THIS WEEK IN SECURITIES LITIGATION (January 20, 2012)
Insider trading, implementing Dodd-Frank, asset valuations and old scandals dominated the securities enforcement litigation this week. The U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office in Manhattan and the SEC brought more high profile insider trading cases focused on the hedge fund industry. These cases however look more like the traditional insider trading actions built on bits and pieces of evidence â€“ aided by three defendants who pleaded guilty â€“ in contrast to the Galleon and expert network cases which center largely on wire tap evidence.
Congress continued to debate the so-called Volker Rule. Two House subcommittees heard testimony from SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro on the proposed rule to implement the provision. While Ms. Schaparioâ€™s testimony highlighted the proposal, many commentators consider it so long and complex as to be unworkable.
Finally, SEC enforcement brought another market crisis case and two actions focused on asset valuation. The market crisis case named as a defendant the holding company for the largest bank in Florida. Like other market crisis cases, it centers on claims that the true condition of certain loan assets was not disclosed. It charges intentional fraud. The two asset valuation cases focus on the manner in which funds valued assets and the resulting impact on NAV.
Volker Rule: SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro testified before the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises Subcommittee and Financial Institution and Consumer Credit Subcommittee on â€œExamining the Impact of the Volker Rule on Market, Businesses, Investors and Job Creation.â€ The testimony largely reviews the proposed rule and the section of the Act it implements (here).
Conflicts/settlements: Former SEC staff member Spencer Barasch, once the head of Enforcement for the SECâ€™s Forth Worth office, entered into a civil settlement of ethics and conflict of interest charges with the Department of Justice. The matter stems from his supervisory role regarding Stanford matters while on the staff and his subsequent representation of Mr. Stanfordâ€™s company, Stanford Financial Group. Mr. Barasch agreed to pay a $50,000 fine to settle with the DOJ. The Department and Mr. Barasch dispute the factual predicate for the claimed conflicts. The Commission rejected a proposed settlement which called for Mr. Barasch to be barred from practicing before the Commission for six months with an automatic right to re-enter.
The Dell insider trading cases
U.S. v. Newman, 12 mag 0124 (S.D.N.Y. filed Jan. 18, 2012); SEC v. Adondakis, Civil Action No. 12-CV-0409(S.D.N.Y. Filed Jan. 18, 2012). These cases center on trading in the securities of Dell, Inc. and NAVIDA on inside information. Named as defendants in the criminal case are: Todd Newman, a portfolio manager at Diamondback Capital Management, LLC, an investment manager; Anthony Chiasson, a founding partner at Level Global Investors, L.P., an unregistered investment adviser; Jon Horvath, a technology research analyst at an unidentified hedge fund; and Danny Kuo, a vice president and fund manager at an unidentified investment adviser. The Commissionâ€™s complaint names each of these individuals as defendants along with: Spyridon Adondakis, an analyst at Level Global; Sandeep Goyal, an analyst at an unidentified investment adviser and formerly a manager of corporate planning at Dell; Todd Newman, a portfolio manager at Diamondback; Jesse Tortora, an analyst at Diamondback; Diamondback Capital; and Level Global. Messrs. Tortora, Adondakis and Goyal were not named in the criminal complaint because each previously pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
The charges center on alleged insider trading in the securities of the two companies in 2008 and 2009. As to Dell, the charges focus on inside information furnished by an unidentified company employee to his friend, Sandeep or Sandy Goyal, regarding future earnings releases in 2008. Mr. Goyal learned that the company would miss market expectations. He passed the information on to Mr. Tortora who conveyed it in an e-mail to his superior, Mr. Newman, and then to Messrs. Adondakis, Horvath and Kuo. Diamondback, Level Global and the unidentified fund which employed Mr. Horvath, sold Dell shares short. They made profits, respectively, of $2.8 million, $50 million and $1 million. In a second part of the scheme Mr. Kuo is alleged to have obtained inside information regarding the revenues, gross profit margins and other financial metrics of NVIDIA prior to the release of the information in 2009. He used this information for the benefit of his employer, an unidentified investment adviser, according to the court papers. Mr. Kuo also passed the information about NVIDIA on to Mr. Adondakis who in turn furnished it to his superior Mr. Chiasson who traded on it for Level Global hedge funds. He also furnished the information to Mr. Tortora who transmitted it to his superior, Mr. Newman, who used it to trade on behalf of Diamondback hedge funds. As a result Level Globalâ€™s hedge funds obtained profits or avoided losses of at least $15.6 million. Diamondbackâ€™s hedge funds reaped profits of at least $75,000 while the unidentified investment adviser obtained profits and avoided losses of at least $90,000.
The criminal complaint contains two counts of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and four counts of securities fraud. The Commissionâ€™s complaint alleges violations of Securities Act Section 17(a) and Exchange Act Section 10(b). Both are pending. The investigation which resulted in these cases is on-going.
