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  • SEC Charged McDonald’s For Public Disclosure Violations Related To The Board’s Exercise Of Discretion Respecting The Former CEO’s Termination And Charged The Former CEO For Fraud

    On January 9, 2023, the Securities Exchange Commission issued a cease-and-desist order against McDonald’s Corporation and the Company’s former CEO Stephen Easterbrook related to Easterbrook’s departure. The SEC’s order alleged that the Company failed to disclose in a Form 8-K that it exercised discretion in terminating Easterbrook “without cause,” and allowed him to retain more than $40 million in equity-based compensation that would have been forfeited if the company had terminated him “for cause;” and further alleged that Easterbrook withheld information about his relationships with Company employees in an internal investigation. Without admitting or denying the findings, the Company and Easterbrook consented to the entry of the Order. See In re Easterbrook & McDonald’s Corp., No. 3-21269 (Jan. 9, 2023).
    CATEGORIES : 10b-5Enforcement ActionsSEC
  • United States Department Of Justice Issues Voluntary Self-Disclosure Policy Pursuant To Deputy Attorney General’s September 15, 2022, Memorandum

    On February 22, 2023, the United States Department of Justice issued the United States Attorney’s Offices’ Voluntary Self-Disclosure Policy for corporate criminal enforcement, which sets forth the criteria the 94 United States Attorney’s Offices will use to determine the appropriate resolution for a corporate entity that voluntarily self-discloses misconduct to a USAO. The VSD Policy is intended to provide incentives, including declinations or reduced fines, to corporations that timely disclose misconduct, cooperate with the DOJ’s investigation, and remediate misconduct. It applies to all USAOs and is effective immediately.
  • SEC Brings Enforcement Action Over Company’s Alleged Failure To Track Information About Workplace Misconduct Relevant To Risk Factor Disclosures About Employee Retention

    On February 3, 2023, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced a settled enforcement action against video game maker Activision Blizzard Inc. (the “Company”) for an alleged failure to maintain procedures designed to collect employee complaints of workplace misconduct and analyze them for disclosure purposes. The SEC found that the lack of such procedures violated the Company’s obligation to maintain procedures designed to ensure that information required to be disclosed in the Company’s SEC reports was in fact timely reported. In addition, the SEC’s enforcement action alleged that the Company had improperly impeded former employees from communicating directly with the SEC staff about possible securities law violations by requiring those employees, through a clause in their separation agreements, to notify the Company of any requests from an administrative agency in connection with a report or complaint. Without admitting or denying the findings, the Company agreed to pay a $35 million civil penalty, but Commissioner Hester Peirce issued a spirited dissent arguing that the SEC’s allegations did not in fact amount to securities law violations.
    CATEGORIES : Exchange ActSECWhistleblower
  • DOJ Announces Revisions To The Criminal Division’s Corporate Enforcement Policy

    On January 17, 2023, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite delivered remarks announcing revisions to the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Criminal Division’s Corporate Enforcement Policy (“CEP”) at Georgetown Law Center.  The revisions aim to encourage additional companies to voluntarily self-disclose potential criminal conduct they may uncover by setting more granular incentives that will be provided to companies in such circumstances.  While there is still substantial subjectivity embedded in the revised policy regarding when and how such incentives will be made available to companies, the revisions will put added pressure on companies to make self-disclosures in certain circumstances.
  • DOJ And SEC Extend FCPA Monitorship For Telecom Company

    On December 14, a multinational telecommunications company headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden (the “Company”), announced it had reached agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to extend the Company’s independent compliance monitorship by one year, to June 2024.  The agreement to extend the monitor, which had been required under a 2019 resolution with the DOJ, was the result of the DOJ determining that the Company had failed to adequately disclose compliance matters that it had investigated in Iraq.
  • SEC Announces Year-End Enforcement Results, Emphasizing Record-Setting Penalty Awards

    On November 15, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released its summary of enforcement actions for the 2022 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2022. The SEC announced that it filed 760 enforcement actions, a nine percent increase over 2021. The actions resulted in orders of a record-breaking $6.439 billion to be paid to the SEC, including roughly $4.2 billion in penalties. The SEC noted that the high numbers reflect its “sense of urgency to protect investors, hold wrongdoers accountable and deter future misconduct in our financial markets.”
    CATEGORIES : SECWhistleblower
  • CFTC Releases Its Annual Enforcement Results

