On February 15, 2019, Cognizant Technology Solutions Corporation has agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and two of the company’s former executives were charged for their roles in facilitating the payment of millions of dollars in a bribe to an Indian government official.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that in 2014, a senior government official of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu demanded a $2 million bribe from the construction firm responsible for building Cognizant’s 2.7 million square foot campus in Chennai, India. As alleged in the complaint, Gordon Coburn, Cognizant’s President, and Steven E. Schwartz, the company’s Chief Legal Officer, authorized the contractor to pay the bribe, and directed their subordinates to conceal the bribe by doctoring the contractor’s change orders. The Commission also alleges that Cognizant authorized the construction firm to make two additional bribes totaling more than $1.6 million. Cognizant allegedly used sham change order requests to conceal the payments it made to reimburse the firm. Read More
On February 12, 2019, the SEC charged two former high-ranking executives, of an Indiana-based plastics manufacturer with concealing from potential buyers of the manufacturer the fact that the company’s core business model was a sham.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Lucent Polymers, Inc. premised its business model on its ability to transform “garbage to gold” – that is, to use low-grade, non-prime feedstock to develop high-quality plastics. The company’s near-magic “garbage to gold” process, the SEC alleges, was a huge commercial success. However, the complaint alleges that Lucent’s business model was a fraud. The complaint alleges that the company routinely lied to its customers and falsified its certifications of test data to show that its products complied with customer specifications, including on important aspects such as fire-retardant measures, when in fact the products did not meet customer specifications. Read More
The SEC charged the two officers of Swisher Hygiene, Inc., Michael J. Kipp, Swisher’s former CFO, and Joanne K. Viard, Swisher’s former Director of External Reporting, in 2016 with fraud for participating in an earnings management scheme. Read More
The SEC obtained a final judgment on February 8, 2018, against Niket Shah, a New Jersey resident who was charged last year by the agency with stealing more than $250,000 in a Ponzi scheme in which his friends and coworkers invested.
The court’s final judgment follows the court’s grant of summary judgment in the agency’s favor. In granting summary judgment, the court found that Niket Shah and his company, Spark Trading Group LLC, falsely claimed that Spark Trading was registered with the SEC; that their investments were profitable; that investors’ funds were guaranteed; and that defendants received $250,000 in start-up capital, including $200,000 that Shah deposited into a binary options trading account. Read More
On January 9, the Cato Institute filed suit against the Securities & Exchange Commission (the “SEC”), its chairman Jay Clayton, and its secretary Brent J. Fields. For decades, questions have been raised, and criticisms offered, of the SEC’s longstanding practice of requiring (or allowing, depending on one’s point of view) settling defendants in enforcement actions to sign consent decrees in which they “neither admit nor deny” the charges lodged against them. Thanks to a standard clause in their decrees, for the rest of their lives, the defendants will be prevented from explaining what really happened, if their views don’t coincide with the agency’s. These strictures apply to corporate as well as individual defendants.
The Cato Institute believes these SEC Gag Orders are wrong. Cato is a libertarian think tank located in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1974 in Wichita, Kansas, as the Charles Koch Foundation, and was at first wholly funded by Koch. It’s by now considered one of the most influential think tanks in the world. Cato is not a public company, and is not regulated by the SEC. Ordinarily, it would have lacked standing to sue the agency, but thanks to special circumstances, it was able to file a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. Read More
On February 7,2019, the SEC charged Robert Alexander with fraudulently raising approximately $9 million from more than 50 individuals by selling investments in Kizzang LLC, a purported online gaming business.
