Utah-based Retirement Plan Administrator Charged with Defrauding Investors

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges and an asset freeze against a Utah-based retirement plan administrator who defrauded investors in self-directed individual retirement accounts (IRAs), causing them to lose millions of dollars of savings.

The SEC alleges that American Pension Services Inc. (APS) and its founder, president and CEO Curtis L. DeYoung squandered more than $22 million of investor funds on high-risk investments. DeYoung hid the losses by issuing inflated account statements, allowing him to continue collecting fees and further victimizing his customers.

“This misconduct jeopardized retirement security for thousands of APS customers,” said Karen L. Martinez, director of the SEC’s Salt Lake Regional Office.

According to the SEC’s complaint unsealed yesterday in federal court in Salt Lake City, DeYoung’s scheme dates back to at least 2005 and targeted customers with retirement accounts holding non-traditional assets typically not available through traditional 401(k) retirement plans or other IRA custodians. Although APS has no authority to direct customer trades, DeYoung allegedly used forged letters and signatures to invest on behalf of customers, including in promissory notes issued by a friend whose businesses never turned a profit. DeYoung continued to recommend that APS customers invest in the notes, and he sent customer funds to the friend until at least April 2013 without disclosing to investors that the friend had defaulted on the notes in 2010 and DeYoung had forgiven the debt.

The SEC further alleges that investments in other bankrupt ventures, including an office building in Wichita, Kan., caused APS customers to lose more money. APS concealed those losses and issued account statements that inflated the value of customer holdings, allowing APS to levy fees based on the full value of the holdings even when they were worthless.

According to the SEC’s complaint, when DeYoung was questioned by the SEC about a $22 million gap between actual holdings and those showing on account statements, he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refused to answer.

The Honorable Robert J. Shelby granted the SEC’s request for a temporary restraining order to freeze the assets of APS and DeYoung.

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CEO Charged with Violation of Duty of Trust in Insider Trading Scheme

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged a former executive with insider trading in advance of eBay’s acquisition of the e-commerce company where he worked by tipping friends and relatives with confidential information about the pending deal so they could attain more than $300,000 in illegal profits.

The SEC alleges that Christopher Saridakis violated a duty of trust as CEO of the marketing solutions division of GSI Commerce by providing two family members and two friends with nonpublic information about the pending acquisition and encouraging them to trade on it. To settle the SEC’s charges, Saridakis agreed to an officer-and-director bar and must pay $664,822, which includes a penalty equal to twice the amount of his tippees’ profits. In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania today announced criminal charges against Saridakis, who lives in Delaware.

The five traders and the individual who entered into a non-prosecution agreement will pay a combined total of more than $490,000 in their settlements, which range from disgorgement-only or reduced penalties for cooperators to penalties of two or three times the trading profits for other traders.

“Although Saridakis’ tips spun a web of illegal trading, some of the downstream tippees substantially assisted in our investigation while others hindered it,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “The reduction in penalties for those tippees who assisted us, together with the non-prosecution agreement for one of the traders, demonstrate the benefits of cooperating with our investigations. The increased penalties for others highlight the risks of impeding our work.”

Scott Friestad, associate director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, added, “Saridakis chose to dole out confidential, market-moving information to enrich relatives and friends, and the nonpublic details then spread further through multiple levels of tippers and tippees. The SEC thoroughly investigates suspicious trading to trace it to the source and pursue all those involved.”

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Philadelphia, GSI Commerce was renamed eBay Enterprise after the merger and is still based in King of Prussia, Pa. When the deal was publicly announced on March 28, 2011, GSI’s stock price increased more than 50 percent. Saridakis became aware of negotiations between GSI and eBay in early 2011, and his involvement increased when he participated in a meeting between eBay and GSI executives on March 11. GSI took steps to ensure the pending deal remained secret, and Saridakis understood that any information concerning the potential acquisition was confidential.

