SEC Enforcement Restores Subpoena Power

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has restored the authority of senior Division of Enforcement (Enforcement) officials to initiate investigations, which had been revoked during the Trump administration.

On Tuesday, acting SEC chair, Allison Herren Lee, announced that certain senior Enforcement officials may once again exercise delegated authority to approve formal orders of investigation that empower Enforcement staff to subpoena documents and sworn testimony.

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U.S. District Judge Rejects Argument that Sale of “Stand-In” Tokens Was Not a Sale of Unregistered Securities

On January 8, 2021, Judge Richard Seeborg of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California issued an Order denying a motion to dismiss in S.E.C. v. NAC Foundation, LLC, et al.  The U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) had previously filed a civil complaint against blockchain development company NAC Foundation, LLC (NAC) and NAC’s CEO, Marcus Rowland, alleging that NAC’s and Rowland’s sale of “stand-in” digital tokens constituted a fraudulent and unregistered sale of digital securities.  The Department of Justice (DOJ) brought a parallel criminal proceeding, alleging violations of federal wire fraud and money laundering statutes.  DOJ also filed a separate criminal case against former high-profile lobbyist Jack Abramoff in connection with his role in the promotion of NAC’s digital assets.

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SEC Enforcement Victory in its Efforts to Police Cannabis Industry Investments

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve and generate capital raising and investment opportunities, the SEC Division of Enforcement will continue to closely keep watch and target the bad actors that new market opportunities such as this inevitably and unfortunately attract.  Along those lines, investors looking to purchase stock in supposed cannabis company, Covalent Collective, may have found vindication in the recent judgment against Geoffrey Thompson, of Frankfurt, Illinois. Thompson is now permanently barred from engaging in the issuance, purchase, offer, or sale of any security, except in connection with his own personal account.  On January 20, 2021, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Case No. 1:20-cv-05205), ruled in favor of the United States Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), in connection with its complaint targeting Thompson.  Although Thompson did not admit or deny the allegations, he consented to the entry of the final judgment against him, which also ordered him to pay over half a million dollars collectively in disgorgement, prejudgment interest and civil penalties.

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Wrap Fee Programs Under Continued Scrutiny and Use of Investment Advisory Product Committees

Further to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or the “Commission”)’s ongoing review of investment advisers offering wrap fee programs, on December 23, 2020, the Commission announced a settlement with Pruco Securities, LLC (“Pruco”) related to alleged breaches of fiduciary duty in connection with its wrap fee programs.  Pruco agreed to pay disgorgement, interest, and civil penalties totaling over $18.2 million to compensate for its alleged breaches of its fiduciary duties to its advisory clients that participated in its wrap fee programs.[1]  In short, the SEC alleged that Pruco breached its fiduciary duties and violated Sections 206(2) and 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisors Act”), and Rule 206(4)-7 thereunder, by failing to disclose certain fees, savings, and revenue sharing payments it received in connection with its wrap fee programs, and the associated conflicts of interest related thereto, and by failing to assess whether the wrap fee programs were and remained suitable for the clients participating in them, as it represented it would.

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$125 Million Deutsche Bank Settlement with SEC/DOJ Newest in Line of Several Costly Resolutions

On January 8, 2021, the SEC issued a cease-and-desist order, Release No., 90875 (available here), formally resolving proceedings against Deutsche Bank AG.  Deutsche Bank agreed to pay over $125 million as part of a global resolution of allegations that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA), in connection with its use of third-party intermediaries, business development consultants, and finders engaged to advance Deutsche Bank’s global business development efforts.  The terms of Deutsche Bank’s universal settlement with the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice included payment of more than $120 million, $43 million of that to resolve charges brought by the SEC, and the remainder in the form of criminal penalties paid to the Department of Justice.

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President Biden Announces Gary Gensler as SEC Chair Nominee

On January 18, 2021, the incoming President’s Transition Team announced additional key administration post nominees, including Mr. Gary Gensler as SEC Chair. The announcement specifically provided the following regarding Mr. Gensler’s background:

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Congress Extending the SEC Statute of Limitations to 10 Years?!!

Congress recently overrode President Trump’s veto of the $740 billion 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) and signed it into law. While the focus of the NDAA is not on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), the NDAA does include a provision that gives the SEC, for the first time ever, statutory authority to seek disgorgement in federal court for securities enforcement matters. Further, the NDAA also provides for a 10-year statute of limitations for the SEC to seek such disgorgement for scienter-based violations, extending and doubling the current 5-year statute of limitations.

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The U.S. Department of Justice Releases its Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released its highly anticipated Cryptocurrency Enforcement Framework (the “Framework”).  The Framework was developed as part of the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force, and contains three sections:  (1) Threat Overview; (2) Law and Regulations; and (3) Ongoing Challenges and Future Strategies.

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