Category Archives: Corporate Civil Liability and Enforcement

Tenth Circuit Affirms SEC’s Extraterritorial Reach

by Mary Jo White, Kara Brockmeyer, Andrew J. Ceresney, Matthew E. Kaplan, Robert B. Kaplan, Julie M. Riewe, Jonathan R. Tuttle, and Ada Fernandez Johnson

Last week, in a much-anticipated decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit held in SEC v. Scoville et al. that Congress “clearly intended” Section 929P(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act to grant the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”)  authority to enforce the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws abroad where there is sufficient conduct or effect in the United States.[1] In affirming the lower court’s decision, the Tenth Circuit undertook a thorough analysis of the legislative history of Section 929P(b) and concluded that Congress “affirmatively and unmistakably” intended to grant extraterritorial authority to the SEC where either “significant steps” are taken in the U.S. to further a violation of the anti-fraud provisions, or conduct outside the U.S. has a “foreseeable substantial effect” within the U.S.

The Scoville decision thus provides judicial affirmation of the SEC’s ability to bring enforcement actions under what is essentially the same “conduct-and-effects” test that the Supreme Court rejected for private securities litigation in Morrison v. Nat’l Australia Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247 (2010). The Tenth Circuit’s decision, though not entirely unexpected, is significant in that it represents the first Circuit Court decision to directly address the SEC’s authority to enforce the federal securities laws extraterritorially after the Supreme Court’s rejection of the “conduct-and-effects” test in Morrison. Continue reading

Court Upholds SEC Authority and Finds Broker-Dealer Liable for Thousands of Suspicious Activity Reporting Violations

by H. Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Michael E. Gertzman, Roberto J. Gonzalez, David S. HuntingtonBrad S. Karp, Raphael M. Russo, Richard S. Elliott, Rachel M. Fiorill, Karen R. King, Anand Sithian, and Katherine S. Stewart

Decision Provides Rare Judicial Guidance on SAR Filing Requirements

On December 11, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) obtained a victory in its enforcement action against Alpine Securities Corporation, a broker that cleared transactions for microcap securities that were allegedly used in manipulative schemes to harm investors.[1] Judge Cote of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a 100-page opinion partially granting the SEC’s motion for summary judgment and finding Alpine liable for thousands of violations of its obligation to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs).[2]

Because most SAR-related enforcement actions are resolved without litigation, this decision is a rare instance of a court’s detailed examination of SAR filing requirements.  The decision began by rejecting—for a second time[3]—Alpine’s argument that the SEC lacks authority to pursue SAR violations.  The court then engaged in a number of line-drawing exercises, finding that various pieces of information, as a matter of law, triggered Alpine’s SAR filing obligations and should have been included in the SAR narratives.  This mode of analysis, which applies the SAR rules under the traditional summary judgment standard, may appear to contrast with regulatory guidance recognizing that SARs involve subjective, discretionary judgments.[4]

Although the decision has particular relevance in the microcap context, all broker-dealers—and potentially other entities subject to SAR filing requirements—may wish to review the court’s reasoning for insight on a number of SAR issues, including the adequacy of SAR narratives and the inclusion of “red flag” information. Among other cautions, the decision illustrates the dangers of relying on SAR “template narratives”[5] that lack adequate detail.

More broadly, the SEC’s action against Alpine is another indicator of heightened federal interest in ensuring broker-dealer compliance with Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requirements. For example, last month the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York brought the first-ever criminal BSA charge against a broker-dealer, noting that this charge “makes clear that all actors governed by the Bank Secrecy Act—not only banks—must uphold their obligations.”[6] Continue reading

SEC Adopts Disclosure Rules on Hedging Policies

by Heather L. Coleman, Matthew M. Friestedt, and Marc Treviño

Requires Description of any Hedging Policies or Practices Adopted, Not Specified Transactions; Will Apply to Most Companies Beginning in 2020

SUMMARY

On December 18, 2018, the SEC adopted rules requiring disclosure of policies and practices regarding hedging for directors, officers and employees of U.S. public companies.  These rules require public companies to describe, in any proxy or information statement relating to director elections, any practices or policies they have adopted regarding the ability of its directors, officers or employees to engage in transactions that hedge or offset, or are designed to hedge or offset, any decrease in the market value of equity securities of the public company or its affiliates. The rules cover both equity securities granted as part of compensation and those otherwise held directly or indirectly.

The final rules do not require any company to prohibit hedging transactions or to otherwise adopt hedging policies and do not require disclosure of any particular hedging transactions.

These rules will generally apply to proxy and information statements with respect to the election of directors during fiscal years beginning on or after July 1, 2019, although there is a one-year transition period for emerging growth companies and smaller reporting companies. Continue reading

FinCEN and Federal Financial Institution Supervisory Agencies Issue Joint Statement on Innovative Efforts to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing

by Jonathan J. Rusch

FinCEN and Federal Financial Institution Supervisory Agencies Issue Joint Statement on Innovative Efforts to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing

On December 3, 2018, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) and the four federal financial institution supervisory agencies[1] (“the agencies”) issued a joint statement (“Joint Statement”) encouraging banks (i.e., banks, savings associations, credit unions, and foreign banks) “to consider, evaluate, and, where appropriate, responsibly implement innovative approaches to meet their Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance obligations, in order to further strengthen the financial system against illicit financial activity.”[2] Continue reading

SEC’s First “Red Flags” Enforcement Case Focuses on Board’s Role

by Craig A. Newman

A little-noticed consent decree entered into by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year should be setting off alarm bells for financial firms and their boards of directors.