SEC Enforcement: Filings and settlements
Market crisis/failure to disclose: SEC v. BankAtlantic Corp., Case No. 0:12-CV60082 (S.D. Fla. Filed Jan 18, 2012) is an action against the firm which is the holding company to one of Floridaâ€™s largest banks, and its CEO and Chairman, Alan Levan. The complaint alleges that as the market crisis unfolded, the defendants failed to disclose, and made false statements regarding, the bankâ€™s commercial residential portfolio and its deteriorating condition. The defendants knew of that condition because a number of the loans were kept current by granting extensions. Specifically, Mr. Levan knew about the deteriorating condition of the portfolio from participating on the bankâ€™s Major Loan Committee which approved the extensions and related principal increases. Despite this knowledge, the disclosure documents for the first two quarters of 2007 continued only generic warnings about what might occur in the future if Floridaâ€™s real estate downturn continued. They also failed to disclose the downward trend already occurring in its own portfolio. The MD&A should have disclosed these matters. Mr. Levan signed the filings. The complaint alleges violations of Exchange Act Sections 10(b), 13(a), 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B). The case is in litigation.
Investment fund fraud: SEC v. Morriss, Case No. 4;12-cv-00080 (E.D.Mo. Filed Jan. 17, 2012) is an action against Burton Morriss and his funds. The Commission claims that between 2003 and 2011 the defendants raised about $88 million from at least 97 investors. The funds were supposed to be invested in their investment funds which would purchase interests in early to mid-stage companies in the financial services and technology sectors. In fact, Mr. Morriss diverted portions of the money to his personal use. The complaint alleges violations of Securities Act Sections 17(a)(1), (2) and (3) and Exchange Act Section 10(b). The Commission obtained emergency relief, including an asset freeze. The case is in litigation.
Improper valuation: In the matter of UBS Global Asset Management (Americas) Inc., Adm. File No. 3-14699 (Jan. 17, 2012) is an action against the firm, a registered investment adviser. According to the Order, in June 2008 UBS Global purchased about 54 fixed income securities from various brokers for its funds. The securities were not listed or sold on any exchange and there was no active market for them. In initially valuing all but six of the securities, UBS Global used data obtained from various dealers. This resulted in valuations that far exceeded the purchase price. In contrast, the firmâ€™s written procedures required that they follow a different valuation method and that the securities initially be valued at the purchase price. As a result, the NAVs for the funds were overstated between one cent to 10 cents per share for several days in June 2008. By failing to comply with its own written procedures the funds violated Rule 22c-1 of the Investment Company Act and UBS Global aided and abetted that violation. To resolve the proceeding the firm consented to the entry of a cease and desist order based on the Rule, a censure and agreed to pay a civil penalty of $300,000.
Valuation/breach of duty: In the Matter of Lisa B. Premo, Adm. Proc. File No. 3-14697 (Jan. 17, 2012) is an action which names as a Respondent Ms. Premo, an investment adviser to the Evergreen Ultra Short Opportunities Fund. From March 2008 through early June 2008 the NAV of the Fund was materially overstated, according to the Order. This resulted from the fact that in late March 2008 the Respondent learned that a CDO owned by the fund experienced an event of default. Ms. Premo failed to report this matter to the valuation committee or the board. Later when the committee became aware of this fact it reduced the value assigned to the CDO from $6.98 million to $0 resulting in a $0.10 per share drop in the NAV of the fund. Within a week of the time the valuation was corrected, the fund was liquidated. The Order alleges that Respondent breached her fiduciary duty. It alleges violations of Sections 206(1) and (2) of the Advisers Act. The Order directs that a public hearing be held for the purpose of taking evidence on the questions set forth in it.
Insider trading: SEC v. Bazshushtari, Civil Action No. CV 12-00354 (C.D. Ca. Filed Jan. 13, 2012) is an action against Farzin Bazshushtari, the Director of Industrial Distribution for STEC Inc. After learning that the company would have positive first quarter earnings, and during a black out period, he repeatedly purchased company shares. He also purchased options. When the earnings announcement was released he made total profits of $76,675.50. To settle the action Mr. Bazshushtari consented to the entry of a permanent injunction prohibiting future violations of Exchange Act Section 10(b). He also agreed to disgorge his trading profits and pay a civil penalty equal to those profits.
U.S. v. Marubeni Corporation, (S.D.Tx.). The company entered into a two year deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $54.6 million to settle FCPA charges stemming from its role as an agent of the TSKJ consortium. That joint venture was composed of Technip S.A., Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V, Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc. and JGC Corporation, all of whom have settled FCPA charges. The purpose of the venture was to secure contracts from Nigeria LNG, Ltd., a company created by the Nigerian government to capture and sell natural gas associated with oil production in that country. The government retained a 49% interest in Nigeria LNG. The joint venture determined that bribes had to be paid to secure business. As part of its efforts, the venture retained two agents, according to the court documents. One was Jeffrey Tesler, a U.K. solicitor. The other was Marubeni, a Japanese trading company headquartered in Tokyo. Mr. Tesler served as a consultant to the venture and paid bribes to high-level Nigerian government officials. Those included top level executive branch officials. Marubeni was retained to pay bribes to lower level government officials. At key points, a number of the co-conspirators, including employees of Marubeni, met with senior executive level government officials to determine with whom they should meet to negotiate bribes in connection with the awarding of contacts, according to the court papers. The joint venture is alleged to have paid about $132 million to a Gibraltar corporation controlled by Mr. Tesler and $51 million to Marubeni during the course of the scheme. The payments were intended to be used at least in part to bribe Nigerian government officials.
Citigroup Global Markets, Inc. agreed to pay a fine of $725,000 for failing to disclose certain conflicts of interest in its research reports and in the public appearances of its research analysts from January 2007 through March 2010. FINRA found that the deficiencies were primarily due to technical deficiencies. The firm also failed to have reasonable supervisory procedures in place to ensure that it was making the proper disclosures in the reports.