SEC CHARGES STOCK PROMOTERS IN PHONY FAX SCAM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., July 18, 2005 - The Securities and Exchange Commission today filed charges in a scam designed to con investors into believing they had inadvertently received a confidential stock tip faxed from a stockbroker to his client. Unlike typical unsolicited junk faxes recommending penny stocks, the handwritten fax had the appearance of an urgent message from a financial planner intended only for his client, "Dr. Mitchel," urging "Dr. Mitchel" to immediately buy shares of a stock that was about to triple in price. In fact, according to the Commission, neither the financial planner nor "Dr. Mitchel" exists. Rather, the bogus fax was sent to more than one million recipients across the country - including a fax machine in the Commission's San Francisco office - by stock promoters who made over half a million dollars unloading their shares on duped investors.
The Commission's complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York, alleges that Joshua Yafa, 31, of Coral Gables, Fla., drafted a fax in which a fictitious financial planner urged "Dr. Mitchel" to buy shares of AVL Global, Inc. (ticker: AVLL), a company which had hired Yafa as a public relations consultant and paid him in stock. Yafa sent the supposedly misdirected "Dr. Mitchel" fax to more than 150,000 fax machines across the United States the evening of December 15, 2004. The complaint alleges that AVLL's stock price soared by 25% the next day on trading volume 3,000% greater than normal, after which Yafa sold his shares of AVLL, reaping more than $300,000 in proceeds.
The Commission also charged Nocona, Texas, resident Michael O'Brien Pickens, 51, with hatching a copycat scheme. According to the Commission's complaint, Pickens obtained a copy of Yafa's "Dr. Mitchel" fax and had the AVLL ticker symbol replaced with the symbols of three different microcap companies Pickens had been promoting - Data Evolution Holdings, Inc. (ticker: DTEV), Infinium Labs, Inc. (ticker: IFLB), and Soleil Film, Inc. (ticker: SFLM). The Commission alleges that Pickens sent out nearly a million of the modified "Dr. Mitchel" faxes in December 2004. The share price of the three stocks climbed by as much as 100% on significantly increased volume, and Pickens made over $300,000 selling stock in the companies.
The Commission also brought fraud charges against Serafin Sierra, 45, a salesman at Miami-based Vision Lab Telecommunications, Inc., the "fax blasting" company that transmitted both sets of "Dr. Mitchel" faxes. According to the Commission's complaint, Sierra learned of Yafa's scam, and forwarded a copy of the original AVLL "Dr. Mitchel" fax to his customer Pickens, facilitating Pickens' copycat scheme.
Linda Chatman Thomsen, Director of the Division of Enforcement, stated, "The Commission is committed to curbing the manipulation of microcap securities, and we will continue to find those who are responsible for committing these frauds and hold them accountable."
Helane Morrison, District Administrator of the Commission's San Francisco District Office, said, "The case against Vision Lab's employee confirms our focus not just on the stock promoters who devise these schemes, but those who facilitate fraud on investors."
Added Marc J. Fagel, San Francisco's Associate District Administrator and head of Enforcement, "Investors need to be wary of market manipulation schemes, and consider the possibility that what looks like a hot stock tip may actually be part of a well-orchestrated scam."
In addition to the Commission's civil action, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York has announced the initiation of a related criminal action.
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For more information, contact:
Helane L. Morrison
Marc J. Fagel
Associate District Administrator
United States Securities and Exchange Commission
San Francisco District Office
For reference, a copy of the original Dr. Mitchel fax is attached.
Additional information available