The SEC alleges that Saridakis, who became president of eBay Enterprise after the merger and has since resigned, tipped two family members in the weeks leading up to eBay’s acquisition of GSI. The relatives made a combined $41,060 by trading on the nonpublic information provided by Saridakis, who in his settlement has agreed to pay disgorgement of that amount plus interest on behalf of those family members.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Saridakis tipped his longtime friend and former colleague Jules Gardner, who lives in Villanova, Pa. The two regularly exchanged text messages during the weeks leading up to the merger, including an exchange one week before the public announcement in which Saradakis encouraged Gardner to buy shares in GSI. Gardner discussed the text messages from Saridakis with two friends who also traded. Gardner has agreed to fully disgorge his ill-gotten gains of $259,054 as part of a cooperation agreement in which the SEC is not seeking a penalty. Gardner agreed to continue cooperating in the ongoing investigation.

The SEC alleges that Saridakis separately tipped his friend Suken Shah, a doctor who resides in Wilmington, Del., with nonpublic information about the deal following the March 11 meeting with eBay executives. Shah earned insider trading profits of $9,838 and provided the nonpublic information to his brother and another individual. Shah agreed to settle the SEC’s charges in an administrative proceeding by paying disgorgement of $10,446, which includes $609 in trading profits made by the other individual he tipped. Shah agreed to pay prejudgment interest of $1,007 and a penalty of $64,965 for a total of $76,418. Shah’s penalty is three times the amount of his and his tippees’ trading profits.

In a separate settled administrative proceeding, the SEC charged Shimul Shah, a doctor who now resides in Cincinnati, with insider trading on the nonpublic information he received from his brother. Besides trading himself, Shah tipped others with the nonpublic information during a group dinner he attended with several friends from his medical residency. To settle the SEC’s charges, Shah agreed to disgorge his trading profit of $11,209 and pay prejudgment interest of $1,022 and a penalty of $22,418 for a total of $34,650. Shah’s penalty is twice the amount of his trading profit.

The individual who entered into the non-prosecution agreement was tipped by Shah at the group dinner. This individual has agreed to disgorge a trading profit of $31,777 and pay $2,725 in prejudgment interest for a total of $34,502. The SEC entered into a non-prosecution agreement because this individual provided early, extraordinary, and unconditional cooperation.

The SEC also instituted settled administrative proceedings against two other traders in GSI stock who received material nonpublic information from a different source than Saridakis. The SEC’s investigation found that the wife of another insider at GSI became aware of the proposed acquisition and shared the news with a friend the weekend before the public announcement. The friend shared the information with Oded Gabay, who then tipped his friend Aharon Yehuda. Gabay and Yehuda, who live in New York, each proceeded to trade GSI stock the following Monday morning.

Gabay agreed to settle the SEC’s charges by disgorging his trading profit of $23,615 and paying prejudgment interest of $1,207 and a penalty of $22,177 for a total of $46,999. Gabay’s penalty was reduced to half the amount of his and Yehuda’s trading profits to reflect his early cooperation in the investigation. Yehuda agreed to settle the SEC’s charges by disgorging his trading profit of $20,740 and paying prejudgment interest of $1,666 and a penalty of $20,740 for a total of $43,146.

In a case that the SEC unraveled in part due to extensive cooperation by some of the tippees, the SEC also charged five traders and entered into a non-prosecution agreement with a trader who provided extraordinary cooperation in the investigation. It’s the agency’s first non-prosecution agreement with an individual. The SEC’s investigation is continuing into trading by other individuals.

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Former Stock Promoter Charged with Defrauding Investors in Florida Real Estate Venture

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against a former Florida-based stock promoter currently serving a two-year prison sentence for lying to SEC investigators.

The SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida alleges that Robert J. Vitale defrauded investors in a Florida real estate venture, sold unregistered securities, and acted as an unregistered broker-dealer. Vitale and his firm Realty Acquisitions & Trust Inc. raised at least $8.7 million from investors, including many senior citizens. Vitale allegedly told investors their funds were “100% protected” when they were not, and he claimed to be a financial expert with a business degree from Notre Dame when he never attended college after graduating from Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn.

