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On October 11, the SEC announced it obtained a temporary restraining order through an emergency action filed against two offshore entities that allegedly raised more than $1.7 billion of investor funds. According to the complaint, the entities sold approximately 2.9 million digital tokens worldwide, including more than 1 billion tokens to 39 U.S. purchasers. The entities promised that the tokens would be delivered upon the launch of its own blockchain by the end of October 2019. The SEC alleges the entities violated Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act by failing to register its offers and sales of securities with the SEC. In addition to the emergency relief, the SEC is seeking a permanent injunction, disgorgement, and civil penalties against the offshore entities.
On September 30, the SEC announced a settlement with a blockchain technology company resolving allegations that the company conducted an unregistered initial coin offering (ICO). According to the order, the company raised several billion dollars from the general public after an ICO, in which it publicly offered and sold 900 million digital assets in exchange for virtual currency, to raise capital to develop software. The SEC alleges that the company violated Section 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act because the digital assets it sold were securities under federal securities laws, and the company did not have the required registration statement filed or in effect, nor did it qualify for an exemption to the registration requirements. The order, which the company consented to without admitting nor denying the findings, imposes a $24 million civil money penalty.
On September 27, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced a whistleblower award of approximately $7 million to an individual who reported information that led to a successful Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) enforcement action. The associated order notes that five claimants submitted whistleblower award applications to the CFTC in response to the covered action, but the CFTC provided the award only to claimant one, as that individual voluntarily provided the original information to the Commission. The order does not provide any other significant details about the information provided or the related enforcement action. The CFTC has awarded over $90 million to whistleblowers since the enactment of the Whistleblower Program under the Dodd-Frank Act, and their information has led to more than $730 million in sanctions to date.
On September 18, the SEC announced it filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against a digital platform and its owner (collectively, “defendants”) for raising over $14 million in an unregistered initial coin offering (ICO) in violation of Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 and for acting as unregistered brokers for other digital asset offerings in violation of Section 15 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC contends the defendants claimed to investors that their tokens would increase in value upon trading and that ICO token holders would be able to swap them for other tokens on the platform, at an average of a 75 percent discount. The SEC notes that the tokens had experienced “a precipitous loss in value” since issuance, averaging roughly 1/20th of the average purchase price during the offering. Moreover, the SEC alleges the defendants acted as a broker for other ICOs, raising over $650 million for their clients. The SEC’s suit seeks a permanent injunction, disgorgement of profits plus interest, and civil penalties.
On August 29, the SEC announced it had settled with a cryptocurrency company and its two founders to resolve allegations that the company defrauded investors and operated an unregistered exchange. The SEC’s complaint alleges that the defendants raised more than $13 million from investors through the sale of digital tokens without registering the offerings with the SEC. According to the complaint, the defendants misrepresented that purchasers of digital tokens would receive stock in the company, as well as obtain access to a global marketplace attracting millions of consumers, despite the fact that the latter did not exist. This led to investors allegedly losing more than two-thirds of their investments in the company, the SEC claims. The company also allegedly operated an illegal, unregistered national security exchange offering trading in a single security. The SEC’s press release states that, while the defendants neither admit nor deny the allegations, the company will pay disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and a civil penalty of approximately $8.4 million, while the two founders will each pay more than $850,000.
On August 29, the SEC announced that it had awarded more than $1.8 million to a whistleblower who provided “critically important” information and assistance to a “programmatically significant enforcement action.” The SEC’s order noted that without the whistleblower’s tip, the violations would have been difficult to identify because the misconduct happened abroad. The order does not provide any additional details regarding the whistleblower or the company involved in the enforcement action. Since the program’s inception in 2012, the SEC has awarded approximately $387 million to 66 whistleblowers.
On August 29, a cybersecurity company agreed to pay over $11.7 million to settle SEC claims that certain subsidiaries operating in Russia and China violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA. The alleged misconduct included certain sales employees at the Russian subsidiary who misrepresented “the need for increased discounts to meet competition,” and—instead of passing the incremental discounts on to end-user customers—created “common funds” in off-book accounts that were diverted toward “excessive” travel and entertainment involving foreign officials, which the employees allegedly claimed served business purposes. According to the SEC, the company failed to (i) properly record the expenses; or (ii) implement or maintain an effective internal accounting system to prevent the violations from occurring. During approximately the same time period, sales employees at the Chinese subsidiary also paid for domestic trips and entertainment for foreign officials while allegedly understating the amount of entertainment involved and falsifying trip agendas to the company’s legal department to obtain approval.