In a cease and desist order against Voya Financial Advisors, the investment advisory unit of Voya Financial, the SEC – for the first time – enforced its “Identity Theft Red Flags Rule” in punishing the firm for allegedly lackluster data security practices. The SEC charged that hackers were able to access sensitive client information including Social Security Numbers, account balances and even details of client investment accounts. The commission called out the company’s board of directors for failing to “administer and oversee” compliance with the rule. Continue reading

New DOJ Policy Revises “Yates Memorandum”

by Michael W. Peregrine and Rebecca Martin

A new Department of Justice policy (the “Policy”) modifies critical elements of the prominent 2015 “Yates Memorandum” on individual accountability. Introduced on November 29 by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein (the “DAG”), the Policy is manifested, in part, by specific revisions to Justice Manual (previously referred to as the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual).

The Policy clarifies the relationship between the scope of a defendant’s disclosures regarding individuals and qualifying for cooperation credit, particularly in the context of civil litigation. In so doing, it also raises critical compliance oversight issues for corporate governance. Continue reading

Virtual Currencies, Manipulation, Cooperation, and More: CFTC Enforcement Division’s 2018 Annual Report

by Nowell Bamberger, Robin Bergen, and Emily Michael

On November 15, 2018, the Division of Enforcement (the “Division”) of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) released its Annual Report on the Division of Enforcement (PDF: 1.95 MB) (the “Report”), highlighting the enforcement division’s recent initiatives and reinforcing its focus on cooperation and self-reporting.  The Report provides a succinct overview of the Division’s enforcement priorities over the last year, discusses its overall enforcement philosophy, sets out key metrics about the cases brought in the last year, and highlights its key initiatives for the coming year.  While the Division’s priorities—preserving market integrity, protecting customers, promoting individual accountability, and increasing coordination with other regulators and criminal authorities—do not mark a departure from prior guidance, the Report does highlight the Division’s particular focus on individual accountability and a few target areas of enforcement.  Continue reading

SEC Debuts Roadmap for Resolving Illegal ICOs

by Joseph A. Hall, Michael Kaplan, Edmund Polubinski III, Byron B. Rooney, and Ryan Johansen 

In a pair of settled enforcement actions announced on November 16 in which it concluded that initial coin offerings conducted by Paragon Coin, Inc. (PDF: 232 KB) and AirFox (PDF: 223 KB) were illegal unregistered securities offerings, the SEC imposed an agreed-upon remedy that it will likely seek to use as the template for resolving its backlog of investigations into recent ICOs. Significantly, both ICOs took place after the SEC issued its July 2017 Section 21(a) report (PDF: 168 KB) addressing a crypto-token offering by The DAO, where the SEC warned the market (PDF: 169 KB) that some ICOs may violate the federal securities laws.

Neither Paragon nor AirFox agreed to conduct a “rescission offer” whereby the company would offer to repurchase the illegally offered tokens and any investor who declined the offer would retain freely tradable tokens (a remedy that Google undertook shortly after its IPO in order to resolve claims that certain pre-IPO compensatory equity grants were made in violation of the registration provisions of the Securities Act of 1933). Instead, each company agreed to distribute a “claim form” to all token purchasers offering return of the consideration paid, plus interest, in exchange for tender of the tokens, or offering damages to token purchasers who no longer hold their tokens. Purchasers of tokens located outside the United States are apparently not excluded from participation. Each company was also fined $250,000 and required to register its token as a security and become an SEC-reporting company for at least one year. Continue reading

National Bank Supervision Manual

by Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

OCC’s New and Revised Sections of Policies and Procedures Manual Relating to Enforcement Actions Suggest Continued Heightened Interest in Actions Against Individuals

Summary

Historically, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the “OCC”) has applied a single set of internal policies and procedures to enforcement actions brought against individuals (institution-affiliated parties (“IAPs”)) and institutions (national banks, federal savings associations, and federal branches and agencies of foreign banks (collectively, “banks”)).  On November 13, the OCC issued a new section to its Policies and Procedures Manual (“PPM”) specific to enforcement actions against IAPs (the “IAP PPM”)[1] and simultaneously updated the existing sections for Bank Enforcement Actions and Related Matters (the “Bank PPM”)[2] and for Civil Money Penalties (“CMPs”) (the “CMP PPM”).[3]  The new IAP PPM generally breaks no new ground, and most changes to the Bank PPM and CMP PPM align those two sections with, and reflect the issuance of, the IAP PPM.  There are, however, several notable additions and modifications to the new and revised sections that serve to improve the clarity and transparency of the OCC’s enforcement action process. 

Beyond those distinctions, the issuance of a standalone IAP PPM suggests a continued, if not increased, focus by the OCC on actions against IAPs going forward, and is consistent with the broader theme, evidenced over the last several years, of regulatory and law enforcement focus on holding individuals accountable in cases of financial institution wrongdoing.[4]  The new OCC IAP PPM suggests a continual focus on holding individuals accountable for corporate misconduct in the financial industry. Continue reading

SEC Charges “ICO Superstore” as Unregistered Broker-Dealer

by John J. Sikora, Jr., Stephen Wink, Douglas K. Yatter, and Naim Culhaci

The settled order is the first SEC action charging a seller of digital tokens as an unregistered broker-dealer.

On September 11, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a settled order instituting cease-and-desist proceedings and imposing remedial sanctions against TokenLot LLC (TokenLot), a self-described “ICO Superstore,” and its owners in connection with their sales of digital tokens to the general public through a website.[1] The SEC found that TokenLot and its owners acted as unregistered broker-dealers in violation of Section 15(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (Exchange Act) and engaged in unregistered securities offerings in violation of Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933 (Securities Act). Continue reading