The SEC alleges that although Vitale told investors his success rested on his “great honesty and integrity,” he failed to tell them that he was charged by the SEC in 2004 for participating in a pump-and-dump market manipulation scheme or that he later settled the charges and was barred from the brokerage industry as part of the settlement.

Vitale is now an inmate at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. He was sentenced in September 2013 after being convicted of obstruction of justice and providing false testimony in the SEC’s investigation that led to the charges filed today.

“We are gratified that the criminal authorities held Mr. Vitale responsible for his attempts to derail our investigation,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “His prison sentence and our determination to uncover and charge his underlying misconduct notwithstanding his obstruction show how seriously we and our law enforcement partners take our missions.”

The SEC is seeking the return of allegedly ill-gotten gains with interest, a monetary penalty, and a permanent injunction against Vitale. The SEC’s complaint also charges Coral Springs Investment Group Inc. as a relief defendant, alleging the company holds assets that came from defrauded investors that should be returned.

“Vitale hid the truth from investors just as he tried to hide his assets during our investigation,” said Stephen L. Cohen, associate director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “When individuals barred from the industry continue their wrongdoing, we pursue them aggressively and seek to return their ill-gotten gains to investors.”

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Pyramid Scheme Halted Targeting Dominican and Brazilian Immigrants

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that on Tuesday it filed charges against the Massachusetts-based operators of a large pyramid scheme that mainly targeted Dominican and Brazilian immigrants in the U.S. The charges were filed under seal, in connection with the Commission’s request for an immediate asset freeze. That asset freeze, which the U.S. District Court in Boston ordered on Wednesday, secured millions of dollars of funds and prevented the potential dissipation of investor assets. After the SEC staff implemented the asset freeze, at the SEC’s request the court lifted the seal today, permitting public announcement of the SEC’s charges.

The SEC alleges that TelexFree, Inc. and TelexFree, LLC claim to run a multilevel marketing company that sells telephone service based on “voice over Internet” (VoIP) technology but actually are operating an elaborate pyramid scheme. In addition to charging the company, the SEC charged several TelexFree officers and promoters, and named several entities related to TelexFree as relief defendants based on their receipt of investor funds.

According to the SEC’s complaint, the defendants sold securities in the form of TelexFree “memberships” that promised annual returns of 200 percent or more for those who promoted TelexFree by recruiting new members and placing TelexFree advertisements on free Internet ad sites. The SEC complaint alleges that TelexFree’s VoIP sales revenues of approximately $1.3 million from August 2012 through March 2014 are barely one percent of the more than $1.1 billion needed to cover its promised payments to its promoters. As a result, in classic pyramid scheme fashion, TelexFree is paying earlier investors, not with revenue from selling its VoIP product but with money received from newer investors.

“This is one of several pyramid-scheme cases that the SEC has filed recently where parties claim that investors can earn profits by recruiting other members or investors instead of doing any real work,” said Paul G. Levenson, director of the SEC’s Boston Regional Office. “Even after the SEC and other regulators have alleged that such programs are a fraud, the promoters of TelexFree continued selling the false promise of easy money.”

According to the SEC’s complaint, the defendants have continued enrolling new investors but recently changed TelexFree’s method of compensating promoters, requiring them to actually sell the VoIP product to qualify for payments that TelexFree had previously promised to pay them. The complaint also alleges that since December 2013, TelexFree has transferred $30 million or more of investor funds from TelexFree operating accounts to accounts controlled by TelexFree affiliates or the individual defendants.

