Posts Tagged ‘SEC investigations’

The Robust Use of Civil and Criminal Actions to Police the Markets

Posted by Mary Jo White, Chair, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on Friday April 18, 2014 at 9:04 am
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Editor’s Note: Mary Jo White is Chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. This post is based on Chair White’s remarks to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) 2014 Compliance & Legal Society Annual Seminar; the full text, including footnotes, is available here. The views expressed in this post are those of Chair White and do not necessarily reflect those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the other Commissioners, or the Staff.

I have participated in this event for many years and have always considered this conference to be all about the compliance and legal issues that are most important to the integrity of our securities markets. Now, as Chair of the SEC, I would like to thank you for the work you do day in and day out to protect investors and keep our markets robust and safe.

In about a week, I will have completed my first year at the SEC. It has been quite a year. We have made very good progress in accomplishing the initial goals I set to achieve significant traction on our rulemaking agenda arising from the Dodd Frank and JOBS Acts, intensify our review of the structure of our equity markets, and enhance our already strong enforcement program.

…continue reading: The Robust Use of Civil and Criminal Actions to Police the Markets

SEC Investigations and Enforcement Related to Financial Reporting and Accounting

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Sunday February 16, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Randall J. Fons, partner and co-chair of the Securities Litigation, Enforcement, and White-Collar Defense Group and the global FCPA and Anti-Corruption Task Force at Morrison & Foerster LLP, and is based on a Morrison & Foerster publication by Mr. Fons.

“One of our goals is to see that the SEC’s enforcement program is—and is perceived to be—everywhere, pursuing all types of violations of our federal securities laws, big and small.”
— Mary Jo White, Chair of the SEC, October 9, 2013

“In the end, our view is that we will not know whether there has been an overall reduction in accounting fraud until we devote the resources to find out, which is what we are doing.”
— Andrew Ceresney, Co-Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement, September 19, 2013

“The SEC is ‘Bringin’ Sexy Back’ to Accounting Investigations”
New York Times, June 3, 2013

Much has changed since the collapse of Enron in 2001 and the ensuing avalanche of financial fraud cases brought by the SEC. For example, Sarbanes-Oxley raised auditing standards, imposed certification requirements on public company officers and required enhanced internal controls for public companies. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) was formed “to oversee the audits of public companies in order to protect the interests of investors and further the public interest in the preparation of informative, accurate and independent audit
reports.” [1] In pursuit of that goal, the PCAOB has conducted hundreds of audit firm inspections, adopted numerous auditing standards and brought dozens of enforcement actions against auditors for violating PCAOB rules and auditing standards.

…continue reading: SEC Investigations and Enforcement Related to Financial Reporting and Accounting

Ten Changes to Expect from the SEC’s New Enforcement Program

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday January 31, 2014 at 9:00 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Jon N. Eisenberg, partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP, and is based on a K&L Gates publication by Mr. Eisenberg.

Investors, borrowers, financial institutions, and the economy were not the only casualties of the financial crisis. Regulators were casualties too, and the SEC was one of the hardest hit. Two Harris Polls—one conducted in 2007 before the financial crisis and the other in 2009 after much of the damage had been done—tell the story. Between 2007 and 2009, favorable ratings of the SEC dropped from 71% to 29%, while the percentage of the public rating it fair or poor rose from 25% to 72%. “By a wide margin,” the Harris organization stated, “[this was] the biggest change in an agency’s ratings since these questions were first asked in 2000.” Indeed, the SEC’s 29% positive rating was a full 15 points worse than even the second-lowest rated agency in the survey. Congress attacked the Commission as well, as when Long Island Representative Gary Ackerman burst out in a hearing, “Whose job is it to protect the investors? Because I wanna tell them that they suck at it.” And the press was also merciless, as when reporter Charlie Gasparino urged, “the SEC should be disbanded.”

…continue reading: Ten Changes to Expect from the SEC’s New Enforcement Program

SEC Forecasts an Increase in Whistleblower Cases and Awards

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Sunday July 21, 2013 at 9:27 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Michael T. Jones, partner in the Litigation Department at Goodwin Procter, and is based on a Goodwin Procter client alert by Mr. Jones and Jennifer Chunias.

On June 12, 2013, the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission announced its second-ever whistleblower award under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). Having received over 3,000 whistleblower tips in the first year of the revamped program, the SEC made its first whistleblower award in August of 2012 and is expected to issue an increasing number of awards in the coming months.

