Over the last several years, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) have been laser-focused on the use of so called “off-channel communications” in the financial services industry. On the theory that employees’ use of personal devices to communicate about business matters violates the “books and records” rules as these communications are not saved in company systems, regulators have conducted intrusive and extensive investigations requiring employees to turn over their personal devices for review. SEC Chairperson Gary Gensler recently stated that “bookkeeping sweeps are ongoing,” having resulted in well over $1 billion in fines so far. While the first round of investigations focused on the large banks, this “sweep” has since spread to hedge funds, credit rating agencies, online banking platforms, and now, to regional banks.
Securities and Exchange Commission
SEC Showcases Lesser-Known Legal Theory in Crypto Lending Suit
The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”) has taken action against Genesis Global Capital, LLC (“Genesis”) and Gemini Trust Company, LLC (“Gemini”) (collectively, “Defendants”) in a recently-filed complaint alleging that the crypto companies violated federal securities laws by engaging in the unregistered offer and sale of securities in the form of their “Gemini Earn Agreements.” In doing so, the Commission not only relied upon the mainstay Howey Test for determining whether an agreement is a security, but also summoned Howey’s lesser-known cousin, the Reves Test, notably leading with the latter in its complaint.…
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SEC Adopts Amendments Regarding Insider Trading Plans and Related Disclosures
On December 14, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) adopted amendments to modernize Rule 10b5-1 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), and add new disclosure requirements to enhance investor protections against insider trading. Rule 10b5-1, which was adopted in 2000, provides a safe harbor for corporate insiders such as officers and directors to buy or sell company stock without violating insider trading regulations under Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act, and Rule 10b-5, if trades are made pursuant to pre-determined trading plans, also known as Rule 10b5-1 plans, entered into at a time when such parties are not privy to any material nonpublic information.…
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Second Circuit Upholds Enforceability of SEC Tolling Agreements
In Securities & Exchange Comm’n v. Fowler, No. 20-1081, 2021 WL 3083655 (2d Cir. July 22, 2021), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court judgment awarding the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil penalties, disgorgement, and injunctive relief in a securities fraud action against a broker engaged in unsuitable and unauthorized high-frequency trading. The district court entered its judgment following a jury trial finding the defendant guilty of violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder, and Sections 17(a)(1), 17(a)(2), and 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933. On appeal, defendant asserted that the action was subject to a five-year statute of limitations imposed by 28 U.S.C. § 2462 despite the parties having entered into tolling agreements. Defendant also argued that the civil penalties assessed against him were excessive, and the disgorgement award failed to properly account for legitimate business expenses as required by Liu v. Securities & Exchange Comm’n, 140 S. Ct. 1936 (2020). After reviewing its text and legislative history, the Second Circuit concluded in this matter of first impression that § 2462 is non-jurisdictional and, therefore, the district court had the power to hear the case in light of the parties’ tolling agreements. The decision is important because it reaffirms the enforceability of tolling agreements between the SEC and its investigative quarries. The court also rejected defendant’s arguments alleging improper civil penalty and disgorgement calculations.
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SEC Proposal to Exempt Finders from Registration Generates Split Reaction
A Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) plan to create a registration exemption for certain finders has generated a mixed response. The nearly 90 comments received by the SEC by the November 12, 2020 close of the comment period reflect a clear divide along predictable lines. Broker-dealers, issuers, and some practitioners lauded the proposal for bringing regulatory clarity to what has long been a cloudy issue while regulatory groups and investor advocates criticized the plan for allowing unregistered finders to conduct brokerage activities without sufficient investor protection mechanisms.
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Regulatory Moves Show Financial Watchdogs Working Smarter, if Not Harder
To gain insight into where the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) have been focusing their oversight and what their priorities will be in 2020, look no further than their recent words and deeds. A common thread running through the recent public statements and enforcement activity of both agencies is a commitment to maximizing the resources at their disposal to expedite resolutions, whether by leveraging technology, deploying multi-pronged approaches, engaging in industry outreach, or coordinating with fellow regulators.
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