SEC Charges Securities Professionals With Facilitating Illegal Penny Stock Sales and Failing to Act as Gatekeepers
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C., April 27, 2010 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced administrative proceedings against five securities professionals accused of facilitating unlawful sales of penny stocks to investors and failing to act as "gatekeepers" as required under the federal securities laws.
The SEC's Division of Enforcement alleges that three registered representatives and two supervisors at Leeb Brokerage Services allowed customers to routinely deliver large blocks of privately obtained shares of penny stocks into their accounts at the firm. The customers would then sell them to the public in transactions that were not registered with the SEC under the securities laws. The accused securities professionals allowed these sales without sufficiently investigating whether they were facilitating illegal underwriting, and they also caused the firm's failure to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) as required under the Bank Secrecy Act to report potential misconduct by their customers.
"Firms whose customers repeatedly bring in large blocks of microcap securities for sale to the public have an obligation to ensure they are not facilitating wrongdoing," said George S. Canellos, Director of the SEC's New York Regional Office. "Securities professionals who turn a blind eye to suspicious customer conduct are not fulfilling their duties as gatekeepers and risk violating the securities laws themselves."
The SEC's Division of Enforcement alleges that Leeb registered representatives Ronald Bloomfield, John Earl Martin, Sr., and Victor Labi failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry before allowing the public sales of the large blocks of penny stocks in violation of the registration provisions of the federal securities laws. The Enforcement Division further alleges that the firm's president Eugene Miller and its chief compliance officer Robert Gorgia failed to reasonably supervise the conduct of these representatives. All five individuals are accused of aiding and abetting the firm's failure to file SARs. These events occurred between 2005 and 2007. Leeb is no longer in business.
According to the Commission's order instituting administrative proceedings, the Leeb representatives ignored obvious red flags indicating that their customers were violating securities laws by engaging in illegal distributions of securities through their Leeb accounts. One group of customer accounts was affiliated with an individual who had previously been involved in a pump-and-dump scheme, and with a stock promoter who routinely received shares in compensation for promotional services for penny stock companies. The accounts earned more than $20 million in proceeds while repeatedly depositing privately obtained shares and then selling them to the public, raising the constant specter that Leeb was facilitating "scalping." Another Leeb customer wired more than $30 million in penny stock proceeds to a bank in Liechtenstein, a tax haven.
The SEC's Division of Enforcement alleges that despite these and other suspicious activities of their customers, the accused Leeb representatives and supervisors ignored their obligation to report the possible misconduct to authorities. Such disregard of the firm's reporting requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act enabled Leeb's customer activity, and the commissions it generated, to continue unfettered. And the public was exposed to repeated risk of unlawful distributions of penny stocks.
A hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge to determine whether the accused individuals committed the alleged violations and provide them an opportunity to defend the allegations. The hearing also will determine what sanctions, if any, are appropriate in the public interest.
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For more information about this enforcement action, contact:
Co-Chief of Asset Management Unit, SEC Division of Enforcement
Assistant Director, SEC's New York Regional Office
Senior Trial Counsel