Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

Monday, March 23, 2009

SEC Charges Escala Group and former officers with fraud

The SEC filed a disclosure and accounting fraud case against then-NASDAQ National Market issuer Escala Group, Inc.; its founder and former CEO Gregory Manning, and its former CFO Larry Lee Crawford, alleging fraudulent related party transactions between Escala and its parent company, Afinsa Bienes Tangibles, S.A. ("Afinsa"). Escala is a network of companies in the collectibles market specializing in stamps, among other things. Afinsa was a privately held Spanish company that sold investments in portfolios of stamps in Europe. According to the complaint, the fraudulent related-party transactions ceased after May 2006, when Spanish authorities raided Afinsa's offices and charged Afinsa and certain individuals with engaging in a massive unlawful pyramid scheme. 

The SEC complaint alleges a fraudulent business scheme based upon the secret and dramatic manipulation of collectible stamp values.  The complaint alleges that these false and misleading disclosures and omissions were material in that the related-party transactions contributed over $80 million to Escala's revenues and allowed Escala to meet its forecasts for either revenue or pre-tax net income for the third quarter and for year-end of fiscal year 2004, and for the first quarter and year-end in fiscal 2005. According to the complaint, as a result of these transactions, Escala went from trading at $1.47 per share on January 23, 2003, to a $32-per-share company with a purported market cap of $898 million in the span of a few years.

Simultaneous with the filing of the complaint in a Consent and proposed Final Judgment submitted for the Court's consideration, without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, Escala consented to a permanent injunction against future violations of these provisions.

The complaint charges defendants Manning and Crawford with violations of Sections 10(b) and 13(b)(5) of the Exchange Act [15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b) and 78m(b)(5)] and Exchange Act Rules 10b-5, 13b2-1, 13b2-2, and 13a-14, [17 C.F.R. §§ 240.10b-5, 240.13b2-1, 240.13b2-2 and 240.13a-14], aiding and abetting Escala's violations of Sections 13(a), and 13(b)(2)(A) and (B) of the Exchange Act and Exchange Act Rules 12b-20, 13a-1, and 13a-13, and seeks permanent injunctions against future violations, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, prejudgment interest, civil penalties, and officer and director bars.

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