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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Offshore Bankers and Attorney Charged with Helping Americans Hide Assets

As released by the United States Department of Justice,

Joshua Vandyk, a U.S. citizen, and Eric St-Cyr and Patrick Poulin, Canadian citizens, were indicted for conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, the Department of Justice and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced today.  The indictment alleges that Vandyk, St-Cyr and Poulin conspired to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership and control of property believed to be the proceeds of bank fraud.  The Caribbean-based defendants allegedly assisted undercover law enforcement agents, posing as U.S. clients, in laundering purported criminal proceeds through an offshore structure designed to conceal the true identity of the proceeds’ owners.  Vandyk and St-Cyr invested the laundered funds on the clients’ behalf and represented the funds would not be reported to the U.S. government.

 

The indictment was returned in the Eastern District of Virginia on March 6, 2014, and unsealed on March 12, 2014, when all three defendants were arrested in Miami, Fla.  In addition to the conspiracy charge, Vandyk, St-Cyr and Poulin were each charged with two counts of money laundering.

 

“These charges result from an extensive investigation and are the latest demonstration of the Department’s resolve to find and prosecute those who aid money laundering and tax fraud globally,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.

 

According to the indictment, Vandyk and St-Cyr lived in the Cayman Islands and worked for an investment firm based in the Cayman Islands.  St-Cyr was the founder and head of the investment firm, whose clientele included numerous U.S. citizens.  Poulin, an attorney at a law firm based in Turks and Caicos, worked and resided in Canada and in the Turks and Caicos.  His clientele also included numerous U.S. citizens.

 

According to the indictment, Vandyk, St-Cyr and Poulin solicited U.S. citizens to use their services to hide assets from the U.S. government.  Vandyk and St-Cyr directed the undercover agents posing as U.S. clients to create offshore foundations with the assistance of Poulin and others because they and the investment firm did not want to appear to deal with U.S. clients.  Vandyk and St-Cyr used the offshore entities to move money into the Cayman Islands and used foreign attorneys as intermediaries for such transactions.

 

According to the indictment, Poulin established an offshore foundation for the undercover agents posing as U.S. clients and served as a nominal board member in lieu of the clients.  Poulin transferred wire payments from the offshore foundations to the Cayman Islands, where Vandyk and St-Cyr invested those funds outside the United States in the name of the offshore foundation.  The investment firm represented that it would neither disclose the investments or any investment gains to the U.S. government, nor would it provide monthly statements or other investment statements to the clients.  Clients were able to monitor their investments online through the use of anonymous, numeric passcodes.  Upon request from the U.S. client, Vandyk and St-Cyr would liquidate investments and transfer money, through Poulin, back to the United States.  According to Vandyk and St-Cyr, the investment firm would charge clients higher fees to launder criminal proceeds than to assist them in tax evasion.

 

“I commend IRS Criminal Investigation and the Division’s prosecutors for the extraordinary work that they have done over many months in this investigation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally for the Tax Division.  “In particular, it is important to note that the IRS’s voluntary disclosure policy excludes disclosures after the government has received information about taxpayers’ identities.  If the investigation team now has the names of account holders who have not yet come forward, time has run out for them.”

 

“As alleged in the indictment, these defendants were in the business of creating layers of transactions so their US clients could launder criminal proceeds,” said Chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation Richard Weber.  “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to unraveling complex financial and money laundering schemes and holding those accountable for creating mechanisms to hide assets offshore and dodge the tax system.”

 

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison for each count.

 

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Stockbroker and New York Law Firm Managing Clerk Charged in Scheme

As released by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission:

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged a stockbroker and a managing clerk at a law firm with insider trading around more than a dozen mergers or other corporate transactions for illicit profits of $5.6 million during a four-year period.