In entering into the administrative order, the SEC considered the company’s cooperation and compliance efforts. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the company agreed to pay a $6.5 million civil money penalty and more than $5.2 million in disgorgement and interest.
On August 22, a German-based bank entered into an administrative order with the SEC agreeing to pay $16.2 million to settle the SEC’s claims that it allegedly concealed corrupt hiring practices. According to the SEC, the bank allegedly violated U.S. laws—including the internal controls and books and records provisions of the FCPA—by offering jobs to relatives of Chinese and Russian government officials in an attempt to secure business or other benefits. Employees then created false books and records that concealed the practices and circumvented internal controls in place to prevent the activities. The SEC stated that the bank’s failure to properly enforce its written global anti-corruption policy allowed the bank to provide jobs in China and Russia from at least 2006 to 2014 based on how much business the candidate’s connections could bring to the bank.
In entering into the administrative order, the SEC considered the company’s cooperation efforts and compliance efforts. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the bank agreed to pay a $3 million civil money penalty and more than $13.1 million in disgorgement and interest.
On August 16, the SEC announced a settlement with two brokers to resolve allegations concerning the improper handling of pre-released American Depositary Receipts (ADRs), or “U.S. securities that represent shares of a foreign companies.” According to the SEC, both brokers improperly “obtained pre-released ADRs when they should have known that the pre-release transactions were not backed by foreign shares.” The SEC asserted the brokers improperly obtained the pre-released ADRs from other broker-dealers—with one of the brokers also obtaining the pre-released ADRs from depository banks—which “resulted in an inflated total number of foreign issuer’s tradeable securities and short selling and dividend arbitrage.” The SEC further alleged the brokers violated the Securities Act of 1933 and failed to reasonably supervise their securities lending desk personnel. While neither broker admitted nor denied the SEC’s findings, the orders require them to pay, combined, more than $4.5 million in disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and penalties. The orders acknowledge the brokers’ cooperation in the investigation.
On August 12, the SEC announced it obtained a court order halting an alleged fraud involving the sale of digital securities which raised $14.8 million in 2017 and 2018. In addition, the court approved an emergency asset freeze to preserve at least $8 million of the funds raised, the SEC said in its press release. According to the complaint filed the same day in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, an individual and two entities he controlled allegedly violated the registration, antifraud, and manipulative trading provisions of the federal securities laws, by, among other things, knowingly (i) marketing and selling securities tokens by creating false investor demand through the use of material misrepresentations and omissions; and (ii) misleading investors by claiming to have product ready to generate revenue even when no such product existed. Additionally, the SEC alleged that the individual defendant engaged in manipulative trading on an unregistered digital asset platform, and transferred a “significant amount” of dissipated assets from investors into his personal account. Among other things, the SEC seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement of profits associated with the fraudulent activity, plus interest and penalties, a ban from offering digital securities, and an officer-and-director bar against the individual defendant.
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "BSA/AML culture of compliance roundtable" at the FiSCA Annual Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Is there a better way to fight money laundering" at the FiSCA Annual Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "What's trending in enforcement" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Annual Convention & Expo
- Kathryn L. Ryan and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Today's regulatory environment - Are you in the know?" at the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association Annual Convention
- Buckley Webcast: Smoke and mirrors: Navigating the regulatory landscape in banking the marijuana industry
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "CMS - Components of a successful monitoring program" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Tim Lange to discuss "Temporary authority to operate - Are you prepared? Hear what the states are doing" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "Cybersecurity" at the RegList Annual Workshop
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Hot topics in mortgage origination" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss "CCPA: Countdown to compliance – A discussion of common questions and what is next on the CA privacy horizon" at the Conference on Consumer Finance Law Annual Consumer Financial Services Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Fintech regulatory developments, crypto-assets, blockchain and digital banking, and consumer issues" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Adapting to the rapidly changing compliance landscape involving marijuana and marijuana-related businesses" at an ACAMS webinar
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference