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.
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.
As we await the impact of the Biden Administration on the direction of the SEC, we have been given a glimpse of what is to come in a speech last month by the newly confirmed commissioner, Caroline Crenshaw. Specifically, Commissioner Crenshaw’s speech focused on “individual culpability” and penalties in the SEC’s enforcement program. Strikingly, the Commissioner decried the SEC’s past stance on penalties: “It is clear to me that the Commission has historically placed too much emphasis on factors beyond the actual misconduct when imposing corporate penalties – including whether the corporation’s shareholders benefited from the misconduct, or whether they will be harmed by the assessment of a penalty. This approach is fundamentally flawed.” Commissioner Crenshaw then stated that she thinks the SEC should revisit its approach to corporate penalties. It remains to be seen how Crenshaw’s remarks will be observed at Enforcement with respect to corporate penalties, let alone the application of her observations about the focus on “factors beyond the actual misconduct” could also be extended to individuals who are similarly facing substantial penalties for factors beyond their misconduct.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.