Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Regulators Crack Down on Broker-Dealers Involved in Sales of Unregistered Penny Stocks
Both FINRA and the SEC announced enforcement actions against broker-dealers involving sales of unregistered penny stocks by their customers, although there is no indication in the releases that they are related.
FINRA fined five broker-dealers a total of $385,000 for the illegal sale of more than 8 billion shares of penny stock on behalf of their customers. Most of those illegal sales involved one penny stock company, Universal Express Inc. Together, the five firms sold more than 7.5 billion shares of that company's unregistered stock, for proceeds of approximately $8.4 million. The firms failed to take appropriate steps to determine whether the securities could be sold without violating federal registration requirements – despite certain red flags indicating that illegal stock distributions might be taking place, including a major enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) involving Universal Express's unregistered stock.
The firms are Fagenson & Co., Inc., of New York, which reported earning $44,000 in commissions from the sale of unregistered Universal Express stock and was fined $165,000; RBC Capital Markets Corporation, of New York, which earned $68,000 in commissions and was fined $135,000; Alpine Securities Corporation, of Salt Lake City, which earned $47,000 in commissions and was fined $40,000; Equity Station, Inc., of Boca Raton, which earned $13,575 in commissions and was fined $25,000; and, Olympus Securities, LLC., of Montville, NJ, which earned $5,200 in commissions and was fined $20,000. In settling these matters, the firms neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.
The SEC announced administrative proceedings against five securities professionals accused of facilitating unlawful sales of penny stocks to investors and failing to act as "gatekeepers" as required under the federal securities laws. The SEC's Division of Enforcement alleges that three registered representatives and two supervisors at Leeb Brokerage Services allowed customers to routinely deliver large blocks of privately obtained shares of penny stocks into their accounts at the firm. The customers would then sell them to the public in transactions that were not registered with the SEC under the securities laws. The accused securities professionals allowed these sales without sufficiently investigating whether they were facilitating illegal underwriting, and they also caused the firm's failure to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) as required under the Bank Secrecy Act to report potential misconduct by their customers. A hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge to determine whether the accused individuals committed the alleged violations and provide them an opportunity to defend the allegations. The hearing also will determine what sanctions, if any, are appropriate in the public interest.