SEC Charges Individual Who Made Nearly $10 Million Through Market Manipulation Scheme

Lit. Release No. 25266 / November 19, 2021

Securities and Exchange Commission v. James David O'Brien, No. 1:21-cv-09575 (S.D.N.Y.) (filed November 18, 2021)

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged James David O'Brien with carrying out a years-long multi-million dollar market manipulation scheme by making coordinated trades between multiple accounts maintained in his or his wife's names at different brokerage firms. The SEC's complaint alleges that O'Brien, 50, of Gibbsboro, NJ orchestrated the fraudulent scheme over a period of at least five years, during which he utilized at least 18 securities accounts at 14 different brokerage firms to artificially influence the market prices of more than 2,000 exchange-traded securities.

According to the complaint, between 2015 and 2020, O'Brien coordinated trading in at least two different accounts in order to create the false appearance of trading interest and activity in particular stocks to enable him to purchase stocks at artificially low prices and then quickly sell them at artificially high prices. Specifically, the complaint alleges that O'Brien accumulated larger stock positions in one or more "winner" accounts at one brokerage firm, while at or around the same time placing smaller orders in the same securities on the opposite side of the market in one or more "helper" accounts at a different brokerage firm. O'Brien allegedly used helper account trades to decrease the price of the security before he acquired it in the winner accounts, and/or to increase the price of the security after he acquired it in the winner accounts, seeking to generate a net profit across all of the involved accounts. According to the complaint, O'Brien engaged in more than 18,000 of these coordinated trading events, with approximately 75% of the events resulting in net profits across the involved accounts. O'Brien allegedly obtained more than $9.6 million in net profits from his successful coordinated trading events.

The SEC's complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan, charges O'Brien with violating the antifraud provisions of Sections 17(a)(1) and (a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Sections 9(a)(2) and 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The complaint seeks permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains and prejudgment interest, and civil penalties.

The SEC's investigation was conducted by Bennett Ellenbogen, Paul Gizzi, and Wendy Tepperman of the SEC's New York Regional Office, assisted by Carmen Taveras Alam, Kathryn Paige and Joshua Mallett of the SEC's Division of Economic and Risk Analysis. The SEC's litigation will be led by Mr. Gizzi and Mr. Ellenbogen, and the case is being supervised by Lara Shalov Mehraban. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.