 

The SEC alleges that Vladimir Eydelman and Steven Metro were linked through a mutual friend who acted as a middleman in the illegal trading scheme.  Metro, who works at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York, obtained material nonpublic information about corporate clients involved in pending deals by accessing confidential documents in the law firm’s computer system.  Metro typically tipped the middleman during in-person meetings at a New York City coffee shop, and the middleman later met Eydelman, who was his stockbroker, near the clock and information booth in Grand Central Terminal.  The middleman tipped Eydelman, who was a registered representative at Oppenheimer and is now at Morgan Stanley, by showing him a post-it note or napkin with the relevant ticker symbol.  After the middleman chewed up and sometimes even ate the note or napkin, Eydelman went on to use the illicit tip to illegally trade on his own behalf as well as for family members, the middleman, and other customers.  The middleman allocated a portion of his profits for eventual payment back to Metro in exchange for the inside information.  Metro also personally traded in advance of at least two deals.

 

In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey today announced criminal charges against Metro, who lives in Katonah, N.Y., and Eydelman, who lives in Colts Neck, N.J.

 

“Law firms are sanctuaries for the confidential treatment of client information, and this scheme victimized not only a law firm but also its corporate clients and ultimately the investors in those companies,” said Daniel M. Hawke, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit.  “We are continuing to combat serial insider trading schemes, particularly by law firm employees and other professionals who are entrusted with extremely sensitive market-moving information.”

 

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the insider trading scheme began in early February 2009 at a bar in New York City when Metro met the middleman and other friends for drinks.  When Metro and the middleman separated from the rest of their friends and began discussing stocks, the middleman expressed concern about his holdings in Sirius XM Radio and his fear that the company may go bankrupt.  Metro divulged that Liberty Media Corp. planned to invest more than $500 million in Sirius, and said he obtained this information by viewing documents at the law firm where he worked.  As a result, the middleman later called Eydelman and told him to buy additional shares of Sirius.  Eydelman expressed similar concern about Sirius’ struggling stock, but the middleman assured him that his reliable source was a friend who worked at a law firm.  Following the public announcement of the deal, whose news coverage noted that Simpson Thacher acted as legal counsel to Sirius, Eydelman acknowledged to the middleman, “Nice trade.”  The middleman told Metro following the announcement that he had set aside approximately $7,000 for Metro as a “thank you” for the information.  Instead of taking the money, Metro told the middleman to leave it in his brokerage account and invest it on Metro’s behalf based on confidential information that he planned to pass him in the future.

 

According to the SEC’s complaint, Metro tipped and Eydelman traded on inside information about 12 more companies as they settled into a routine to cloak their illegal activities.  Metro shared confidential nonpublic information with the middleman by typing on his cell phone screen the names or ticker symbols of the two companies involved in the transaction.  Metro pointed to the names or ticker symbols to indicate which company was the acquirer and which was being acquired.  Metro also conveyed the approximate price of the transaction and the approximate announcement date.  The middleman then communicated to Eydelman that they should meet.  Once at Grand Central Station, the middleman walked up to Eydelman and showed him the post-it note or napkin containing the ticker symbol of the company whose stock price was likely to increase as a result of the corporate transaction.  Eydelman watched the middleman chew or eat the tip to destroy the evidence.  Eydelman also learned from the middleman an approximate price of the transaction and an approximate announcement date.

 

The SEC alleges that Eydelman then returned to his office and typically gathered research about the target company.  He eventually e-mailed the research to the middleman along with his purported thoughts about why buying the stock made sense.  The contrived e-mails were intended to create what Eydelman and the middleman believed to be a sufficient paper trail with plausible justification for engaging in the transaction.

 

“People often try to cover their insider trading tracks by using middlemen, destroying evidence, and creating phony documents.  They should learn that sham cover stories simply don’t work and won’t deter us from finding their schemes,” said Robert A. Cohen, co-deputy chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit.

 

According to the SEC’s complaint, Eydelman also traded on inside information in the accounts of more than 50 of his brokerage customers.  Eydelman earned substantial commissions as a result of this trading, and received bonuses from his employers based on his performance driven in large part by the profits garnered through the insider trading scheme.  The middleman’s agreement with Metro resulted in more than $168,000 being apportioned to Metro as his share of profits from the insider trading scheme in addition to his profits from personally trading in advance of at least two transactions.

 

The SEC’s complaint charges Metro and Eydelman with violating Sections 10(b) and 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rules 10b-5 and 14e-3 as well as Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933.  The complaint seeks a final judgment ordering Metro and Eydelman to pay disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains plus prejudgment interest and penalties, and permanent injunctions from future violations of these provisions of the federal securities laws.

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