    On October 20, 2022, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) released its enforcement results for Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2022, reporting that it had filed 82 enforcement actions. Eighteen of the actions brought in FY 2022 involved cryptocurrency or other digital assets, an area which has seen progressively increasing scrutiny from the CFTC and other enforcement agencies. The CFTC also reported that it obtained orders collectively imposing over $2.5 billion in fines in that period.
    CATEGORIES : CFTCEnforcement Actions
  • SEC And CFTC Orders Concerning Electronic Communications

    On September 27, 2022, the SEC announced charges against affiliates of 11 financial institutions (15 broker-dealers and one investment adviser) for allegedly failing to maintain and preserve electronic communications and allegedly failing to reasonably supervise from January 2018 through September 2021. See SEC Press Release 2022-174 (Sept. 27, 2022).  On the same day, the CFTC announced charges against affiliates of the same 11 financial institutions for allegedly failing to maintain, preserve, or produce required records, and allegedly failing to supervise matters related to their businesses as swap dealers and futures commission merchants.
  • The DOJ Reinforces And Updates Corporate Criminal Enforcement Priorities With Speech By Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco

    On September 15, 2022, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco delivered remarks on the Department of Justice’s corporate prosecution priorities at New York University, at the invitation of the University’s Project on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement.  While many of her comments were simply a reiteration of existing priorities, some were potentially meaningful changes.  Indeed, by clarifying certain points and strengthening others, Monaco emphasized the “carrot and stick” approach to signal loud and clear that the DOJ remains as focused as ever on pursuing corporate crime.  She unambiguously encouraged corporations both to self-report potential criminal activity and cooperate in the investigation of culpable individuals, indicating that failure to do so could lead to severe consequences.  At the same time, as has long been the case, the policies leave somewhat subjective the true nature of any “carrot” and any “stick” that would apply in any given case, making the decision of how corporations should deal with potential criminal conduct one of the most challenging decisions corporations can face.
  • SEC Brings Actions Against Underwriters In First-Ever Municipal Bond Disclosure Cases

    On September 13, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against an underwriter for allegedly failing to comply with the regulatory requirements of the Exchange Act’s Rule 15c2-12 (17 C.F.R. § 240.15c2-12), which provides a limited exception to certain disclosure requirements where underwriters have a reasonable belief that the municipal securities are being sold only to sophisticated investors that are each buying the securities for a single account.  See SEC v. Oppenheimer & Co., Inc., S.D.N.Y. No. 1:22-cv-7801 (Sept. 13, 2022).  The SEC also initiated settled enforcement actions with three other firms for similar alleged violations.  This is the first time that the SEC has initiated municipal-bond disclosure cases.
  • SEC Brings Enforcement Action Against Investment Advisor For Allegedly Failing To Disclose Conflicts Of Interest In SPACs Into Which It Invested Client Funds

    On September 6, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that New York-based, registered investment advisor Perceptive Advisors LLC (“Investment Advisor”) had agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty for allegedly failing to disclose conflicts of interest regarding ownership of its personnel in sponsors of special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs).  According to the SEC, the Investment Advisor used private client funds to facilitate transactions benefitting SPACs in which the Investment Advisor’s personnel and other clients had financial interests but failed to disclose the alleged conflicts resulting from those interests.
  • Second Circuit Overturns $1 Million Whistleblower Award For Improper Jury Instruction

    On August 5, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned a judgment of approximately $1 million awarded to a purported whistleblower after a jury determined in 2017 that the financial institution unlawfully terminated the employee in retaliation for his refusal to change certain aspects of his research reports related to commercial mortgage-backed securities.  In narrowing the universe of alleged whistleblowers who may be entitled to relief for retaliation, the Second Circuit held that the trial judge failed to inform the jurors as to the critical burden whistleblowers bear under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act: namely, that a whistle-blower must prove that their employer intended the alleged employment action to be retaliatory.
    CATEGORIES : SECSecond CircuitWhistleblower
  • New York Fines Crypto Trading Platform $30M In First-Ever DFS Crypto Settlement

    On August 2, 2022, New York State’s Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) announced that Robinhood Crypto, LLC (“RHC”), a trading platform that allows customers to transact in cryptocurrencies, had agreed to pay a $30 million fine to resolve allegations of “significant” lapses in its compliance with New York State anti-money laundering and cybersecurity regulations.  In addition to the fine, the settlement will also require RHC to hire an independent consultant to evaluate the company’s remediation efforts and compliance with DFS regulations. RHC did not admit to the allegations contained in the Consent Order.
  • SEC And DOJ Bring First Ever Charges For Cryptocurrency Insider Trading Tipping Scheme

