On August 2, 2018, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (the “CFTC”) announced multiple whistleblower awards totaling more than $45 million.[1]  Although this is only the seventh such aggregate award announced by the CFTC since the inception of its whistleblower program in October 2011,[2] it is the Commission’s highest to date, and comes weeks after the agency’s announcement of two such awards last month.  This recent activity, which follows a two-year hiatus during which the CFTC did not grant any whistleblower awards, may signal the Commission’s renewed focus on touting the success of its whistleblower program as well as the conclusion of a number of major CFTC investigations.[3]  It is also in keeping with the Commission’s aggressive pace of enforcement actions in recent months.[4] Continue Reading CFTC Announces Highest Aggregate Whistleblower Award to Date, Totaling More Than $45 Million

On Monday, following two reversals of convictions, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut moved to dismiss the sole securities fraud claim remaining against former Jefferies bond trader, Jesse Litvak, bringing an end to the 5 1/2-year long case against him.[1]  During the case’s winding procedural path, the Government twice secured convictions against Litvak by jury trial—on the theory that Litvak’s alleged misstatements about his own costs and profit margins for residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) trades would have been material to the decision-making of a reasonable (and often sophisticated) investor-buyer.  And twice the Second Circuit overturned the convictions on narrow and technical grounds.  Notably, even while seeking to dismiss the remaining charge, the Government maintains in its filing that the Second Circuit’s decisions left undisturbed the soundness of its legal theories—namely that a broker-dealer’s misstatements relating to his own profits to sophisticated counterparties could satisfy the materiality requirement for securities fraud as a matter of law.[2]  Thus, notwithstanding the additional hurdles presented by the Second Circuit’s decisions, the Government’s decision not to pursue yet another trial against Litvak does not signal a death knell for all similar charges in the future, particularly those that are currently pending and arose as part of the Government’s RMBS probe.  But the somewhat torturous history of the Litvak case does highlight the difficulty for the Government in establishing the materiality of alleged misstatements made to sophisticated securities professionals who undertake their own analysis of trades.  Indeed, in many of these RMBS cases, the Government faced an uphill battle from the start, evidenced by its inability to secure convictions in many of them. Continue Reading Two Strikes And You’re Out: The Litvak Saga Comes To An End

The long-running criminal case against Jesse Litvak seems to have come to an end, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut filing a motion yesterday seeking voluntary dismissal of the sole remaining charge.[1]  This action—which has resulted in the government twice obtaining a criminal conviction against Litvak, only to see both convictions overturned by the Second Circuit—raised somewhat novel questions of the materiality of information a broker-dealer provides about its own costs or profit margins to sophisticated counterparties.  Notably, even while seeking dismissal, the Government again reiterated its view that the legal theory it pursued, and which the Second Circuit twice appeared to credit, remains sound and (presumably) actionable in future cases.[2] Continue Reading Government Moves to Voluntarily Dismiss Remaining Charge Against Jesse Litvak, Foregoing a Third Trial

DOJ has expanded its efforts to give more concrete guidance to companies facing FCPA risk to M&A transactions and the question of successor liability.  In a speech on July 25, 2018, at the American Conference Institute’s 9th Global Forum on Anti-Corruption Compliance in High Risk Markets, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew S. Miner highlighted DOJ’s views on successor liability for FCPA violations by acquired companies.[1]  Miner sought to clarify DOJ’s policy regarding the voluntary disclosure of misconduct by successor companies and to highlight the benefits of such disclosure as spelled out in the joint DOJ and SEC FCPA Resource Guide (the “Resource Guide”).[2]  In general, as with other recent pronouncements and actions by DOJ, such as the FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy,[3] Miner’s speech seemed intended to highlight ways in which firms can gain cooperation credit (up to and including a declination) in FCPA investigations. Continue Reading DOJ Remarks Provide Guidance on Addressing FCPA Risk in M&A Transactions

