  Rather, these documents implied that management fees and expenses were based upon “the average amount of capital contributions under management during the course of the year.”  Therefore, the SEC alleged that Coachman and Kenworthy overbilled investors in the amount of $1,128,916.

The SEC also alleged that between 2013 and 2014, Coachman billed two of the funds management expenses based upon 1.5% of the total capital contributions given to these funds as of the last day of the year.  However, the offering materials for these funds allegedly did not sufficiently inform investors that the funds would be obligated to pay Coachman for management expenses based on year-end capital contributions.  Rather, these materials supposedly informed investors that management expenses were calculated using the average number of capital contributions under management for the whole year.  The SEC alleges that this resulted in Coachman and Kenworthy overbilled clients in the amount of $449,294.

On August 23, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado against Sonya D. Camarco (“Camarco”), an investment adviser.  The complaint alleges that Camarco “misappropriated over $2.8 million in investor funds from her clients and customers.”  The complaint also alleges that Camarco used these funds to pay a variety of personal expenses, including credit card bills and mortgages.

As stated in the SEC’s complaint, Camarco was a registered representative and investment adviser representative of LPL Financial LLC (“LPL”) from February 2004 through August 2017.  Under LPL’s policies, Camarco was not allowed to take money from client accounts unless the clients given her “specific and express” authority to do so.  However, the SEC’s complaint alleges that in July 2017, LPL realized that Camarco had been part of numerous suspicious transactions involving her clients’ accounts from 2004 through 2017. Continue reading

On August 22, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Central District of California against Jeremy Drake (“Drake”), an investment adviser.  The complaint alleges that Drake lied to two clients, a high-profile professional athlete and his wife, regarding their annual management fees.  The complaint also alleges that Drake used extensive measures to back up his deception, including sending “false and misleading emails” and “a number of fabricated documents.”

According to the SEC’s complaint, Drake’s alleged misconduct occurred when he was an investment adviser representative of HCR Wealth Advisers (“HCR”), a Los Angeles-based registered investment adviser.  In September 2009, the clients entered into an “Investment Advisory Agreement” with HCR.  The agreement, which was signed by Drake on behalf of HCR, provided that the clients would pay an annual management fee of 1% of the clients’ assets under management.  Evidence shows that the clients paid a 1% management fee for the entire period when they were clients of HCR. Continue reading