Pyramid Scheme Promoted Through Facebook, Twitter

March 5th, 2014
in econ_news

Additionally SEC announces the largest-ever monetary sanction for Rule 105 short selling

Econintersect: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced two enforcement actions which is detailed in their press releases below:

  • Stopping a fraudulent pyramid scheme by phony companies masquerading as a legitimate international investment firm.
  • The largest-ever monetary sanction for Rule 105 short selling violations as a Long Island-based proprietary trading firm.

Follow up:

SEC Announces Largest Monetary Sanction for Rule 105 Short Selling Violations

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced the largest-ever monetary sanction for Rule 105 short selling violations as a Long Island-based proprietary trading firm and its owner agreed to pay $7.2 million to settle charges.

Rule 105 prohibits short selling of an equity security during a restricted period – generally five business days before a public offering – and the subsequent purchase of that same security through the offering. The rule applies regardless of the trader’s intent, and promotes offering prices that are set by natural forces of supply and demand rather than manipulative activity. The rule therefore prevents short selling from interfering with offering prices.

According to the SEC’s order instituting settled administrative proceedings, Jeffery W. Lynn created Worldwide Capital for the purpose of investing and trading his own money. Lynn’s principal investment strategy focused primarily on new shares of public issuers coming to market through secondary and follow-on public offerings. Through traders he engaged to trade on his behalf, Lynn sought allocations of additional shares soon to be publicly offered, usually at a discount to the market price of the company’s already publicly trading shares. He and his traders would then sell those shares short in advance of the offerings. Lynn and Worldwide Capital improperly profited from the difference between the price paid to acquire the offered shares and the market price on the date of the offering.

“Rule 105 is an important safeguard designed to protect the market against manipulative trading, and we will continue to aggressively pursue violators,” said Andrew M. Calamari, director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office.

According to the SEC’s order Lynn participated in 60 public stock offerings covered by Rule 105 after selling short those same securities during the pre-offering restricted period. The violations occurred from October 2007 to February 2012. Worldwide Capital traders purchased the offering shares through numerous accounts at multiple broker-dealers involved in the offering, and sold the stock through an account in Worldwide Capital’s name at other broker-dealers. All of the trades – the purchases of offering shares and short sales – cleared and settled in a Worldwide Capital master account at the firm’s prime broker.

“The trading conducted by Lynn and Worldwide Capital disregarded the markets’ independent pricing mechanisms,” said Amelia A. Cottrell, associate director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office. “Their use of multiple accounts in obtaining offering shares and short selling did not satisfy the separate accounts exception to Rule 105.”

To settle the SEC’s charges, Worldwide Capital and Lynn agreed to jointly pay disgorgement of $4,212,797, prejudgment interest of $526,358, and a penalty of $2,514,571. Lynn and his firm agreed to cease and desist from violating Rule 105 without admitting or denying the findings in the SEC’s order.

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, has been conducted by Leslie Kazon, Joseph P. Ceglio, Karen M. Lee, Richard G. Primoff, Elzbieta Wraga, and Elizabeth Baier of the New York Regional Office. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the New York Stock Exchange.

SEC Halts International Pyramid Scheme Being Promoted Through Facebook and Twitter

The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced an emergency enforcement action to stop a fraudulent pyramid scheme by phony companies masquerading as a legitimate international investment firm.

The SEC has obtained a federal court order to freeze accounts holding money stolen from U.S. investors by Fleet Mutual Wealth Limited and MWF Financial – collectively known as Mutual Wealth. The SEC alleges that Mutual Wealth has been exploiting investors through a website and social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, falsely promising extraordinary returns of 2 to 3 percent per week for investors who open accounts with the firm. Mutual Wealth purports to invest customer funds using an “innovative” high-frequency trading strategy that allows “capital to be invested into securities for no more than a few minutes.” In classic pyramid scheme fashion, Mutual Wealth encourages existing investors to become “accredited advisors” and recruit new investors in exchange for a referral fee or commission.

According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, almost nothing that Mutual Wealth represents to investors is true. The company does not purchase or sell securities on behalf of investors, and instead merely diverts investor money to offshore bank accounts held by shell companies. Mutual Wealth’s purported headquarters in Hong Kong does not exist, nor does its purported “data-centre” in New York. Mutual Wealth also lists make-believe “executives” on its website, and falsely claims in e-mails to investors that it is “registered” or “duly registered” with the SEC. Approximately 150 U.S. investors have opened accounts with Mutual Wealth and collectively invested a total of at least $300,000.

“Mutual Wealth used Facebook and Twitter as well as a team of recruiters to spread a steady stream of lies that tricked investors out of their money,” said Gerald W. Hodgkins, an associate director in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “Fortunately we were able to quickly trace the fraud overseas and obtain a court order requiring Mutual Wealth to shut down its website before the scheme gains more momentum.”

According to the SEC’s complaint, Mutual Wealth operates through entities in Panama and the United Kingdom and uses offshore bank accounts in Cyprus and Latvia and offshore “payment processors” to divert money from investors. Mutual Wealth’s sole director and shareholder presented forged and stolen passports and a bogus address to foreign government authorities and payment processors.

The SEC alleges that Mutual Wealth leverages the scope and reach of social media to solicit investors with its fraudulent pitch. Mutual Wealth maintains Facebook and Twitter accounts that link to its website and serve as platforms through which it lures new investors. Some of Mutual Wealth’s “accredited advisors” then use social media channels ranging from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Skype to recruit additional investors and earn referral fees and commissions. Mutual Wealth’s Facebook page spreads such misrepresentations as “HFT portfolios with ROI of up to 250% per annum. Income yield up to 8% per week.” A Facebook post on Aug. 12, 2013, boasted “$1000 investment into the Growth and Income Portfolio made on April 8th, 2013 is now worth $2,112.77.” Mutual Wealth regularly posts status updates for investors on its Facebook page, and the comment sections beneath the posts are often filled with solicitations by the accredited advisors. Mutual Wealth also tweets announcements posted on its Facebook page.

The SEC’s complaint charges Mutual Wealth with violations of Sections 5(a), 5(c) and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. For the purposes of recovering investor money in their possession, the complaint names several relief defendants linked to offshore accounts to which investor funds were diverted from the scheme: Risort Partners Inc., Hullstar Capital LLP, Camber Alliance LLP, Kimrod Estate LLP, and Midlcorp Trade LTD.

The Honorable Dolly M. Gee has granted the SEC’s request for a court order deactivating Mutual Wealth’s website and freezing assets in all accounts at any bank, financial institution, brokerage firm, or third-payment payment processor (including those commercially known as SolidTrust Pay, EgoPay, and Perfect Money) maintained for the benefit of Mutual Wealth.

The SEC’s investigation, which is continuing, has been conducted by H. Norman Knickle and Mark M. Oh and supervised by Conway T. Dodge. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Melissa Armstrong and Mr. Knickle. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Financial and Capital Market Commission of Latvia, Ontario Securities Commission, and Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission.

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