    On July 21, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) unsealed an indictment against Ishan Wahi, a former Coinbase employee, his brother, Nikhil Wahi, and friend, Sameer Ramani, for alleged insider trading.  SEC v. Ihan Wahi, Nikhil Wahi, and Sameer Ramani, 2:22-cv01009 (W.D. Wa. July 21, 2022); United States v. Ishan Wahi, Nikhil Wahi, and Sameer Ramani, 22-cr-392 (S.D.N.Y. 2022).  Both the complaint and indictment concern the same underlying conduct by Wahi, who allegedly provided dozens of tips to his brother and friend over several months to purchase certain digital assets tied to cryptocurrencies (the “digital assets”) shortly before they were publicly listed on Coinbase’s exchange.
  • Second Circuit Rejects SEC Request To Revisit Holding That “Scheme Liability” Requires Conduct Beyond Misstatements And Omissions

    On July 15, 2022, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in an interlocutory appeal the SEC had brought seeking to expand the scope of “scheme liability” under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) thereunder.  SEC v. Rio Tinto plc, No. 21-2042 (2d Cir. Jul. 15, 2022).  Specifically, the SEC had urged the Second Circuit, in a case it had brought against a mining company and certain of its former executives (the “Defendants”), to hold that the Supreme Court’s decision in Lorenzo v. SEC, 139 S. Ct. 1094 (2019), abrogated the Second Circuit’s prior decision in Lentell v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 396 F.3d 161 (2d Cir. 2005), which had found that a defendant can only be liable for scheme liability under Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) where they engage in misleading conduct beyond misstatements and omissions.  The Second Circuit panel ruled that Lentell remains good law, and that any expansion of the scheme liability provisions of Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) would need to come either from the Second Circuit en banc or the Supreme Court.
    CATEGORIES : SECSecurities Act
  • FINRA Fines Broker-Dealer $9 Million For Allegedly Attempting To Influence The Market For Offered Securities

    On June 23, 2022, FINRA’s Department of Enforcement announced a settlement in which a broker-dealer agreed to pay $3.6 million in fines, $4.77 million in disgorgement, and partial restitution of over $625,000 to resolve the broker-dealer’s alleged misconduct under the Exchange Act and NASD and FINRA Rules in connection with three IPOs and seven follow-on offerings between June 2016 and December 2018 for which the broker-dealer acted as underwriter, as well as for other supervisory and operational violations.
    CATEGORIES : Enforcement MattersFINRA
  • SEC Brings Its First Regulation Best Interest Enforcement Action

    On June 15, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against registered broker-dealer Western International Securities, Inc. (“Western”) and five of its registered representatives (the “Registered Representatives”), alleging that they had violated the Best Interest Obligation under Rule 15l-1(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Regulation Best Interest” or “Reg BI”) in connection with their recommendations to retail customers to purchase certain unrated debt securities.  This is the first action brought by the SEC to enforce Reg BI, and the litigation could lead to important legal rulings clarifying its scope.
  • SEC Brings Action Against Investment Advisers For Allegedly Misleading Robo-Adviser Clients About Hidden Fees

    On June 13, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), announced that it had instituted a settled administrative proceeding accusing several investment advisers (the “Advisers”) that focused on robo-advising, and all of which were themselves subsidiaries of a prominent investment adviser, of violating Sections 203(e) and 203(k) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Section 15(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  Broadly, the SEC accused them of failing to invest client cash in ways that their own analyses showed would be optimal for the clients, and instead retaining cash in a way that benefitted the Advisers.  The Advisers did not admit or deny the SEC’s allegations as part of the resolution, but as part of the settlement agreed collectively to disgorge approximately $52 million and to pay a civil monetary penalty of $135 million and were also required to engage an independent consultant and engage in certain other undertakings.
  • Glencore Pleads Guilty And Agrees To $1.1 Billion Penalty To Resolve Manipulation And Foreign Corruption Allegations

    On May 24, 2022, Glencore International A.G. of Switzerland (“Glencore”), an energy and commodities trading firm, and its affiliates Glencore Ltd. of New York and Chemoil Corporation of New York resolved long-running investigations by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”), and regulators in the UK and Brazil related to alleged foreign bribery and market manipulation schemes.  The companies agreed to pay total fines and monetary penalties in excess of $1.1 billion, including the largest penalty and disgorgement ever ordered by the CFTC, for conduct that spanned over ten years.  As part of its resolutions with the CFTC and the DOJ, Glencore and Glencore Ltd. have agreed to retain independent compliance monitors for three years and continue to cooperate fully and expeditiously with both enforcement agencies.  In addition to the corporate resolutions, two Glencore former employees have previously been charged.  A Glencore Ltd. senior fuel oil trader, Emilio Jose Heredia Collado, pleaded guilty in March 2021 to one count of conspiracy to engage in commodities price manipulation.  His sentencing is scheduled for June 17, 2022.  Similarly, in July 2021, a senior trader in charge of Glencore’s West Africa crude oil desk pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • SEC ESG Fines Investment Adviser For Alleged ESG Misstatements In ESG Task Force’s First Enforcement Resolution

