SEC Announces $25 Million Enforcement Action Over Company’s Use Of Stock Buyback Plans That SEC Alleged Failed To Comply With Rule 10b5-1
On November 14, 2023, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a settled enforcement action against Charter Communications, Inc. (“Company”) imposing a $25 million civil penalty over allegations that the Company had used stock buyback plans that did not comport with Rule 10b5-1 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The SEC claimed that the Company’s stock buyback plans did not comport with Rule 10b5-1 because the plans contained provisions that allowed the Company to change the total dollar amounts available to buy back stock and the timing of buybacks after the plans took effect; and while Rule 10b5-1 is a safe harbor rather than a standard that must be met, the SEC alleged that the use of buyback plans that did not meet the Rule 10b5-1 standard evidenced insufficient accounting controls in violation of Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act.
DOJ And SEC Charge Individual For Insider Trading Through Use Of 10b5-1 Trading Plans
On March 1, 2023, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) unsealed an indictment against the founder, CEO, and Chairman of a publicly traded health care company (the “Company”), alleging that he had illegally executed trades pursuant to Rule 10b5-1 trading plans while in possession of material nonpublic information. The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed a concurrent civil suit against defendant for the same activity. In each case, the government alleged that defendant improperly used his 10b5-1 plans by entering into them while in possession of material nonpublic information and triggering sales shortly thereafter, without any form of cooling-off period.
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).
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.