Investigations and Enforcement

Over the last several years, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) has been laser-focused on the use of so-called “off-channel communications” in the financial services industry. On the theory that employees’ use of personal devices and platforms (such as WhatsApp) to communicate about business violates the “books and records” requirements applicable to financial institutions, the regulator has conducted intrusive and extensive investigations. To respond to the SEC, many companies have required employees to have their personal cell phones copied and reviewed. Continue Reading What Private Equity Firms Need to Know About the Ongoing SEC Investigation of “Off-Channel” Communications

In Securities & Exchange Commission v. Govil, No. 22-1658, 2023 WL 7137291 (2d Cir. Oct. 31, 2023), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dealt a setback to the enforcement agenda of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) by limiting its ability to seek disgorgement under 15 U.S.C. § 78u(d)(5) and (7) to situations in which the regulator can demonstrate investors have suffered pecuniary harm.Continue Reading Second Circuit Reins in SEC Disgorgement Powers

Yesterday, each of Nasdaq, FINRA and NYSE released Regulatory Alerts highlighting concerns surrounding fraudulent activities in Small-Cap IPOs. Each of these alerts raises similar issues, highlights the importance of the Underwriter in the process, and stresses the obligations that Underwriters have as Gatekeepers in the IPO Process. Below is a link to each of these Alerts and some relevant excerpts from them.Continue Reading Nasdaq, FINRA and NYSE Issue Warnings of Small-Cap IPO Fraud

In SEC v. Rio Tinto PLC, No. 21-2042, 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 19577 (2d Cir. July 15, 2022) (Jacobs, J.), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit declined to impose “scheme liability” under subsections (a) and (c) of the Securities & Exchange Commission Rule 10b-5 (17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5) where the challenged conduct amounted solely to the making of a material misstatement or omission. The Rio Tinto decision is noteworthy because it limits the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Lorenzo v. SEC, 139 S. Ct. 1094 (2019) (blog article here), which potentially expanded “scheme liability” to defendants who may have been tangentially involved in the issuance of a misleading statement.Continue Reading Second Circuit Declines to Allow SEC Rule 10b-5 Claim for “Scheme Liability” to Proceed Where the Alleged Misconduct Amounted Only to the Making of Material Misstatements or Omissions 

Federal agencies aggressively pursued enforcement actions in June. At the same time, state and federal regulators continued to recognize the importance of blockchain industry regulation by putting forth significant policy proposals, including proposals that impact cryptocurrency miners, 401k plans, and more.Continue Reading June 2022 Crypto Enforcement Actions and Regulatory Guidance Roundup

In the wake of President Biden’s March 9, 2022, executive order outlining his Administration’s desire to establish a comprehensive federal approach to crypto policy and regulation,[1] federal agencies are continuing to focus on enforcement of crypto under existing regulations. Although NFTs and cryptocurrencies are novel technologies, they still fall squarely within the jurisdiction of various federal agencies’ current jurisdictions, as illustrated by three recent enforcement actions by the CFTC, the SEC, and the DOJ.[2]
Continue Reading March 2022 Crypto Enforcement Actions Roundup

Last week, Coinbase Global Inc. (“Coinbase”) headed off confrontation with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) by announcing it was shelving a much ballyhooed digital asset lending product, Lend.  The announcement came two weeks after Coinbase revealed that it had received a Wells notice from the SEC warning the company of its plans to sue over Coinbase’s planned October Lend launch.
Continue Reading A September to Remember: Coinbase Avoids SEC Clash by Dropping Crypto Lend Product

In Securities & Exchange Comm’n v. Fowler, No. 20-1081, 2021 WL 3083655 (2d Cir. July 22, 2021), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court judgment awarding the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil penalties, disgorgement, and injunctive relief in a securities fraud action against a broker engaged in unsuitable and unauthorized high-frequency trading.  The district court entered its judgment following a jury trial finding the defendant guilty of violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder, and Sections 17(a)(1), 17(a)(2), and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933.  On appeal, defendant asserted that the action was subject to a five-year statute of limitations imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2462 despite the parties having entered into tolling agreements.  Defendant also argued that the civil penalties assessed against him were excessive, and the disgorgement award failed to properly account for legitimate business expenses as required by Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020).  After reviewing its text and legislative history, the Second Circuit concluded in this matter of first impression that § 2462 is non-jurisdictional and, therefore, the district court had the power to hear the case in light of the parties’ tolling agreements.  The decision is important because it reaffirms the enforceability of tolling agreements between the SEC and its investigative quarries.  The court also rejected defendant’s arguments alleging improper civil penalty and disgorgement calculations.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds Enforceability of SEC Tolling Agreements

In Van Buren v. United States, No. 19-783, 2021 WL 2229206 (U.S. June 3, 2021), the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion drastically limiting the application of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) (18 U.S.C. § 1030 et seq.), holding that the “exceeds authorized access” clause of the Act applies only to those who obtain information from particular areas in the computer—such as files, folders, or databases—to which the individual is not authorized to access under any circumstances. However, the Supreme Court excluded application of the clause to individuals who misuse their access to obtain information otherwise available to them for an unauthorized purpose. The Court’s Van Buren decision resolves a long-standing circuit split over the meaning of this key phase of the CFAA, and simultaneously creates new challenges for employers seeking to hold liable employees who misuse company information to the employer’s detriment.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Resolves Circuit Split Over CFAA

During a May 19, 2021 webcast at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (“FINRA”) annual conference, Amy Sochard, FINRA’s Vice President of Advertising Regulation, indicated that the organization will seek public feedback on gamification practices utilized by some stock trading platforms to attract investors with a view toward issuing new rules or guidance.  “Gamification” refers to the application of typical elements of game playing, such as point scoring, competition with others, and rules of play, by trading platforms, online retailers or vendors to encourage engagement with a product or service.
Continue Reading Game On: FINRA Hints at Upcoming Gamification Sweep

During a March 9, 2021 industry conference, one of the four current U.S. Securities and Exchange (“SEC”) commissioners floated a new approach to calculating penalties for corporate misconduct.  Caroline A. Crenshaw, who was tapped by President Donald Trump last June to fill one of the Democratic slots on the Commission, told attendees at the Council of Institutional Investors virtual conference that the SEC needed to revisit its approach to assessing corporate penalties, and implement a new approach that tailored penalties to the “egregiousness of the actual misconduct,” accounted for all benefits of the misconduct that accrued to the corporation, and eliminated consideration of potential adverse impacts on shareholders.  If ultimately accepted by the Commission, Crenshaw’s proposed approach would likely result in materially greater penalties for corporate misconduct.
Continue Reading SEC Commissioner Calls for a Brave New Approach to Corporate Penalties