    On March 4, 2021, the Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”) publicly announced the formation of a Climate and Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) Task Force within its Enforcement Division.  This task force was reportedly staffed with 22 Enforcement staff members drawn from SEC headquarters, regional offices and specialized units.  The task force was assembled in response to, among other things, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler’s focus on investigating misstatements related to ESG disclosures.  In remarks by Chairman Gensler on July 7, 2021, he described the SEC as focused on “truth in advertising” and confirming that “funds that market themselves as ‘green,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘low carbon,’ and so on” were in fact operating consistent with those disclosures.  Approximately 14 months later, the ESG Task Force has announced its debut enforcement action by ordering an investment adviser to pay a $1.5 million fine for alleged misrepresentations related to its ESG practices.
  • Fifth Circuit Holds SEC Administrative Proceedings Are Unconstitutional

    On May 18, 2022, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a significant decision in George Jarkesy and Patriot28 LLC v. SEC, ruling that the use of administrative proceedings by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) was unconstitutional because, among other reasons, the Court found that Congress impermissibly delegated the decision of whether to bring enforcement actions as administrative proceedings or district court actions without providing adequate guidance to the SEC.  The decision is limited to the Fifth Circuit and will undoubtedly be appealed, but it raises significant questions about the use of administrative proceedings even beyond the SEC.
    CATEGORIES : Enforcement MattersSEC
  • U.S. Investment Firm Enters $6 Billion Parallel Resolutions With DOJ And SEC Over Allegations Of Fraudulent Conduct By Employees And Related Control Failures

    On May 17, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced parallel resolutions with a registered investment advisor (the “Advisor”), resolving criminal and civil securities fraud allegations concerning three portfolio managers’ concealment of downside risks associated with the Advisor’s trading strategy, “Structured Alpha,” and the failure to implement an adequate control function in the Advisor’s Structured Products Group.  United States v. AllianzGlobal Investors U.S. LLC, No. 1:22-cr-00279 (S.D.N.Y); Securities and Exchange Commission v. Tournant, Taylor, and Bond-Nelson, No. 1:22-cv-04016 (S.D.N.Y.).  Three related indictments of former portfolio managers of the Advisor whose conduct contributed to the Advisor’s settlement were also unsealed.  United States v. Gregoire Tourant, No. 22-cr-00276 (S.D.N.Y.); United States v. Trevor Taylor, No. 22-cr-00149 (S.D.N.Y.); United States v. Stephen Bond-Nelson, No. 22-cr-00137 (S.D.N.Y.).
  • Jury Rejects SEC Fraud Claims Against Trader Accused Of Misstatements Over Pricing Commercial RMBS

    On May 6, 2022, the long-awaited trial between the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and James Im (“Im”)—a former Nomura trader—came to an end when a Manhattan federal jury found in favor of Im.  The SEC brought suit against Im in 2017, claiming that he committed securities fraud by making various alleged misstatements to his trading counterparties in connection with trading commercial residential mortgage backed securities (“RMBS”).  The jury’s decision – particularly in a civil trial as opposed to a criminal one – may raise further questions about the government’s multi-year pursuit of misstatements in the commercial RMBS market that began with the Department of Justice’s case against former trader Jesse Litvak.
  • OCC Issues Consent Order Against A Digital Bank

    On April 21, 2022, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a consent order against Anchorage Digital Bank, a digital asset bank based in South Dakota.  Notably, Anchorage had previously become the first digital asset bank to be regulated by the OCC in January 2021.  In its consent order, the OCC determined that Anchorage had failed to adopt an effective compliance system as required by the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering (“AML”) laws, specifically highlighting failures related to “internal controls for customer due diligence and procedures for monitoring suspicious activity, BSA officer and staff, and training.”
  • SEC Announces Settled Enforcement Action Alleging Management Of Earnings Figures To Meet Analyst Estimates

