Celadon Group Inc. announced a settlement with the SEC and the DOJ over allegations of accounting fraud.[1]  The company agreed to pay restitution of over $42 million in connection with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ, and to pay disgorgement of roughly $7.5 million in a parallel SEC settlement.  The disgorgement obligation is

Securities litigation frequently raises the question of what conduct constitutes a primary violation of the federal securities laws, specifically, Rule 10b-5 and the various other antifraud provisions.  Must one make a false statement in order to be primarily liable?[1]  The Supreme Court held in Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders that only those who “make any untrue statement of material fact” may violate Rule 10b5-(b).[2]  Other questions include whether one who merely disseminates a false statement, without actually writing or “making” the statement, can be primarily liable.  And what are the contours of “scheme” liability under Rules 10b-5(a) and (c)?  The Supreme Court recently clarified some of these difficult questions in Lorenzo v. SEC. [3]

Background: Janus and Primary Liability of “Makers” of Untrue Statements

As mentioned, the Supreme Court held in Janus that only those who “make any untrue statement of material fact” may violate Rule 10b5-(b).[4]  The Court wrote that the “maker of a statement is the person or entity with ultimate authority over the statement, including its content and whether and how to communicate it.”[5]  For example, the Court noted, a speechwriter does not control the content of the speech; that content is exclusively within the control of the person who delivers it.  Under this analysis, the speechwriter is not a “maker” of the speech and therefore could not be held primarily liable under Rule 10b5-(b), even if all other elements of the violation were satisfied.[6]  Left undecided in Janus was whether one who disseminates a statement, with scienter but without control over its content, may be liable under any part of Rule 10b-5.
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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) recently published its Risk Monitoring and Examination Priorities Letter (the “Letter”) for 2019 and signaled its intent to expand the scope of its priorities and exam program. Unlike previous years, FINRA’s 2019 Letter took a “somewhat new approach” by identifying materially new areas of emphasis.[1] Admittedly, FINRA will continue to examine longstanding priorities detailed in prior letters,[2] but in adding “Risk Monitoring” to the title to the Letter, FINRA notified the industry it planned to broaden its exam program into three materially new priorities: (1) online distribution platforms, (2) fixed income mark-up disclosure, and (3) regulatory technology.[3]  These three new areas of focus are buttressed by other highlighted items in FINRA’s 2019 Letter: sales practice risks, operational risks, market risks, and financial risks.  At the same time, FINRA cautioned industry recipients that “[u]nlike previous Priorities Letters, we do not repeat topics that have been mainstays of FINRA’s attention over the years.”  Thus these “mainstays” are also given consideration.  The following briefly summarizes many of the important and emerging issues highlighted by FINRA:

Mainstay Areas of Exam Focus

FINRA’s 2019 Priorities Letter makes clear its exams will continue to focus on what it terms “mainstay” topics.  In fact, FINRA highlights this admonition in the first paragraph of its 2019 Letter.  And as to be expected protection of securities customers will continue to be a bedrock exam principle.  Thus protections for the customer vis-à-vis the transaction process or relative to the strength of the firm remain key areas of inquiry.  Firms should focus then on compliance obligations related to suitability, complex products, mutual fund and variable annuities share classes and break points; use of margin; OBAs and especially disclosures about such activities; private securities transactions; private placements; communications with the public; AML; best execution; fraud (including microcap fraud), insider trading and market manipulation; net capital and customer protection; trade and order reporting; data quality and governance; recordkeeping, risk management and supervision related to these and other areas.
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The SEC recently announced insider-trading charges against the former senior lawyer at Apple specifically tasked with ensuring insider-trading compliance at the company.[1]  The Department of Justice also addressed this case of “the fox guarding the hen house” by filing criminal charges against the former Apple attorney.  The defendant, Gene Daniel Levoff, denies all charges and vows to defend himself.

The SEC alleges that Levoff received material non-public information about Apple’s quarterly earnings announcements through his role as a reviewer of draft earnings materials before their public distribution.  Armed with this confidential information, Levoff allegedly traded Apple securities just ahead of three separate quarterly earnings announcements in 2015 and 2016, reaping some $382,000 in profits and losses avoided.  The SEC contends that Levoff conducted his trading during blackout periods, selling Apple securities when he knew Apple was going to miss analysts’ estimates, and buying when he knew Apple stood to beat estimates.
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A former broker at a national brokerage firm was recently sanctioned by FINRA after accepting instructions to transfer assets out of a client account. The problem? The instructions were actually sent by an imposter who had obtained access to the client’s account, presumably through some form of cyber-crime.  Unfortunately, the broker unwittingly contributed to the imposter’s malfeasance by not only accepting the instructions but by also taking pro-active steps to circumvent his brokerage firm’s controls.

This action joins a list of actions taken by FINRA and state securities regulators on similar issues, which we suspect will continue to grow as regulators continue to increase their scrutiny of cybersecurity controls and practices at financial service firms.  Thus, broker-dealers and investment advisers would be wise to review and enhance, if needed, their systemic controls and incorporate training elements to reinforce their representatives’ ability to identify suspicious conduct and act appropriately to avoid becoming victims themselves.
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On September 28, 2018, the U.S. Congress passed an appropriations bill that extended the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program (the “EB-5 Program”) in its current form through December 7, 2018.[1] Thus, the EB-5 Program will expire on December 7, 2018, unless it is renewed once again for another couple of months to a year.

Although the

The regulatory framework for virtual currencies is evolving, as federal and state regulators and courts wrestle with the circumstances in which cryptocurrencies are securities.  For instance, the staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has observed that tokens, which start as securities, can become something other than a security over time as a token’s network becomes “sufficiently decentralized.”[1]  In fact, the SEC staff indicate that more comprehensive yet “plain English” guidance will be forthcoming before the end of this year.[2]  In the meantime, we highlight a recent court case considering the question.  In U.S. v. Zaslavskiy[3], a federal court considered whether a cryptocurrency can be regarded as a security.  That case involved criminal charges against Maksim Zaslavskiy accused of promoting digital currencies backed by investments in real estate and diamonds that prosecutors said did not exist.[4]  The U.S. District Judge in New York decided that the prosecutors could proceed with their case alleging that the cryptocurrencies at issue were securities for purposes of federal criminal law.

Prosecutors argued that investments offered by Zaslavskiy in two initial coin offerings (“ICOs”)—REcoin Group Foundation and Diamond Reserve Club—were “investment contracts” that were securities under the federal securities laws.  Zaslavskiy, on the other hand, filed a motion to dismiss the prosecutors’ securities fraud claims, arguing that the virtual currencies promoted in the ICOs are “currencies,” and therefore, by definition, not securities.[5]
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The Texas Lawbook has published an article by Toby Galloway and Justin Freeman, “SEC Enforces Identify Theft Red Flags Rule for the First Time: What it Means for Texas Businesses.”  The article examines the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) recently settled case involving a dually registered broker-dealer and investment adviser for violations of cybersecurity