In addition to the TelexFree firms, the complaint charges TelexFree co-owner James Merrill, of Ashland, Mass., TelexFree co-owner and treasurer Carlos Wanzeler, of Northborough, Mass., TelexFree CFO Joseph H. Craft, of Boonville, Ind., and TelexFree’s international sales director, Steve Labriola, of Northbridge, Mass. The SEC also charged four individuals who were promoters of TelexFree’s program: Sanderley Rodrigues de Vasconcelos, formerly of Revere, Mass., now of Davenport, Fla., Santiago De La Rosa, of Lynn, Mass., Randy N. Crosby, of Alpharetta, Ga., and Faith R. Sloan of Chicago. The SEC’s complaint alleges that TelexFree, Inc., TelexFree, LLC, Merrill, Wanzeler, Craft, Labriola, Rodrigues de Vasconcelos, De La Rosa, Crosby, and Sloan violated the registration and antifraud provisions of U.S. securities laws and the SEC’s antifraud rule. The SEC also charged three entities related to TelexFree as relief defendants based on their receipt of investor funds.

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San Diego-based Investment Advisory Firm, CEO and COO Charged witih Misleading Investors

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced charges against a San Diego-based investment advisory firm, its chief executive officer, chief compliance officer, and another employee for misleading investors and breaching their fiduciary duties to clients.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Total Wealth Management and its owner and CEO Jacob Cooper entered into undisclosed revenue sharing agreements through which they paid themselves kickbacks or so-called “revenue sharing fees.”  They failed to disclose to clients the conflicts of interest created by these agreements as they recommended the underlying investments to clients and investors in the Altus family of funds.  Total Wealth and Cooper also materially misrepresented the extent of the due diligence conducted on the investments they recommended.  Total Wealth’s CCO Nathan McNamee and investment adviser representative Douglas Shoemaker also breached their fiduciary duties and defrauded clients by failing to disclose conflicts of interest and concealing the kickbacks they received from the investments they recommended.

“Investment advisers owe a fiduciary duty of utmost good faith and full and fair disclosure to their clients,” said Michele Wein Layne, director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office.  “Total Wealth violated that duty with its pervasive practice of placing clients in funds holding risky investments while concealing the revenue sharing fees they paid themselves.”

In the order instituting administrative proceedings, the SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Total Wealth and Cooper willfully violated the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws, and McNamee and Shoemaker violated or aided and abetted violations of the antifraud provisions.  They also are charged with violations of Form ADV disclosure rules and the custody rule.  The SEC’s order seeks return of allegedly ill-gotten gains plus interest, financial penalties, an accounting, and remedial relief.

 

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New York City-based Executives Charged in Kickback Scheme

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced another round of charges in its ongoing case against several individuals involved in a massive kickback scheme to secure the bond trading business of a state-owned Venezuelan bank.

The SEC alleges that two executives at New York City-based brokerage firm Direct Access Partners (DAP) were integral participants in the wide-ranging fraud.  Benito Chinea, who was a co-founder and CEO of the firm, and Joseph DeMeneses, who was DAP’s managing partner of global strategy, devised and facilitated sham arrangements to conceal multi-million dollar kickback payments to a high-ranking Venezuelan finance official of the bank.  In one instance, DeMeneses made kickback payments from funds he controlled to a shell entity controlled by the Venezuelan official, and Chinea arranged for the firm to reimburse DeMeneses.  The allegations were made in a second amended complaint that the SEC submitted in federal court in Manhattan as part of its pending action against four individuals with ties to DAP as well as the head of DAP’s Miami office, who were charged last year for their roles in the scheme.

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division today announced criminal charges against Chinea and DeMeneses.

“The corruption at Direct Access Partners reached the very top,” said Andrew M. Calamari, director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “The schemers depended on Chinea as CEO to authorize outsized payments from the firm to be funneled as kickbacks to Venezuela.”

The filing of the SEC’s second amended complaint is subject to court approval.  The SEC seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest and financial penalties against Chinea, who lives in Manalapan, N.J., and DeMeneses, who lives in Fairfield, Conn., as well as the five previously named defendants with ties to DAP, which has filed for bankruptcy.