    On April 18, 2022, the SEC announced it had reached an $8 million settlement with Rollins Inc. (“Rollins”), a nationwide pest control services company, and its CFO for allegedly engaging in improper accounting practices to boost quarterly earnings per share (“EPS”) to meet consensus quarterly estimates.  The SEC found that the CFO directed the company to make certain adjustments to its records in multiple quarters without performing a generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”) analysis or memorializing the basis for the changes.  The changes allegedly caused the EPS to go up a penny, allowing the company to meet analysts’ consensus estimates, and the company often publicly touted the consistency of its earnings growth in its press releases and public filings.  Under terms of the settlement, Rollins neither admitted nor denied the SEC's findings and agreed to pay an $8 million civil penalty, while the CFO agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty.  However, the action was brought under Section 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 as opposed to Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act of 1934, and although both the company and CFO agreed to the entry of a cease-and-desist order, the CFO was not required to agree to an officer or director bar.
  • SEC Commissioner’s Dissent Highlights Challenges In Responding To Whistleblowers

    On Tuesday, April 12, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fined David Hansen, the former Chief Information Officer of NS8, Inc., a Las Vegas-based fraud detection and prevention software firm, approximately $100,000 for interfering with an employee’s ability to communicate with the SEC in violation of Rule 21F-17(a).  The SEC alleged that Hansen violated the rule by restricting the employee’s access to NS8’s IT systems and monitoring his use of corporate computer systems following the employee providing a tip to the SEC about NS8’s corporate practices.  In dissent, SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce said that the application of Rule 21F-17(a) was inappropriate in this case, arguing that restricting the tipster’s access to IT systems and monitoring their use did not impede their ability to communicate with the SEC and was a reasonable step in preventing unauthorized disclosure of NS8’s data to private parties and the media.
  • SEC Proposes New SPAC Disclosure Rules

    On March 30, 2022, the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) published its long-awaited proposed rules and rule amendments applicable to special purpose acquisition companies (“SPACs”) for comment by May 31.  The stated purpose of the proposed rules, which would impose significant changes to the rules affecting SPACs, is to “more closely align the required financial statements of private operating companies in transactions involving shell companies with those required in registration statements for an initial public offering.”
  • FINRA Issues Regulatory Notice On The Scope Of Supervisor Liability For Chief Compliance Officers

    On March 17, 2022, FINRA issued a notice to member firms about Rule 3110 as it pertains to the potential liability of Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) for failure to discharge designated supervisory responsibilities.  (Regulatory Notice 22-10, “the Notice”).  The Notice provides welcome guidance, clarifying when CCOs will, and will not, be held liable for supervisory violations and explicitly acknowledging that CCOs are generally not responsible for all supervisory activity within member firms.
  • U.S. Attorney General Announces Task Force To Target Russian Sanctions And Additional Resources For White Collar Enforcement

    U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland made two announcements this week related to the enforcement of white-collar crime by both individuals and corporations.  First, on March 2, 2022, Attorney General Garland announced the launch of Task Force KleptoCapture, an interagency law enforcement task force dedicated to enforcing sanctions, export restrictions, and economic countermeasures imposed against Russia in response to its military invasion of Ukraine.  Second, on March 4, 2022, the Attorney General discussed additional resources that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) would devote to the prosecution of white-collar crime.
  • Sweeping New Sanctions: US, EU, UK And Other Countries Target Russia For Ukraine Invasion

    Over the past week, the United States, European Union, United Kingdom and several other countries imposed rounds of sweeping new sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine. Between February 21 and 23, 2022, the U.S., EU, U.K., Japan and Australia announced an initial round of sanctions after Russia officially recognized two Russian-backed separatist regions of eastern Ukraine—the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (respectively, “DNR” and “LNR”), and then deployed troops to these regions. The first wave of sanctions targeted Russian sovereign debt, several Russian banks, and a number of Russian “elites” and officials, including Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. The measures additionally included a trade and investment embargo on the two separatist regions—similar to existing restrictions on Crimea. Germany also announced that it would halt certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline. The U.S. followed with sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, its CEO, and its corporate officers on February 23, 2022.
    CATEGORY : Sanctions
  • SEC Announces Settled Insider Trading Action Against Former Director Of Investor Relations

    On February 22, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that John-Michael Havrilla, a former Director of Investor Relations of PAVmed Inc. (PAVmed), a medical device company, had agreed to settle claims of insider trading.  The SEC simultaneously filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York, together with a consent agreement and proposed final judgment wherein Havrilla, without admitting or denying liability, agreed to the imposition of a permanent injunction, civil penalties of $160,230, and a five-year officer or director ban.
  • Cryptocurrency Company Fined $100M In Novel Action Concerning Registration Obligations For Crypto Lending Product

