SEC “Sweep” of Public Companies’ & Registrants’ Responses to the SolarWinds Cyberbreach

As publicly reported late last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement (SEC) sent voluntary requests for information to a range of public companies and investment firms seeking voluntary disclosure of information related to last year’s SolarWinds cyberattack. Specifically, the SEC is seeking information related to whether the companies and firms were exposed to the SolarWinds cyberattack and any remedial measures the companies and firms implemented in response.

SolarWinds, an IT, network, and systems software developer, disclosed in a filing with the SEC in December 2020 that a cyberattack had infiltrated its Orion monitoring product, which could allow the attacker to compromise the server on which the Orion product runs. SolarWinds disclosed that it believed that nearly 18,000 Orion customers downloaded the product containing the vulnerability and that it had notified all 33,000 users of the product that a cyberattack had taken place. The SolarWinds cyberattack was unprecedented in its scope and sophistication—including compromising nine U.S. federal agencies—leading the United States and other governments to blame the attack on an outside nation state actor.

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Chair Gensler Overhauls PCAOB

On Friday June 4, 2021, Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler removed the head of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), an independent agency created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 that is charged with setting standards and overseeing audits of public companies and broker-dealers. The move is part of a broader overhaul of the PCAOB announced by the SEC that includes soliciting nominations for all five of the PCAOB’s board positions, including board positions currently filled by members whose terms have not yet expired.

The removed chair of the PCAOB, William Duhnke III, was appointed by former President Trump and had held the position since January 2018. In 2020, President Trump called for the PCAOB to be folded into the SEC by 2022, losing its independent watchdog status. In a recent lawsuit filed against Duhnke, the PCAOB’s former chief risk officer alleged that Duhnke shared President Trump’s sentiment and called the PCAOB a “frivolous organization” that should be combined with the SEC.

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NYC Bar Association Proposes a CCO Enforcement Framework

Responding to a “concern” from Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) to the purported increase in enforcement actions holding compliance personnel personally liable, the New York City Bar Association recently released a framework of nonbinding factors it believes the SEC should consider when making CCO charging decisions.  The report, titled “Framework for Chief Compliance Officer Liability in the Financial Sector” (Framework), is available here.  According to the Framework, it claims that the risk of facing a career-ending enforcement action has deterred qualified individuals from assuming or remaining in the all-important CCO role.

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Robinhood vs. Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Commonwealth: A Battle for the Ages over Massachusetts’ New Strict Fiduciary Duty Rule

Sandra D. Grannum, James G. Lundy and Heaven L. Chandler discuss Robinhood’s alleged violation of Massachusetts’ new fiduciary duty rule for broker-dealers on the Broker-Dealer Regulations and Insights blog. Massachusetts’ Secretary of Commonwealth, William Galvin, filed a regulatory complaint raising three different violations against Robinhood. The complaint attempts to ban the trading app for violating the State’s fiduciary duty rule which requires broker-dealers to act in the best interest of their clients. This new rule, passed in February 2020, was created in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI). During this past year, due to COVID-19 and other meme-based investment activities on the application, Robinhood accumulated over 3 million new users in the first four months of 2020. Galvin’s concerns revolve around the 500,000 customers in Massachusetts, with accounts totaling over $1.6 billion.  For more information, please read the post on the Broker-Dealer blog.

We previously posted another discussion on the New York best interest fiduciary rule for insurance that was recently struck down. This has now also been posted to the Broker-Deal Blog.

What May Be In Store For The Investment Management Industry Under Chair Gensler: A Podcast

In Faegre Drinker’s “Enforcement Highlights” third podcast, Jim Lundy moderates a panel with Investment Management Group partner Jillian Bosmann and fellow SEC and Regulatory Enforcement partner David Porteous discussing what the plans may be for the SEC’s Divisions of Investment Management, Examinations, and Enforcement and the investment management industry under the leadership of new SEC Chair Gary Gensler. Topics also include the Division of Examination’s 2021 Annual Report, the SEC’s ESG Risk Alert, and FINRA’s anticipated relationship with the SEC under Chair Gensler.

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SEC Pierces Under Armour With Accounting Misstatement Settlement

On May 3, 2021, the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced charges against Under Armour Inc. (“Under Armour”) for “misleading investors as to the bases of its revenue growth and failing to disclose known uncertainties concerning its future revenue prospects.” Under Armour agreed to settle the case, paying a $9 million fine. The settlement stems from allegations that Under Armour violated Sections 17(a)(2) and (3) of the Securities Act of 1933, which do not require proof of scienter, as well as reporting provisions of the federal securities laws, by failing to tell investors that it pulled forward orders to meet its quarterly targets in order to appear healthier.

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SEC’s Director of Enforcement Unexpectedly Resigns Just Days after Taking the Job: Reminiscent of Previous Resignation by former Chairman Harvey Pitt

Alex Oh, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler’s pick for the agency’s Director of the Division of Enforcement, unexpectedly resigned on Wednesday amid growing criticism for her decades-long work as a private corporate defense lawyer. Ms. Oh’s hiring was announced on April 22, 2021, less than a week before her resignation.

Ms. Oh’s resignation followed a ruling on Monday from Judge Royce C. Lambeth of the Federal District of Columbia reprimanding ExxonMobile’s legal team, which included Ms. Oh, for their conduct in a class action lawsuit brought by Indonesia villagers against Exxon alleging human rights abuses. According to the ruling, Exxon’s defense team characterized the lawyers for the villagers as “agitated, disrespectful and unhinged” during a deposition. Judge Lambeth ordered Exxon’s lawyers to show why penalties were not warranted for those comments.

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IRS Is Cleared to Serve John Doe Summons on Cryptocurrency Exchange

U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts has granted the IRS leave to serve the “John Doe summons”. The summons requires the administrators of a cryptocurrency exchange called Poloniex to release documents and information on U.S. taxpayers who conducted transactions in cryptocurrency totaling over $20,000 in any calendar year from 2016 through 2020. Individual account-holders may face enforcement activity in the future.

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