SEC Charges San Diego Lawyers and Others in an International Market Manipulation Scheme
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a group of Canadian stock promoters, two San Diego attorneys, a Bahamas-based broker-dealer, and other participants in an international “pump-and-dump” scheme involving two publicly traded U.S. companies, Pacific Blue Energy Corporation and Tradeshow Marketing Company Ltd.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Canadian stock promoters John Kirk, Benjamin Kirk, Dylan Boyle, James Hinton, and their associates, used false and misleading promotions to pump up trading in the stock of the two microcap companies and made millions when they secretly dumped their own shares. Microcap companies typically have limited assets and low-priced stock that trades in low volumes. The SEC alleges that the promoters sent investors false and misleading emails about the companies through two websites they controlled, Skymark Research and Emerging Stock Report, and used “boiler room” sales calls to tout the stocks, falsely claiming that the recommendations were based on independent research by Skymark and Emerging Stock Report.
The SEC alleges that San Diego-based attorneys Luis Carrillo and Wade Huettel were central participants in the scheme who helped the promoters conceal their ownership interests in the companies, drafted misleading public filings, and provided misleading legal opinions. As part of the scheme, their law firm, Carrillo Huettel LLP, secretly received proceeds of stock sales in the form of a sham “loan.”
The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that Gibraltar Global Securities, a Bahamian broker-dealer, provided false affidavits and misleading statements that allowed Benjamin Kirk to secretly sell shares of the companies he was promoting. The SEC also charged Gibraltar’s president, Warren Davis, who signed misleading representations on behalf of Gibraltar.
“Microcap fraud is a scourge on our markets and we will continue to aggressively pursue individuals who engage in it, whether they are unscrupulous stock promoters who prey on investors or unethical attorneys who enable these pernicious schemes. Moreover, as this action demonstrates, the SEC is working closely with foreign authorities to root out this conduct in the international arena,” said Andrew M. Calamari, Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office.
According to the SEC, Tradeshow president Luniel de Beer, who served as chairman of Pacific Blue, received more than $330,000 in secret kickbacks for his part in the scheme. In addition, the SEC alleged that de Beer and Pacific Blue president Joel Franklin made misleading representations and facilitated the promoters’ stock sales. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Franklin agreed to settle the SEC’s charges and consented to certain injunctive relief.
The SEC’s complaint charges Carrillo Huettel LLP, Carrillo, Huettel, Gibraltar Global Securities, John Kirk, Benjamin Kirk, Boyle, Hinton, de Beer, Franklin, Pacific Blue, and Tradeshow with violations of U.S. anti-fraud laws and rules, and charges these defendants, along with Warren Davis and Carrillo’s father, Dr. Luis Carrillo, with distributing unregistered shares, in violation of U.S. securities laws.
The SEC is seeking to have the defendants return their allegedly ill-gotten gains, with interest, and to bar Carrillo, Huettel, de Beer, John Kirk, Benjamin Kirk, Boyle, and Hinton from participating in penny stock offerings and from serving as public company officers or directors. The SEC is seeking civil monetary penalties from the attorneys, their law firm, and from de Beer.
Joshua Newville, Katherine Bromberg, Michael Paley, and Michael Osnato of the New York Regional Office conducted the SEC’s investigation. Mr. Newville, Ms. Bromberg and Todd Brody will lead the SEC’s litigation effort.
The SEC thanks the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Alberta Securities Commission, the British Columbia Securities Commission, the Bahamas Securities Commission, the National Banking and Securities Commission of Mexico, and the Turks and Caicos Islands Financial Services Commission for their assistance in this matter.