    On Monday, February 14, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged cryptocurrency lending company BlockFi Lending LLC (“BlockFi”) with failing to register the offers and sales of its retail crypto lending product, violating the registration provisions of the Investment Company Act of 1940, and making certain material misrepresentations regarding the level of risk associated with its product.  To settle the charges, BlockFi agreed to pay a $50 million penalty, cease its unregistered offers and sales of the lending product—BlockFi Interest Accounts (“BIAs”)—and bring its business within the provisions of the Investment Company Act within 60 days.  BlockFi also agreed to pay an additional $50 million in fines to 32 different states to settle similar charges.
  • Second Circuit Reverses Conviction Of Two Traders Accused Of LIBOR Rigging Scheme, Finding Insufficient Evidence Of False Or Fraudulent Statements

    On January 27, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the convictions of two former traders convicted of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, part of the widely-publicized series of prosecutions for allegedly manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”).  US v. Connolly, No. 19-3806, 2022 WL 244669 (2d Cir. Jan. 27, 2022).  The Court held that although the government had offered evidence that the former traders had sought to impact LIBOR through their submissions, the government had failed to offer sufficient evidence that they did so through fraud.  Because the LIBOR instructions with which the submitters were required to comply called for a hypothetical rate at which the submitting bank could borrow funds, the Court held that if the rate submitted was one a bank could request, be offered, and accept, the submission, irrespective of its motivation, would not be false.  And, in this case, the Court found that there was no evidence that the submitted rates were false under that standard.  Thus, even if the conduct could be perceived as dishonorable, the Court held that the convictions had to be reversed.
  • California District Court Allows Novel SEC Insider Trading Theory To Proceed

    On January 14, 2022, Judge William Orrick of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued an order denying a former biopharmaceutical company executive’s motion to dismiss and allowing the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to proceed with a first-of-its-kind insider trading action against a corporate insider for misappropriating confidential nonpublic information related to his employer’s upcoming merger to purchase securities issued by a third company that was not involved in the transaction.
  • Company Acquired By SPAC Agrees To Pay $125 Million To Settle SEC Probe Months After CEO Was Charged With Fraud

    On December 21, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that Nikola Corporation—a publicly traded company that develops, manufactures, and sells electric trucks—had agreed to a $125 million settlement agreement to end the SEC’s investigation into claims that the company, both directly and through its former CEO, Trevor Milton, had deceived investors about the company’s ability to build hydrogen-powered vehicles and other issues.  As part of the settlement, Nikola neither admitted nor denied the claims against it, and agreed to continue cooperating with the SEC in its separate investigation into Milton himself.  The SEC previously brought a suit against Milton, who was also charged by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), and that case remains pending.
  • Federal Court Dismisses SEC Insider Trading Case, Holding That Suspicious Trading Plus Evidence Of Relationship And Communications With Insider Are Insufficient Basis To Get To A Jury

    On December 13, 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton, of the Eastern District of Virginia, dismissed the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC’s”) insider trading action against Christopher Clark before the defense put on its case-in-chief.  The Court agreed with defendant’s arguments that the SEC’s evidence was insufficient as a matter of law, even though the SEC was able to present evidence of what it claimed to be (1) suspicious trading patterns, (2) a close relationship with a corporate insider; and (3) communications patterns corresponding to the trading.  Absent actual evidence of a tip, or testimony supporting the SEC’s theory, the Court agreed with defendant that the SEC’s case was simply too speculative.  As the SEC increasingly seeks to use data analytics and circumstantial evidence to prove insider trading cases, the decision is a reminder that Courts may at times decide that more is needed.
  • SEC And CFTC Bring $200 Million Settled Action Against Financial Institution For Alleged Violations Of Record-Keeping Requirements Due To Employee Off-Platform Communications Including WhatsApp And Text Messages

    On December 17, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that each had entered into an agreement with J.P. Morgan Securities (the “Company”) to resolve issues related to the Company’s books-and-records obligations.  The agencies alleged that, over a period of several years, the Company failed to maintain and preserve copies of certain communications pursuant to recordkeeping rules for broker-dealer firms, swap dealers and future commission merchants – including WhatsApp and text messages on employee personal devices.  The Company admitted that its conduct was not in compliance with Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 17a-4(b)(4) and 171-4(j) thereunder as well as Section 4(s)(h)(1)(B) of the Commodity Exchange Act and Regulations 166.3 and 23.602, and agreed to pay a total of $200 million to resolve the allegations ($125 million to the SEC and $75 million to the CFTC).
  • SEC Enforcement In FY 2021 Included Significant Actions In Traditional And Emerging Areas And Over $1 Billion In Whistleblower Awards

