Saturday, September 29, 2018
Retail investors have officially been warned about marijuana-related securities offerings according to a press release recently issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC"). A Texas-based investment fund and its founder allegedly exploited investor interest in the marijuana industry by lying about high returns, and has been charged with "defrauding investors with false promises of massive returns in cannabis-related businesses."
Even though the investment fund was based in Texas, the fraudulent activity was widespread. In the complaint, the SEC alleges that, from August 2017 through at least March 2018, the investment fund and its founder "orchestrated an unregistered securities offering fraud that victimized more than 60 investors across 26 states." The founder promised massive returns, but actually misappropriated more than $3.3 million of investor funds for designer clothes, luxury cars, and payments to earlier investors to prolong the fraud scheme.
The press release quoted Shamoil T. Shipchandler, Director of the SEC's Fort Worth Regional Office, stating that "Investors must remain vigilant and not let the fear of missing out dupe them into making bad investment decisions." In an effort to warn potential scam victims, the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) and Retail Strategy Task Force (RSTF) issued an alert for investors earlier this month which stated that "[S]cam artists often exploit 'hot' industries to trick investors, including by making false promises of high returns with low risks. The OIEA and RSTF are warning investors about these kinds of investment schemes involving marijuana-related companies." The SEC's alert further provides:
"OIEA regularly receives complaints about marijuana-related investments, and the SEC continues to bring enforcement actions in this area. If you are thinking about investing in a marijuana-related company, you should beware of the risks of investment fraud and market manipulation. Fraudsters may try to use media coverage about the legalization of marijuana to promote an investment scam."
Although the victims may have believed in promises of high returns on their investments, in reality, the fund "had no track record and its sole investment of $400,000 was in a cannabis company that had yet to harvest a crop," according to the SEC press release. The complaint alleged that the investment fund and founder misrepresented that the fund "had a management team with a ten-year track record of profitably investing more than $100 million in cannabis-related businesses; (2) provided outsized returns to more than 200 investors; and (3) investors could expect a 24% annual return."
Those who are interested in investing in a cannabis-related business should heed the SEC's advice to "ask questions and understand the risks involved. Carefully research the investment and read any recent reports that the company has filed with the SEC." Company reports can be found by searching the SEC's Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval System (also known as EDGAR).