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Honolulu Woman Charged with Defrauding Investors Through Social Media

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against a Honolulu woman posing as an investment banker and soliciting investors through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

 

An SEC investigation found that Keiko Kawamura engaged in two separate fraudulent schemes to raise money from investors while casting herself as an investment and hedge fund expert when in fact she had virtually no prior trading experience.  In one scheme, she sought investors for her self-described hedge fund and posted on Twitter some screenshots of brokerage account statements suggesting she was personally obtaining incredible investment returns.  However, the account statements were not hers.  And instead of investing the money she raised from investors, she spent it on her own living expenses and luxury trips to Miami and London.  In a later scheme, Kawamura continued to boast phony experience to attract investors to her subscription service for investment advice.  She falsely told subscribers that she had been in the investment banking industry for nearly a decade and had achieved 800 percent returns in her personal brokerage account.

 

“As alleged in our case, Kawamura used social media to ensnare investors and raise money to support her lifestyle,” said Michele Wein Layne, director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office.  “Investors should beware of fraudsters who use social media to hide behind anonymity and reach many investors with little to no cost or effort.”

 

The SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings alleges that Kawamura willfully violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5, and Sections 206(1), 206(2), and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 20(4)-8.  The administrative proceedings will determine any remedial action or financial penalties that are appropriate in the public interest against Kawamura.

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N.J.-Based Brokerage Firm Owner Charged With Manipulative Trading

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged the owner of a Holmdel, N.J.-based brokerage firm with manipulative trading of publicly traded stocks through an illegal practice known as “layering” or “spoofing.”

 

The SEC also charged the owner and others for registration violations.  Two firms and five individuals agreed to pay a combined total of nearly $3 million to settle the case.

 

In layering, the trader places orders with no intention of having them executed but rather to trick others into buying or selling a stock at an artificial price driven by the orders that the trader later cancels.  An SEC investigation found that Joseph Dondero, a co-owner of Visionary Trading LLC, repeatedly used this strategy to induce other market participants to trade in a particular stock.  By placing and then canceling layers of orders, Dondero created fluctuations in the national best bid or offer of a stock, increased order book depth, and used the non-bona fide orders to send false signals to other market participants who misinterpreted the layering as true demand for the stock.

 

“The fair and efficient functioning of the markets requires that prices of securities reflect genuine supply and demand,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, senior associate director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office.  “Traders who pervert these natural forces by engaging in layering or some other form of manipulative trading invite close scrutiny from the SEC.”

 

Joseph G. Sansone, co-deputy chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit, added, “Week after week, Dondero lined his pockets by placing phony orders and tricking others into trading with him at distorted prices.  The fact that Dondero perpetrated this deceit through the entry of trade orders did not allow him to evade detection.”

 

The SEC additionally charged Dondero, Visionary Trading, and three other owners with operating a brokerage firm that wasn’t registered as required under the federal securities laws.  New York-based brokerage firm Lightspeed Trading LLC is charged with aiding and abetting the registration violations, and its former chief operating officer is charged with failing to supervise one of the Visionary owners who shared with his co-owners commission payments that he received from Lightspeed while he was simultaneously working as a registered representative there.

 

According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, the misconduct occurred from May 2008 to November 2011.  Visionary Trading and its four owners – Dondero, Eugene Giaquinto, Lee Heiss, and Jason Medvin – illegally received from Lightspeed a share of the commissions generated from trading by Visionary customers.  Lightspeed aided and abetted the violation by ignoring red flags that Visionary and its owners were receiving transaction-based compensation while Visionary and its owners were not registered as a broker or dealer or associated with a registered broker-dealer firm.

 

According to the SEC’s order, Lightspeed also failed to establish reasonable policies and procedures designed to prevent and detect the improper sharing of commissions between its registered representatives such as Giaquinto, who was associated with Lightspeed for part of the relevant period, and others who were not registered with the SEC in any capacity.  Lightspeed’s former COO Andrew Actman failed reasonably to supervise Giaquinto by not taking appropriate steps to address red flags indicating that Giaquinto was sharing commission payments that he received from Lightspeed with the other Visionary owners.