On July 18, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or “Commission”) voted to approve a final rule (the “Final Rule”) amending Regulation Alternative Trading System (“Regulation ATS”) to require alternative trading systems (“ATSs”) that trade national market system (“NMS”) stocks (“NMS Stock ATSs”) to file with the SEC new Form ATS-N to begin operations or, for currently operating ATSs, to continue operations.  Form ATS-N will provide for enhanced disclosures regarding the ATS’s operations and relationship with its broker-dealer operator relative to current Form ATS and will be publicly available.  Importantly, unlike under the November 2015 proposal (the “Proposed Rule”), the SEC would automatically deem the Form ATS-N submissions to be effective after the review period, unless the Commission found it to be ineffective. Continue Reading SEC Reforms Regulation ATS to Improve Trading Transparency

A federal district court in California has become the latest court to hold that the 10-year statute of limitations under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”) for offenses “affecting a financial institution” extends to offenses committed by banks and their employees, not just offenses committed against them.  The decision is the latest chapter in a long-running debate between the Government and financial institutions that has played out in a series of federal court decisions over the last three years regarding interpretation of FIRREA.  While this is not the first decision to hold that the 10-year limitations period applies to offenses by financial institutions, it is the first outside of the Second Circuit. Continue Reading California District Court Holds that FIRREA’s 10-Year Statute of Limitations Reaches Risks Caused to Financial Institutions by Their Own Employees

On July 11, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“Commission”) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations (“OCIE”) published a risk alert describing common deficiencies that OCIE staff observed in recent examinations regarding advisers’ compliance with their obligation under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”) to seek “best execution” of client transactions.  This obligation is a specific component of advisers’ general fiduciary duties owed to clients and requires an adviser to execute transactions so that “the client’s total cost of proceeds in each transaction is the most favorable under the circumstances.”  Though what constitutes “best execution” lacks a uniform definition, the staff continues to maintain the well-settled principle that an analysis of whether a broker-dealer provides best execution should be qualitative based on the nature of the broker-dealer’s services, and that the lowest price does not necessarily equate to best execution.  The risk alert nonetheless clarifies and reiterates particular practices that the staff considers inconsistent with an adviser’s best execution obligation.  Continue Reading OCIE Risk Alert Focuses on “Best Execution” and Investment Advisers

During the course of the last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) brought two enforcement actions related to inadequate disclosure of perquisites.  In early July, the SEC issued an order finding that, from 2011 through 2015, an issuer failed to follow the SEC’s perquisite disclosure standard,[1] which resulted in a failure to disclose approximately $3 million in named executive officer perquisites.[2]   In addition to the imposition of a $1.75 million civil penalty, the SEC order mandated that the issuer retain an independent consultant (at its own expense) for a period of one year to conduct a review of its policies, procedures, controls and training related to the evaluation of whether payments and expense reimbursements should be disclosed as perquisites, and to adopt and implement all recommendations made by such consultant. Continue Reading Recent SEC Enforcement Actions on Inadequate Perquisite Disclosure

Last month, the Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari in Lorenzo v. SEC,[1] a case where Francis Lorenzo, a registered representative of a broker-dealer, allegedly emailed false and misleading statements to investors that were originally drafted by his boss.  After administrative and Commission findings of liability, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit determined that, while Lorenzo was not the “maker” of the statements, he did use them to deceive investors, and thereby violated the so-called scheme liability provisions of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.  As described in the petitioner’s motion seeking certiorari, the case presents the question whether, under the Court’s 2011 Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders decision,[2] the scheme liability provisions of Rule 10b-5(a) and (c) may be used to find liability in connection with false or misleading statements by persons who are not themselves the maker of those statements and, thus, not liable under the false-and-misleading statements provision of Rule 10b-5(b).[3]  The answer to this question could have implications for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC” or “Commission”) Enforcement Division as well as potentially significant implications for private securities litigants who principally rely on Section 10(b) to bring private causes of action sounding in fraud.  Continue Reading Lorenzo v. SEC: Will the Supreme Court Further Curtail Rule 10b-5?

On July 12 and 16, 2018, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) announced two awards to whistleblowers, one its largest-ever award, approximately $30 million, and another its first award to a whistleblower living in a foreign country.[1]  These awards—along with recent proposed changes meant to bolster the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC” or “Commission”) own whistleblower regime—demonstrate that such programs likely will continue to be significant parts of the enforcement programs of both agencies and necessarily help shape their enforcement agendas in the coming years. Continue Reading CFTC Announces Two Significant Awards by Whistleblower Program