Among other things, Dodd-Frank provides a direct mechanism for whistleblower complaints to the SEC and enhanced protection for eligible whistleblowers who come forward and cooperate in SEC investigations and proceedings involving the corporation that employs them. Dodd-Frank also authorized the SEC to provide incentives in the form of financial awards to eligible whistleblowers who voluntarily provide the SEC with original information about a violation of federal securities laws that leads to successful enforcement proceedings—10 to 30 percent for penalties collected over $1 million. Particularly in light of the recent awards and the expected uptick in the coming months, companies that fail to take appropriate steps to respond to the increased risks associated with the program could pay a steep price.

…continue reading: SEC Forecasts an Increase in Whistleblower Cases and Awards

Court: Disclosure of SEC Investigation Insufficient to Plead Loss Causation

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday March 29, 2013 at 9:04 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Adam Hakki, partner and global head of the Litigation Group at Shearman & Sterling LLP, and is based on a Shearman & Sterling client publication.

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently issued an important decision that addresses two types of allegations that plaintiffs routinely rely on to plead loss causation in federal securities fraud cases. In Meyer v. Greene, 2013 US App. LEXIS 4187 (11th Cir. Feb. 25, 2013), the Eleventh Circuit appears to have become the first federal court of appeals to rule definitively that the mere announcement of an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) followed by a decline in a company’s stock price is insufficient to plead loss causation. The Court also ruled, consistent with decisions from other federal circuits, that a negative third-party analyst presentation is not a corrective disclosure for purposes of pleading loss causation if the presentation is based on publicly available information.

…continue reading: Court: Disclosure of SEC Investigation Insufficient to Plead Loss Causation

SEC Expands Probe into Rule 10b5-1 Plans

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Monday March 18, 2013 at 9:35 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from William H. Hinman, Jr. and Daniel N. Webb, partners in the Corporate Department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. This post is based on a Simpson Thacher memorandum by Mr. Hinman and Mr. Webb.

Recent press stories have revived speculation that corporate insiders may be abusing rule 10b5-1 trading plans to reap unfair profits from inside knowledge of their companies. [1] The SEC is reported to have expanded its probe beyond trades highlighted by the press to cover a larger range of executive trading activity. [2] Other regulators have launched their own investigations, and investor groups have joined the conversation. [3]

In light of this widespread and intensifying scrutiny, companies and executives should consider techniques that make it easier to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of rule 10b5-1, such as:

  • having the first trade under a 10b5-1 plan take place after some reasonable “seasoning period” has passed from the time of adoption of the plan,
  • having each executive use only one 10b5-1 plan at a time, and
  • minimizing terminations and amendments of 10b5-1 plans.

The current controversy centers on trading by executives under 10b5-1 plans that, in hindsight, appears “well-timed.” Much like in the stock option pricing controversy from a few years ago, the press and some analysts have employed a retrospective statistical analysis of 10b5-1 plan trades to argue that insiders using the plans seem to be doing surprisingly well.

…continue reading: SEC Expands Probe into Rule 10b5-1 Plans

SEC Investigations and Securities Class Actions: An Empirical Comparison

Posted by June Rhee, Co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday December 21, 2012 at 9:58 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Stephen J. Choi, Murray and Kathleen Bring Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, and Adam C. Pritchard, Professor of Law at University of Michigan.

In our paper, SEC Investigations and Securities Class Actions: An Empirical Comparison, we compare investigations by the SEC with securities fraud class action filings involving public companies. Critics of securities class actions commonly contrast those suits with enforcement actions brought by the SEC. According to those critics, the SEC is superior to plaintiffs’ lawyers both in targeting defendants and securing sanctions against them. With respect to targeting, critics of securities class actions claim that the settlement dynamics of class actions encourage plaintiffs’ lawyers to bring a high proportion of non-meritorious suits. If companies must pay substantial costs when they are unjustifiably targeted, the deterrent value of class actions is diluted. With regard to sanctions, class action settlements are almost always paid by the company and its directors’ & officers (D&O) insurance; the corporate officers responsible for the fraud rarely contribute. By contrast, SEC enforcement actions commonly lead to payments from the responsible officers; the SEC also has the authority to bar individuals from serving as directors and officers of public companies, a career death sentence for the individual subjected to a bar. Critics of class actions argue that the combination of more precise targeting of suits and more individual sanctions yields a stronger deterrent punch for SEC enforcement relative to class actions.

…continue reading: SEC Investigations and Securities Class Actions: An Empirical Comparison

FCPA Whistleblower Lawsuits Under the Dodd-Frank Anti-Retaliation Provision

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Friday August 10, 2012 at 9:12 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Steve Nickelsburg, partner in the litigation & dispute resolution practice at Clifford Chance LLP. This post is based on a Clifford Chance client memorandum by Mr. Nickelsburg, Steven Gatti, and Angela Stoner. Further discussion of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is available here.