 

The SEC’s order finds that Dondero violated Sections 9(a)(2) and 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5.  Visionary and its owners willfully violated Section 15(a)(1) of the  Exchange Act.  Giaquinto willfully aided and abetted and caused Visionary’s and his co-owners’ violations of Exchange Act Section 15(a)(1).  Lightspeed willfully aided and abetted and caused Visionary’s and its owners’ violations of Exchange Act Section 15(a)(1).  Lightspeed and Actman failed reasonably to supervise Giaquinto.

 

In settling the SEC’s charges, Dondero agreed to pay disgorgement of $1,102,999.96 plus prejudgment interest of $46,792 and penalties of $785,000 for a total exceeding $1.9 million. He agreed to a bar from the securities industry.  Giaquinto, Heiss, and Medvin must each pay disgorgement of $118,601.96 plus prejudgment interest of $14,391.32 and a penalty of $35,000 for a combined total of more than $500,000 from the three of them.  They are barred from the securities industry for at least two years.  Lightspeed must pay disgorgement of $330,000 plus prejudgment interest of $43,316.54, post-order interest of $4,900.38, and a penalty of $100,000 for a total of approximately $478,000.  Actman agreed to a penalty of $10,000 and a supervisory bar for at least one year.

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SEC Halts Los Angeles Pyramid Scheme Targeting Asian and Latino Communities

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced charges and asset freezes against the operators of a worldwide pyramid scheme targeting Asian and Latino communities in the U.S. and abroad.

 

The SEC alleges that three entities collectively operating under the business names WCM and WCM777 are posing as multi-level marketing companies in the business of selling third-party cloud computing services, which can include website hosting, data storage, and software support.  The entities are based in California and Hong Kong and controlled by “Phil” Ming Xu, who is a resident of Temple City, California.

 

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles, WCM and WCM777 have raised more than $65 million since March 2013 by falsely promising tens of thousands of investors that the return on investment in the cloud services venture would be 100 percent or more in 100 days.  Investors were told they would receive “points” for making investments or enrolling other investors.  The points would be convertible into equity in initial public offerings of high-tech companies their money would help launch.  However, rather than building out cloud services or incubating high-tech companies, Xu and the WCM entities used investor funds to make Ponzi payments of purported investment returns to some investors.  They also spent investor money to purchase golf courses and other U.S.-based properties among other unauthorized expenditures.

 

The court has granted the SEC’s request for an asset freeze and the appointment of a temporary receiver over the assets of WCM, WCM777, and several other entities named as relief defendants for the purpose of recovering money from the scheme in their possession.

 

“Xu and his entities claimed they were using investor funds to build a strong cloud services company that would then ignite other high-tech companies and ultimately make their investors very wealthy,” said Michele Wein Layne, director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office.  “In reality, they were operating a pyramid scheme that preyed on investors in particular ethnic communities, leaving them with nothing left to show for their investment.”

 

According to the SEC’s complaint, WCM and WCM777 sell their products exclusively to investors and have no other apparent sources of revenue.  Their offerings and operations depend almost entirely on the recruitment of new investors and purchases by existing investors to provide the money for returns.  On its website, WCM777 specifically addressed the question “Is WCM777 a Ponzi Game?” by writing, “In summary, we are not a Ponzi game company. We are creating a new business model.”

 

The SEC alleges that Xu and his entities made various false claims to investors about purported partnerships with more than 700 major companies such as Siemens, Denny’s, and Goldman Sachs – in some instances falsely representing that they had permission to use their logos.  Meantime, besides buying two golf courses with investor money, Xu and his entities also purchased a warehouse, vacant land, and several single family homes  They also used investor funds to play the stock market and make other related investments through intermediary companies, such as an oil and gas offering.  They also sent investor money to a rough diamond jewel merchant in Hong Kong and another unrelated company affiliated with Xu.

