SEC Charges Brothers With Short Selling Violations
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged two brothers living in Chicago and New York with naked short selling for failing to locate and deliver shares involved in short sales to broker-dealers.
Short sellers sell borrowed shares in hopes of profiting from declining prices. While short selling is legal, SEC rules require short sellers to locate shares to borrow before selling them short, and they must deliver the borrowed securities by a specified date. Market makers are excepted from the locate requirement when selling short in connection with bona-fide market making activities in the security for which the exception is claimed. Naked short selling occurs without having borrowed the securities to make delivery.
According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings against Jeffrey A. Wolfson and Robert A. Wolfson, they generated more than $17 million in ill-gotten gains from naked short selling transactions involving such stocks as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., Novastar Financial Inc., and NYSE Group. As Jeffrey Wolfson stated in a recorded telephone conversation, “What I sell them is not guaranteed, it never gets delivered, it’s funny paper.”
The SEC’s Division of Enforcement alleges that Jeffrey Wolfson engaged in illegal naked short sales while working as a broker-dealer himself and later as the principal trader at a Chicago-based broker-dealer that is no longer in business. He also taught his brother and others how to do it. Robert Wolfson conducted illegal naked short sales while trading through an account at New York-based broker-dealer Golden Anchor Trading II LLC, which also has been charged in the SEC’s enforcement action. The firm has changed its name to Barabino Trading LLC.
“By engaging in naked short selling, the Wolfsons had a major advantage over competitors who complied with the law and incurred the costs associated with actually borrowing the securities,” said George S. Canellos, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “The SEC is committed to recovering substantial ill-gotten proceeds made by traders who seek to circumvent important short selling regulations.”
According to the SEC’s order, the Wolfsons engaged in two types of transactions from July 2006 to July 2007 in violation of Regulation SHO. The first type of transaction – a “reverse conversion” or “reversal” – involves selling stock short and simultaneously selling a put option and buying a call option on the stock. The Wolfsons did not locate the stock before the sale, nor did they deliver the shares when sold or make a bona fide purchase of the stock when required to close out their resulting fail-to-deliver position. They were not entitled to the market maker exception to Regulation SHO because the short sales were not made in connection with bona-fide market making activities.
The SEC's order states that the second type of transaction was a stock and option combination that created the illusion that the party subject to a close-out obligation had satisfied that obligation by buying the same kind and quantity of securities it had sold short. However, the stock was always sold back either the next day or within several days, and the Wolfsons knew or had reason to know that the shares ostensibly purchased in these sham transactions would never be delivered because they were purchased from another naked short seller who did not have the stock either. The Wolfsons entered into a significant number of these sham "reset" transactions with each other and also took the other side of the "reset" trades done by each other as well those done by other market participants.
The SEC's Division of Enforcement alleges that by engaging in the misconduct described in the order, Jeffrey Wolfson willfully violated and willfully aided and abetted and caused BMR's violations of Rule 203(b)(1) of Regulation SHO, and willfully violated and willfully aided and abetted and caused others' violations of Rule 203(b)(3) of Regulation SHO. It further alleges that Golden Anchor willfully violated, and Robert Wolfson willfully aided and abetted and caused Golden Anchor's violations of Rules 203(b)(1) and 203(b)(3) of Regulation SHO. The administrative proceedings will determine what relief, if any, is in the public interest against Jeffrey Wolfson, Robert Wolfson and Golden Anchor, including disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, prejudgment interest, financial penalties, a censure or a suspension or bar from association with any broker-dealer.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Steven Rawlings, Peter Altenbach, Daniel Marcus and Layla Mayer and the litigation effort will be led by Kevin McGrath. They work in the New York Regional Office. The SEC’s investigation into violations of Regulation SHO is continuing.
The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the Chicago Board Options Exchange and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in this matter.