    On November 18, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced its enforcement results for the 2021 fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2021.  The SEC reported that it filed 434 new enforcement actions in FY2021, a 7% increase over FY2020.  But perhaps the most striking thing about the SEC’s enforcement results for the year was its whistleblowing statistics.  The SEC has now awarded over $1 billion in whistleblower awards, and the SEC highlighted those figures in its press release—announcing that “[t]he SEC’s whistleblower program was critical to these efforts and had a record-breaking year.”
  • Consulting Firm Settles Allegations That It Had Inadequate Procedures For Handling Of MNPI Between Units

    On November 19, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that an affiliate of McKinsey & Company (“McKinsey”), McKinsey Investment Office Partners, Inc. (“MIO”), had agreed to pay an $18 million penalty for alleged compliance failures in its handling of material nonpublic investment information (“MNPI”).  While the SEC did not allege that MIO had ever improperly used material nonpublic investment information in executing trades, it alleged that MIO’s procedures were inadequate to account for the risk that certain members of its investment committee had access to such information due to other roles they had with McKinsey.  MIO neither admitted nor denied the allegations in resolving the matter through an administrative proceeding.
  • DOJ Announces Major Policy Changes To How It Investigates And Prosecutes Corporate Crime, Signaling A Return To Tougher Enforcement And Individual Accountability

    On October 28, 2021, at the American Bar Association’s National Institute on White Collar Crime, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced revisions to the Department of Justice’s policies, all designed to strengthen DOJ’s response to corporate crime.  Deputy AG Monaco outlined major policy changes focused on individual accountability, when cooperation credit will be given to corporations, how corporations’ prior history of misconduct will be evaluated, and when corporate monitors will be imposed.  Deputy AG Monaco said these changes were just the beginning of DOJ’s efforts to further incentivize corporations to embrace a culture of compliance, and she also announced the creation of a new DOJ Advisory Group that will focus on additional potential policy shifts.  Both were also discussed in DOJ’s Memorandum published the same day, titled “Corporate Crime Advisory Group and Initial Revisions to Corporate Criminal Enforcement Policies.”
  • CFTC Awards Record $200 Million To Whistleblower

    On October 21, 2021, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) announced it would be awarding a whistleblower its largest, publicly-announced single award under the Dodd-Frank whistleblower rewards program—nearly $200 million.  The whistleblower—who sources say worked for a major financial institution—provided extensive information and documents in 2012 that prompted the CFTC, another US regulator, and a foreign regulator to bring sizable enforcement actions related to benchmark manipulation.  The CFTC’s order stated that the whistleblower’s information provided “direct evidence of wrongdoing” and led to a successful enforcement action, and also assisted two other regulatory actions.  The record payment, according to the CFTC, reflects recognition of “a ‘meaningful nexus’ between the information provided and the CFTC’s ability to successfully complete its investigation.”
    CATEGORIES : CFTCWhistleblower
  • New York AG Demands Crypto Platforms Cease Operations

    On October 18, 2021, New York’s Attorney General (NYAG) issued cease-and-desist letters to two cryptocurrency platforms, demanding that they discontinue all operations in New York within ten days for alleged violations of the Martin Act.  The NYAG’s office also sent requests for information to three other cryptocurrency firms focused on “tethers,” a type of “stablecoin” cryptocurrency that is tied to the US dollar.
    CATEGORIES : CFTCCryptocurrencyNew York
  • Comments At SEC Speaks Conference Suggest Heightened Bar For Cooperation Credit, Return Of Admissions Policy, And Increased Autonomy For Front-Line SEC Enforcement Staff

    On October 13, 2021, SEC Enforcement Director Gurbir Grewal and Deputy Enforcement Director Sanjay Wadhwa appeared at the Practicing Law Institute’s “The SEC Speaks” conference, an annual conference where Commission leaders provide updates on current initiatives and priorities of the Commission for the coming year.  Director Grewal and Deputy Director Wadhwa’s remarks signaled some potentially significant policy changes, particularly in terms of how they will measure corporate compliance programs and cooperation levels, when the SEC will allow settling defendants to “neither admit nor deny” the allegations brought by the SEC, and the overall autonomy granted to the front-line enforcement staff.   While the impact of any such policy change is uncertain, and will need to be assessed over time, it is an unmistakable shift in tone from the prior administration.
  • Department Of Justice Announces Enhanced Efforts Towards White-Collar Crime Enforcement And Creation Of National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team

    In back-to-back speeches last week, senior Department of Justice (“DOJ”) officials emphasized that the Department would devote additional resources and attention to white-collar enforcement actions, with a specific focus on enforcement in the cryptocurrency space.  These initiatives, which contemplate additional corporate enforcement actions, reflect a break from the prior administration’s criminal enforcement priorities, which tended to focus on immigration and violent crime offenses.
  • CFTC Fines Crypto Exchange That Offered Margin Trading For Failing To Register As FCM, Prompting Calls For Further Rulemaking From One Commissioner