According to the SEC’s complaint, among other misrepresentations, Robert Alexander told investors that they would make a minimum of ten times their investment, Robert Alexander had personally invested millions of dollars in Kizzang, Robert Alexander had made a $50 million charitable donation, and that he had led the creation of a prominent video game. Rather than using investor funds for Kizzang’s business, Robert Alexander stole at least $1.3 million, including spending more than $450,000 on gambling sprees. Robert Alexander also used investor funds to finance his daily living and other personal expenses, including credit card bills, shopping and entertainment, and expenses for his daughter, including culinary school tuition and luxury car payments. Read More
On December 17, 2018, John Hurry broker dealer, Scottsdale Capital Advisers Corporation sued the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”), for breach of contract in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Scottsdale and its sister company, Alpine Securities, Inc., are broker-dealers controlled by John J. Hurry and his wife Justine. Both companies are FINRA members. Both John and Justine Hurry are registered brokers regulated by FINRA.
The complaint alleges that FINRA has breached its agreement with and obligations to member firms by its “increasing and current failure to provide fair and meaningful representation” to them, and by taking “affirmative acts that have the effect if not the purpose of burdening competition, harming not only member firms but also issuers and customers.” Broadly, Scottsdale is saying that rather than help small securities firms, it’s unfairly attacking and damaging them:
Through… improper enforcement efforts, FINRA has… engaged in “unfair discrimination” against certain of its members in violation of its governing statute and By-Laws. It has aggressively targeted and sought to punish or even eliminate specific segments of the securities market. Through its coercive actions against smaller member firms who are engaged in the microcap and low-priced securities business, FINRA has gotten to the point that it is gutting the ability of firms, issuers and investors to participate in that market. Read More
The SEC filed a subpoena enforcement action against three penny-stock companies and their CEO – Cherubim Interests, Inc., PDX Partners, Inc., Victura Construction Group, Inc., and Patrick Jevon Johnson – seeking an order directing them to comply with investigative subpoenas for documents.
According to the SEC’s application, filed on December 21, 2018 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the SEC is investigating whether certain individuals or entities engaged in a potential pump-and-dump scheme in the stock of Cherubim Interests, PDX Partners, Inc, and Victura Construction Group, Inc. Because the SEC was concerned about the accuracy of the companies’ disclosures, the SEC suspended trading in their securities on February 15, 2018 for ten business days. Based on its ongoing investigation, the SEC has reason to believe that each company issued false public statements in January 2018 to “pump” their stock price, claiming that it had acquired hundreds of millions of dollars of “AAA-rated” assets, even though each company appeared to have little to no assets. After the stock price and trading volume for each company increased as a result of the news, an entity associated with the companies may have “dumped” their overvalued shares for significant profits. Read More
A Taiwan-based insurance company, China United Insurance Service, Inc. and one of its former managers have agreed to settle fraud charges brought by the SEC relating to a scheme to manipulate the company’s trading volume.
The complaint alleges that, from approximately December 2013 through March 2018, China United Insurance Service, Inc. and Cheng-Hsiung Huang schemed to deceive the investing public and Nasdaq, for the purpose of obtaining a listing on Nasdaq, that the trading volume in the company’s stock was derived from bona fide market activity. Cheng-Hsiung Huang, acting on the company’s behalf, used multiple brokerage accounts to engage in numerous transactions in the company’s stock. When Cheng-Hsiung Huang’s trading was flagged by a U.S.-based brokerage firm for high volume and possible prearranged trading and several of the accounts were frozen, Cheng-Hsiung Huang and two colleagues contacted the brokerage firm and lied about their identities, their relation to China United, and their reasons for trading. Read More
On November 9, 2018, the SEC obtained a judgment against John Place, a former CEO of a brokerage consulting business who was charged by the SEC in August for his role in a multimillion dollar transition management fraud.
The SEC previously charged a brokerage consulting business known as GTS along with three of its former officers, including former CEO John Place, for misleading current and prospective customers about the fees the business charged in connection with securities transactions. According to the SEC’s complaint, John Place and other GTS officers told many of their customers that GTS would receive only clearly disclosed commissions charged on customers’ trades. In reality, GTS also received additional revenue from mark-ups and mark-downs charged by other brokers. Read More