January 13, 2009
FINRA Fines Leonard & Co. for Penny Stock Violations
FINRA announced today that it has fined Leonard & Co. of Troy, MI, $225,000 for numerous violations, including the illegal sale of more than two million shares of penny stock on behalf of customers. FINRA also required the firm to retain an independent consultant to review its supervisory systems and procedures. In addition, FINRA has barred Robert J. Cole, formerly a registered representative with Leonard & Co., for his role in the illegal sales.
FINRA found that Leonard & Co. and Cole participated in an illegal distribution of a penny stock, Shallbetter Industries, by selling over 2.2 million unregistered shares of the stock into the public markets from three related customer accounts. Cole, who handled the accounts, was aware that trading in the accounts was directed by a "control person" of Shallbetter. Most of the shares were deposited into the accounts in certificate form with restrictive legends attached to the certificates. Cole arranged to have the restrictive legends removed from the stock certificates so the unregistered shares could be sold into the public markets.
Shallbetter is a thinly-traded penny stock. During the time of the sales activity, the company claimed in public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it owned mineral exploration licenses and interests in Outer Mongolia. The sales from the Leonard & Co. accounts occurred between August and November 2006 and generated over $3.1 million in proceeds for the accounts. FINRA found that the sales coincided with a campaign by third parties to promote Shallbetter through widespread spam e-mail and the issuance of numerous press releases.
FINRA also issued Regulatory Notice 09-05, Unregistered Resales of Restricted Securities, to remind firms and brokers of their obligations to determine whether securities are eligible for public sale before participating in what may be illegal distributions. It also discusses the importance of recognizing "red flags" of possible illegal, unregistered distributions and reiterates firms' obligations to conduct searching inquiries in certain circumstances to avoid participating in illegal distributions.
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