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. 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. 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
Alexander Janghorbani’s practice focuses on complex securities issues, litigation and enforcement, informed by nearly nine years of service with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
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. 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. Continue Reading Government Moves to Voluntarily Dismiss Remaining Charge Against Jesse Litvak, Foregoing a Third Trial
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
Yesterday the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced a non-prosecution agreement (“NPA”) with a Hong Kong-based subsidiary of Credit Suisse Group AG arising out of the so-called “princelings” scandals of recent years—the practice of hiring unqualified, but politically-connected, relatives of Chinese officials to garner business from state-owned firms. Per Credit Suisse’s admissions, “bankers discussed and approved the hiring of close friends and family of Chinese officials in order to secure business,” resulting in $46 million “in profits from business mandates with Chinese” state-owned enterprises. As part of the resolution, Credit Suisse agreed to a $47 million criminal penalty, to continue to cooperate with DOJ, and to enhance its compliance program, including adopting additional controls around hiring. In addition, Credit Suisse agreed to pay nearly $25 million in disgorgement and $4.8 million in prejudgment interest to the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). In its press release, DOJ stated that it was giving Credit Suisse a 15 percent discount from the bottom end of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines for its cooperation in the investigation, while also (as discussed more below) noting steps the firm did not take that worked to limit the amount of such cooperation credit. While this is hardly the first of the “princelings” cases, it does demonstrate DOJ’s continued commitment to the cooperation framework it laid out in its FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy (“Enforcement Policy”) late last year.
On June 25, 2018, the Second Circuit amended its opinion in United States v. Martoma, an insider trading case that has received significant attention as a vehicle to clarify the “personal benefit” element of tippee liability in insider trading cases in the Second Circuit. While the Second Circuit again upheld the insider trading conviction of former S.A.C. Capital Advisors portfolio manager Mathew Martoma, this time it appears to have breathed life back into its “meaningfully close personal relationship” requirement for establishing insider trading liability against an individual who receives and trades on confidential information (a “tippee”). Those following the evolution of insider trading doctrine should pay close attention to lower courts’ interpretations of the “meaningfully close personal relationship” test, and what prosecutors must show to satisfy this requirement, in the wake of Martoma. Continue Reading Second Circuit Potentially Revives Newman’s “Meaningfully Close Personal Relationship” Test, Amends Martoma Decision
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in Lucia v. SEC that SEC Administrative Law Judges are “officers” for the purposes of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. Not only does the decision require the rehearing of the petitioner’s case, but it leaves unanswered questions for the SEC and other agencies moving forward. Indeed, another trip up to the Supreme Court on a related constitutional issue involving the ALJs’ civil service protections seems likely. In the meantime, the SEC and other agencies will be forced to grapple with the legitimacy of their administrative proceedings, potentially impacting their enforcement efforts.
Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.
One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kokesh v. SEC that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s disgorgement remedy constitutes a “penalty,” and is therefore subject to the five-year statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2462. As a result, the SEC can no longer seek disgorgement of ill-gotten gains older than five years. The SEC’s Enforcement Division has traditionally relied heavily on the agency’s virtually unfettered disgorgement power in its settled and litigated cases. As expected, Kokesh has forced the division to trim its disgorgement demands in certain cases and to abandon it outright in others. To date, however, the most dire predictions of Kokesh’s impact — that it would lead to the wholesale elimination of the SEC’s disgorgement power and place strict limitations upon other types of so-called “equitable” remedies — have not come to pass. That said, many of the issues commentators raised in the immediate aftermath of Kokesh have not yet percolated up through the appellate courts, and significant uncertainty concerning its full impact remains. What is clear, however, is that, absent congressional intervention, the SEC will face challenges in obtaining the full measure of ill-gotten gains in long-running, resource-intensive investigations.
On May 3, the Second Circuit vacated on evidentiary grounds Jesse Litvak’s conviction – after a second trial – on a single count of securities fraud related to trades of residential mortgage backed securities (“RMBS”) and remanded the case to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. This ruling is the latest setback for the government, as the Second Circuit in 2015 had vacated Litvak’s prior conviction on ten counts of securities fraud, one count of fraud against the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”), and four counts of making false statements to the government, following his first trial. Continue Reading Second Circuit Again Reverses Fraud Conviction of RMBS Trader Litvak
On April 18, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) proposed Regulation Best Interest under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to establish a new “best interest” standard of conduct for broker-dealers when making a recommendation of any transaction or investment strategy involving securities to a retail customer. The SEC also proposed an interpretation to reiterate and clarify the fiduciary duty applicable to investment advisers under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. Finally, the SEC proposed a new disclosure form for investment advisers and broker-dealers to provide to retail investors.
In proposing the new Regulation Best Interest and the Guidance, the SEC has attempted to more closely align the standards of conduct applicable to broker-dealers and investment advisers while recognizing the fundamental differences between the services each provides and maintaining investor choice.
Please click here to read the full alert memorandum.
2017 brought marked challenges to the SEC’s ability to aggressively enforce the securities laws, including the Supreme Court limiting the SEC’s ability to seek disgorgement and court action endangering the validity of its oft-used administrative proceedings. 2017 also saw a decrease in the SEC’s total enforcement statistics. However, there is reason to believe that 2018 will see an uptick in enforcement actions and perhaps some clarity on the use of administrative proceedings. The SEC enters 2018 with a full complement of Commissioners and most senior Enforcement leadership positions filled, and it now has clearly articulated areas of focus, including protecting retail investors and prosecuting cyber cases. A recent Supreme Court cert grant should also help move to closure questions surrounding the use of administrative proceedings, historically an important enforcement mechanism. Below are a few observations from the past year, as well as key enforcement areas to keep an eye on in 2018. Continue Reading SEC Year-in-Review and a Look Ahead