December 20, 2010
SEC Agrees to First Non-Prosecution Agreement in Fraud and Insider Trading
Guest Blogger - Michael Volkov (Mayer Brown)
The SEC announced that it has entered a non-prosecution agreement with Carter's Inc. under which the Atlanta-based company will not be charged with any violations of the federal securities laws relating to its Executive Vice President’s (Joseph M. Elle’s) alleged role in insider trading and financial fraud. The non-prosecution agreement reflects the first use of the SEC’s cooperation policy announced earlier this year which seeks to incentivize cooperation in SEC investigations.
In support of its decision, the SEC cited the relatively isolated nature of the unlawful conduct, Carter's prompt and complete self-reporting of the misconduct to the SEC, its exemplary and extensive cooperation in the investigation, including undertaking a thorough and comprehensive internal investigation, and Carter's extensive and substantial remedial actions.
According to the SEC's complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Elles allegedly conducted his scheme from 2004 to 2009 while serving as Carter's Executive Vice President of Sales. The SEC alleges that Elles fraudulently manipulated the dollar amount of discounts that Carter's granted to its largest wholesale customer — a large national department store — in order to induce that customer to purchase greater quantities of Carter's clothing for resale. Elles then allegedly concealed his misconduct by persuading the customer to defer subtracting the discounts from payments until later financial reporting periods. He allegedly created and signed false documents that misrepresented to Carter's accounting personnel the timing and amount of those discounts.
The SEC further alleges that Elles realized sizeable gains from insider trading in shares of Carter's common stock during the fraud. Between May 2005 and March 2009, Elles realized a profit before tax of approximately $4,739,862 from the exercises of options granted to him by Carter's and sales of the resulting shares. Each of these stock sales occurred prior to the company's initial disclosure relating to the fraud on Oct. 27, 2009, immediately after which the company's common stock share price dropped 23.8 percent.
After discovering Elles's actions and conducting its own internal investigation, Carter's was required to issue restated financial results for the affected periods.
Under the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Carter's agreed to cooperate fully and truthfully in action filed against any further investigation conducted by the SEC staff as well as in the enforcement Elles.
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