    On September 28, 2021, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) entered an order that imposed a $1.25 million fine on Payward Ventures Inc., which does business as digital asset exchange Kraken, for allegedly failing to register as a futures commission merchant (FCM) and for offering certain margin trading services in violation of Sections 4(a) and 4d of the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA).  Although the decision did not purport to break new legal ground, one CFTC Commissioner, Dawn Stump, noted that the decision “is informed by” the CFTC’s Final Interpretive Guidance on retail commodity transactions involving certain digital assets issued in 2020, and issued a concurring statement calling upon the CFTC to issue rulemaking to clarify and codify that guidance, which is increasingly important in the cryptocurrency space.
  • SEC Vacates $1.6 Million In FINRA Fines Against Broker-Dealer And Officers

    On September 17, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) vacated $1.6 million in fines and penalties that the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) had previously levied against Scottsdale Capital Advisors Corp. (“Firm”) and three of its officers (“Applicants,” collectively).  In 2015, FINRA alleged that the Firm failed to maintain appropriate internal controls and executed sales of unregistered microcap securities for its foreign financial institution customers.  The next year, following a disciplinary hearing, FINRA imposed a $1.5 million fine on the Firm, a lifetime bar on one of the Firm’s officers, and a $50,000 fine and a two-year suspension on the two remaining Firm officers.  In reviewing FINRA’s findings on appeal by the Applicants, the SEC overturned the sanctions after determining that FINRA’s National Adjudicatory Council (“NAC”) applied incorrect legal standards, failed to adequately explain the basis of its conclusions, and conflated applicable regulations in its case against the Firm.
  • SEC Brings Insider Trading Charges Based On Novel Theory

    On August 17, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) charged a former executive of California-based biopharmaceutical company Medivation Inc. with violating § 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”) and Rule 10b-5 for allegedly relying upon inside information he obtained through the course of his employment at Medivation to purchase stock of a different company, Incyte Corp., a practice that some academics have dubbed “shadow trading.”  According to the SEC’s complaint—filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California—Matthew Panuwat, the then-head of business development at Medivation, purchased short-term, out-of-the money stock options in Incyte Corp., a biopharmaceutical company similar to Medivation, immediately after learning that Medivation would soon announce its upcoming acquisition by Pfizer.  The SEC claims that Panuwat knew that investment bankers engaged by Medivation had cited Incyte as a comparable company in their valuation analysis and that the announcement of Medivation’s sale to Pfizer would likely cause Incyte’s stock price to increase.  This is one of the SEC’s first enforcement actions based on this novel theory, and Panuwat may be expected to vigorously contest not only the facts but the legal underpinnings of the SEC’s complaint.
  • SEC Settles “First-Of-Its-Kind” Action Over “Decentralized Finance” Technology, Alleging Fraud And Unregistered Sales Of Securities

    On August 6, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it reached a $13 million settlement in a cease-and-desist proceeding against Blockchain Credit Partners (“the Company”) and its two owners.  The Company marketed itself as a “decentralized finance” (“DeFi”) technology company that sold two kinds of digital assets: (1) “mTokens,” which were sold as accruing 6.2% interest, and (2) DMM Governance (“DMG”) tokens designed to give holders certain voting rights, a share of excess profits, and the ability to profit from DMG resales in the secondary market.  In its cease-and-desist order (the “Order”), the SEC concluded that both mTokens and DMG tokens were securities because they were offered and sold as investment contracts, claimed that the Respondents violated Section 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act for selling these securities without registering them, and further claimed that the Respondents made certain material misstatements and omissions in connection with the sale of the securities in violation of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.
  • Cryptocurrency Derivatives Exchange Reaches $100 Million Settlement With CFTC, FinCEN

    On August 10, 2021, BitMEX, an offshore cryptocurrency derivatives exchange (the “Exchange”), agreed to a $100 million settlement with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), resolving claims that the Exchange operated illegally in the U.S. and failed to comply with anti-money laundering (“AML”) laws and regulations.
  • DOJ And SEC File Securities Fraud Charges Against Founder Of Company Acquired By A SPAC

    On July 29, 2021, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced the unsealing of a criminal indictment against Trevor Milton, the founder, former CEO, and former Chairman of Nikola Corporation, a company that went public in March 2020 through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”), for allegedly knowingly misleading investors about the company’s ability to build electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles and other green technology.  The SEC filed a parallel civil action against Milton based on the same facts.
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