In recent months, two district courts have addressed the issue whether employees who claim they were retaliated against for internally reporting violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act can bring a private civil lawsuit against their former employers under the Dodd-Frank anti-retaliation provision. Although both courts decided that the anti-retaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act did not apply in these particular cases, the courts disagreed over whether Dodd-Frank whistleblower protections could apply to FCPA whistleblowers who report internally but not to the SEC.

The Whistleblower Provisions

The “anti-retaliation” provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, 15 U.S.C. §78u-6(h)(1)(A) prohibits employers from retaliating against a “whistleblower” for:

  • i. providing information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”);
  • ii. initiating, testifying in, or assisting in any investigation or judicial or administrative action of the Commission based upon or related to such information; or
  • iii. making disclosures that are required or protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (15 U.S.C. 7201 et seq.) (“SOX”), [certain other securities laws], and any other law, rule, or regulation subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission.

…continue reading: FCPA Whistleblower Lawsuits Under the Dodd-Frank Anti-Retaliation Provision

Duty to Disclose SEC Wells Notices Rejected by Judge

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday July 31, 2012 at 9:32 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from Jonathan R. Tuttle, partner in the litigation department at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, and is based on a Debevoise & Plimpton memorandum by Mr. Tuttle, Paul R. Berger, Matthew E. Kaplan, Alan H. Paley, and Colby A. Smith.

Judge Paul Crotty of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently held that Goldman Sachs & Co. did not have a duty to publicly disclose the receipt of a Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Prior to this decision, no court had ever been asked to consider disclosure obligations with respect to Wells Notices. Going forward, this decision may inform companies’ consideration of whether and when to publicly disclose receipt of a Wells Notice.

The case, Richman v. Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., centered on allegations by class action plaintiffs against Goldman relating to the firm’s role in a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (“CDO”) called ABACUS 2007 AC-1 (“Abacus”). In January 2009, Goldman’s SEC filings disclosed ongoing governmental investigations related to the Abacus transaction. Between July 2009 and January 2010, the SEC issued Wells Notices to Goldman and two Goldman employees involved in the Abacus transaction, notifying them that Enforcement Division staff “intend[ed] to recommend an enforcement action.” The SEC filed a complaint against Goldman and one of its employees in April 2010, which Goldman settled for $550 million in July 2010. Plaintiffs alleged that Goldman’s failure to disclose its receipt of the Wells Notices was an actionable omission under Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 of the Exchange Act, and that Goldman had an affirmative legal obligation to disclose its receipt of the Wells Notices under applicable regulations.

…continue reading: Duty to Disclose SEC Wells Notices Rejected by Judge

SEC Investigation Recognizes Individual’s Contribution

Posted by Noam Noked, co-editor, HLS Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, on Tuesday April 24, 2012 at 9:25 am
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Editor’s Note: The following post comes to us from John H. Sturc, co-chair of the Securities Enforcement Practice Group at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and is based on a Gibson Dunn alert.

On March 19, 2012, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that it had credited the substantial cooperation of a former senior executive of an investment adviser in an investigation [1] by declining to take enforcement action against him. The SEC’s announcement can be found here. This is the first time the SEC has publicly recognized the cooperation of an individual since the announcement two years ago of its policy statement intended to incentivize individuals to cooperate in investigations, found here. [2] This announcement provides some much needed insight into the potential benefits of cooperating in an SEC investigation. However, the unique facts of the case mean that it will have limited application to other cases.

I. SEC’s Cooperative Initiative

As we have discussed in a prior alert, SEC’s Initiative to Foster Cooperation–Perspective and Analysis (Jan. 14, 2010), [3], the SEC announced a new policy under which individuals could cooperate in an enforcement investigation to avoid a civil enforcement action or receive a lesser sanction. Although the evaluation of cooperation requires a case-by-case analysis of the specific circumstances presented, the Cooperation Policy Statement explained that the SEC’s general approach would be to determine whether, how much, and in what manner to credit cooperation by individuals by evaluating four considerations: (1) the assistance provided by the cooperating individual in the SEC’s investigation or related enforcement actions; (2) the importance of the underlying matter in which the individual cooperated; (3) the societal interest in ensuring that the cooperating individual is held accountable for his or her misconduct; and (4) the appropriateness of cooperation credit based upon the profile of the cooperating individual.

…continue reading: SEC Investigation Recognizes Individual’s Contribution

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