SEC Charges Executives with Stealing
It’s important to keep in the loop as a Securities Lawyer. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission charged two former executives at a credit card processing company with masterminding a fraudulent scheme to steal millions of dollars through phony expense reimbursements, inflated invoices, and other improper accounting tactics.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that iPayment’s then-senior vice president of sales and marketing Nasir N. Shakouri and then-executive vice president and chief operating officer Robert S. Torino routinely reimbursed themselves for payments that were never actually made to third-party vendors using their personal credit cards. They also allegedly conspired with vendors to inflate invoices and receive kickbacks from the overpayments, and claimed improper commissions and bonuses related to other corporate funds they improperly diverted in various ways.
The SEC’s complaint also charges three other iPayment executives – Bronson L. Quon, John S. Hong, and Jonathan K. Skarie – with participating in the scheme and helping Shakouri and Torino falsify books and records to hide the thefts of corporate funds. Quon, Hong, and Skarie were allegedly rewarded for their assistance with misappropriated iPayment funds.
“As alleged in our complaint, these executives manipulated iPayment’s internal accounting systems, lied to the external auditor, and caused approximately $11.6 million in losses to the company,” said Sanjay Wadhwa.
In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Utah today announced criminal charges against Shakouri and Torino.
The SEC is seeking disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties as well as officer-and-director bars.
SEC, NATIONAL BANK OF BELGIUM AGREE TO ENHANCED COOPERATION AND INFORMATION SHARING REGARDING EUROCLEAR
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced that it has entered into an arrangement with the National Bank of Belgium to enhance cooperation and information sharing regarding expanded services by Euroclear Bank, which provides clearance and settlement through its operation of the Euroclear System.
Brussels-based Euroclear Bank is subject to prudential supervision and oversight by the National Bank of Belgium as a credit institution and as a clearing agency. The SEC granted Euroclear’s predecessor an exemption from registration as a clearing agency in 1998, allowing it to provide clearing services for U.S. government securities. On Dec. 16, 2016, the SEC approved Euroclear’s application to modify its exemption from registration, enabling it to also provide limited clearing agency services for U.S. equity securities.
On March 9, 2017, the SEC and the National Bank of Belgium added an addendum to their 2001 Understanding Regarding An Application of Euroclear Bank for an Exemption under U.S. Federal Securities Laws regarding Euroclear’s clearing activities in the U.S., enhancing their ability to exchange information about Euroclear’s new services.
“This addendum will expand the signatories’ ability to cooperate and exchange information related to Euroclear Bank and augment the SEC’s oversight of Euroclear Bank’s activities under its exemption order,” said Paul A. Leder, Director of the SEC’s Office of International Affairs.
SEC CHARGES FIRMS INVOLVED IN LAYERING, MANIPULATION SCHEMES
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against a Ukraine-based trading firm accused of manipulating the U.S. markets hundreds of thousands of times and the Utah-based brokerage firm and CEO who allegedly helped make it possible.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that Avalon FA Ltd touted itself to traders as a destination to engage in layering, a scheme in which orders are placed but later canceled after tricking others into buying or selling stocks at artificial prices, resulting in illicit profits. Avalon allegedly made more than $21 million in the layering scheme involving U.S. stocks during a five-year period. According to the SEC’s complaint, Avalon also made more than $7 million in illicit profits through a cross-market manipulation scheme in which the firm bought and sold U.S. stocks at a loss in order to manipulate the prices of the stock and its corresponding options so that it could then profitably trade at artificial prices. Avalon allegedly used traders in Eastern Europe and Asia to conduct its trading, and the firm kept a portion of the profits and collected commissions from the traders.
The SEC’s complaint also describes fraud charges against Avalon’s named owner Nathan Fayyer and Sergey Pustelnik, who allegedly kept his controlling interest in Avalon undisclosed and embedded himself at Lek Securities as a registered representative, using his position to facilitate the schemes.
The SEC further alleges that Lek Securities and its owner Samuel Lek made the schemes possible by providing Avalon with access to the U.S. markets, approving the cross-market trading scheme, and improving its trading technology to assist Avalon’s trading. According to the SEC’s complaint, Lek Securities also relaxed its layering controls after Avalon complained. Avalon was the highest-producing customer for Lek Securities in terms of trading commissions, fees, and rebates generated.
“As alleged in our complaint, Avalon openly marketed itself as a destination for manipulative trading, and Lek Securities opened the gate to allow the schemes into the U.S. markets despite repeated warnings that its customer was manipulating the market,” said Stephanie Avakian, Acting Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
After filing its complaint in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Utah, the SEC obtained an emergency court order freezing Avalon’s assets held in its account at Lek Securities as well as freezing and repatriating funds that Avalon has transferred overseas.
SEC FREEZES BROKERAGE ACCOUNTS BEHIND ALLEGED INSIDER TRADING
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced an emergency court order to freeze assets in two brokerage accounts used last week to reap more than $1 million in alleged insider trading profits in connection with a merger announcement by telecommunications companies.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Utah, highly suspicious transactions have been detected surrounding last week’s announcement that Liberty Interactive Corp. had agreed to acquire General Communication Inc. The traders, who are currently unknown, allegedly used foreign brokerage accounts in the United Kingdom and Lebanon to purchase call option contracts through U.S.-based brokerages and on U.S.-based exchanges in the days leading up to the April 4 public announcement of the acquisition. The court’s order freezes the foreign accounts’ assets contained in the U.S. brokerages.
According to the SEC’s complaint, some of the risky options positions taken in these accounts represented virtually 100 percent of the market for those options. Following the acquisition announcement, General Communication’s shares rose more than 62 percent and the brokerage account customers allegedly sold the bulk of the contracts.
“As alleged in our complaint, the timing, size, and profitability of the trades as well as the absence of any recent trading by the accounts in these particular securities make the transactions highly suspicious,” said Michele Wein Layne. “We don’t hesitate to act quickly and proactively to freeze accounts and prevent proceeds from dissipating while we continue to investigate dubious transactions and identify the traders behind them.”
The emergency court order obtained by the SEC requires the traders to repatriate any funds or assets located outside the U.S. that were obtained from the alleged insider trading. The traders are prohibited from destroying any evidence. The SEC’s complaint charges the unknown traders with violating Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Exchange Act Rule 10b-5. The SEC is seeking a final judgment ordering the traders to disgorge their allegedly ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties and permanently enjoining them from future violations.
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