Comings & Goings at the SEC: Chair Gensler’s New Enforcement Director

On April 22, 2021, Ms. Alex Oh was named the new Director of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Division of Enforcement. Ms. Oh was most recently a partner in private practice where she served as co-chair of her law firm’s Anti-Corruption & FCPA Practice Group. Notably, she was previously an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, where she was a member of the Securities & Commodities Fraud Task Force and the Major Crimes Unit. Ms. Oh’s experiences in private practice, coupled with her time as a former federal prosecutor, appear to indicate that Chair Gensler plans for more aggressive, diverse, and complex enforcement initiatives under his tenure as Chair. Looking to past appointments, Ms. Oh’s background aligns with that of former Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney, who was appointed SEC Enforcement Director by former SEC Chair Mary Jo White after earlier in his career serving as a member of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force and the Major Crimes Unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as well. Under Mr. Ceresney’s directorship, former Chair White implemented the “broken-windows” initiative. While the broken windows era may not reappear, the appointment of another former federal prosecutor from that office and task force forebodes a tougher enforcement era.

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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A Proposal to the CFTC for a New Way for “Bets” to Be Hedged

Perhaps it is in the spirit of March Madness and bracketology, but the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC or Commission) recently acknowledged consideration of a proposal by a sports gambling company to allow state-licensed sportsbooks and certain NFL-stadium owners and vendors to trade future contracts tied to NFL game outcomes.

The proposal, submitted by Eris Exchange, LLC (ErisX), seeks to list three types of NFL futures contracts on ErisX’s Regulated Sports Book Index Exchange (RSBIX). The contracts under review are tied to three common NFL game bets: money lines, point spreads, and total points scored in an individual game (over/unders). ErisX’s proposal would limit exchange participants to “eligible contract participants” and would allow only licensed sportsbooks, stadium owners and vendors, and qualified market makers to trade on the exchange—i.e., not individual investors or other investment funds with no connection to NFL stadium operations.

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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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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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CFTC Enforcement Division Reports Most Active Year to Date

On December 1, 2020, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) Division of Enforcement released its Annual Report, which details a “record-breaking” fiscal year 2020 (“FY 2020”), despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Notably, the CFTC filed a historic 113 enforcement actions—up from 69 filed in FY 2019, 83 filed in FY 2018, and an increase over the previous high of 102 filed in FY 2012. The chart below shows the breakdown of enforcement actions by category, and Appendix B of the Annual Report provides individual case citations.

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After a Year of Record-Breaking Enforcement Fines, the CFTC Provides Guidance on the Recognition of Cooperation

Weeks after touting its record-breaking enforcement haul, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) Enforcement Division issued a memorandum providing guidance for enforcement staff to use when recommending the recognition of cooperation, self-reporting and remediation during the enforcement process. The historic enforcement performance demonstrated that the CFTC can wield a large stick, but the latest guidance is aimed at recognizing efforts in resolving violations.

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