 

The SEC’s complaint alleges that WCM, WCM777, and Xu violated Sections 5(a), 5(c), and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5.  The complaint further alleges that Xu violated Section 20(a) of the Exchange Act.  In addition to the asset freezes and appointment of a temporary receiver, the Honorable Christina A. Snyder also granted the SEC’s request for an order prohibiting the destruction of documents and requiring the defendants to provide accountings. A court hearing has been scheduled for April 10, 2014.

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Fraud Charges Against Seattle Coal Company and CEO for False Disclosures About Management

As released by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against a Seattle-headquartered coal company and its founder for making false disclosures about who was running the company.

 

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that L&L Energy Inc., which has all of its operations in China and Taiwan, created the false appearance that the company had a professional management team in place when in reality Dickson Lee was single-handedly controlling the company’s operations.  An L&L Energy annual report falsely listed Lee’s brother as the CEO and a woman as the acting CFO in spite of the fact that she had rejected Lee’s offer to serve in the position the month before.  L&L Energy and Lee continued to misrepresent that they had an acting CFO in the next three quarterly reports.  Certifications required under the Sarbanes Oxley Act ostensibly bore the purported acting CFO’s electronic signature.  Lee and L&L Energy also allegedly misled NASDAQ to become listed on the exchange by falsely maintaining they had accurately made all of their required Sarbanes-Oxley certifications.

 

In a parallel action, a criminal indictment against Lee was unsealed today in federal court in Seattle.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington is prosecuting the case.

 

“Lee and L&L Energy deceived the public by falsely representing that the company had a CFO, which is a critical gatekeeper in the management of public companies,” said Antonia Chion, associate director in the SEC’s Enforcement Division.  “The integrity of Sarbanes-Oxley certifications is critical, and executives who manipulate the process will be held accountable for their misdeeds.”

 

This enforcement action stems from the work of the SEC’s Cross-Border Working Group, which focuses on companies with substantial foreign operations that are publicly traded in the U.S.  The Cross-Border Working Group has contributed to the filing of fraud cases against more than 90 companies, executives, and auditors.  The securities of more than 60 companies have been deregistered.

 

The SEC separately issued a settled cease-and-desist order against L&L Energy’s former audit committee chair Shirley Kiang finding that she played a role in the company’s reporting violations by signing an annual report that she knew or should have known contained a false Sarbanes-Oxley certification by Lee.  Kiang, who neither admitted nor denied the charges, must permanently refrain from signing any public filing with the SEC that contains any certification required pursuant to Sarbanes-Oxley.

 

According to the SEC’s order against Lee and L&L Energy, the false representations began in the annual report for 2008 and continued with quarterly filings in 2009.  The purported acting CFO did not actually sign any public filings during this period or provide authorization for her signature to be placed on any filings.  After Lee was confronted by the purported acting CFO in mid-2009, he nonetheless continued to falsely represent to L&L Energy’s board of directors that the company had an acting CFO.  When L&L Energy filed its annual report for 2009, it contained a false Sarbanes-Oxley certification by Lee that all fraud involving management had been disclosed to the company’s auditors and audit committee.  Then, in connection with an application to gain listing on NASDAQ, Lee informed the exchange that L&L Energy had made all of its required Sarbanes-Oxley certifications – including during the period of the purported service of an acting CFO.  As a result, L&L Energy became listed on NASDAQ.

 

The SEC’s order against Dickson Lee and L&L alleges that they violated Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5, and Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933.  The order also alleges other violations of rules under the Exchange Act concerning Sarbanes-Oxley certifications, disclosure controls and procedures, and obtaining and retaining electronic signatures on filings.  The order seeks disgorgement and financial penalties against L&L Energy and Lee as well as an officer-and-director bar against Lee.  The order also seeks to prohibit Lee, who is a certified public accountant, from practicing before the SEC pursuant to Rule 102(e) of the Commission’s rules of practice.

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