The Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges against a Virginia-based mechanical engineer accused of scheming to manipulate the price of Fitbit stock by making a phony regulatory filing. As a Securities Lawyer, I’ve seen these before. According to the SEC’s complaint, Robert W. Murray purchased Fitbit call options just minutes before a fake tender offer that he orchestrated was filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system purporting that a company named ABM Capital LTD sought to acquire Fitbit’s outstanding shares at a substantial premium. Fitbit’s stock price temporarily spiked when the tender offer became publicly available on Nov. 10, 2016, and Murray sold all of his options for a profit of approximately $3,100.
The SEC alleges that Murray created an email account under the name of someone he found on the internet, and the email account was used to gain access to the EDGAR system. Murray then allegedly listed that person as the CFO of ABM Capital and used a business address associated with that person in the fake filing. The SEC also alleges that Murray attempted to conceal his identity and actual location at the time of the filing after conducting research into prior SEC cases that highlighted the IP addresses the false filers used to submit forms on EDGAR. According to the SEC’s complaint, it appeared as though the system was being accessed from a different state by using an IP address registered to a company located in Napa, California.
“As alleged in our complaint, Murray used deceptive techniques in a concerted effort to evade detection, but we were able to connect the dots quickly and hold him accountable,” said Stephanie Avakian, Acting Director of the SEC Enforcement Division. In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has also announced criminal charges against Murray.
The SEC’s complaint charges Murray with violating antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws, including Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Sections 10(b) and 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rules 10b-5 and 14e-8.
The SEC’s continuing investigation is being conducted by David W. Snyder, Assunta Vivolo, Kelly L. Gibson, and Patrick A. McCluskey in the Market Abuse Unit in Philadelphia. The case is being supervised by unit co-chiefs Robert A. Cohen and Joseph G. Sansone. The litigation will be led by Julia C. Green and Christopher R. Kelly of the Philadelphia office. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office at Utah and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Accounting Fraud Charges
The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced that a South Korea-based semiconductor manufacturer and its former CFO have agreed to settle charges related to an accounting scheme to artificially boost revenue and manipulate the financial results reported to investors.
The SEC’s order finds that MagnaChip Semiconductor Corp. overstated revenues for nearly two years in response to immense pressure placed on employees each quarter to meet revenue and gross margin targets that had been communicated to the public. Then-CFO Margaret Sakai directed or approved several fraudulent accounting practices to make it falsely appear the company had met those targets. For example, MagnaChip recognized revenue on sales of incomplete or unshipped products, and the company delayed booking obsolete or aged inventory to manipulate its reported gross margin. MagnaChip also engaged in roundtrip transactions to manipulate accounts receivable balances, and concealed from auditors that there were side agreements with distributors to induce them to accept products early.
“MagnaChip engaged in a panoply of accounting tricks to artificially meet its financial targets,” said Jina L. Choi, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office. “Companies that sell stock in the U.S. markets should prioritize a robust accounting culture that is entirely truthful with investors.”
Without admitting or denying the findings in the SEC’s order, MagnaChip agreed to pay a $3 million penalty and Sakai agreed to pay a $135,000 penalty. Sakai also agreed to be barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company and from appearing or practicing before the SEC as an accountant, which includes not participating in the financial reporting or audits of public companies.
The SEC’s investigation has been conducted by Justin M. Lichterman and Michael D. Foley of the San Francisco office, and supervised by Steven D. Buchholz.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced that a New Jersey-based firm and its CEO have agreed to pay more than $4 million to settle charges that they used new investor money to repay earlier investors in Ponzi-like fashion and tapped investor funds for the CEO’s personal use.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Verto Capital Management and William Schantz III raised approximately $12.5 million selling promissory notes to purportedly fund Verto Capital’s purchase and sale of life settlements, which are life insurance policies sold in the secondary market. The SEC alleges that they misrepresented to investors that Verto Capital was a profitable company and investor funds would be used for general working capital purposes. Verto Capital and other Schantz businesses had been unprofitable for several years, according to the SEC’s complaint, and Schantz resorted to taking disproportionately large distributions of investor funds for himself and using new investor money to repay earlier investors.
Verto Capital and Schantz also allegedly made misrepresentations to investors about the safety of the notes and collateral underlying them. The SEC alleges that the promissory notes were primarily sold through a group of insurance brokers in Texas, and religious investors were targeted.
“As alleged in our complaint, investors were told that the life settlement-backed notes were short-term investments with an unlikely event of default. Schantz and Verto misled investors about the company’s past performance and the value of the collateral, and they diverted significant investor funds for Schantz’s personal use,” said Andrew M. Calamari.
A Fair Fund will be created to return money collected in the settlement to harmed investors. Schantz and Verto Capital agreed to pay disgorgement of $3,433,666 plus interest of $124,851 and a penalty of $600,000. Without admitting or denying the allegations, they consented to permanent injunctions against further violations of Section 17(a)(2) and (3) and Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933. Schantz further agreed to be enjoined from selling any promissory notes. The settlement is subject to court approval.
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