Corporate Investigations

On July 29, 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed a securities and wire fraud indictment against Trevor Milton, the founder and one-time chairman of Nikola Corporation (“Nikola”), a pre-revenue electric- and hydrogen-powered vehicle company which went public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company (“SPAC”).[1]  The Indictment alleges that Milton made deceptive, false, and misleading claims regarding Nikola’s products and technology, which were directed at retail investors through social media and television, print, and podcast interviews.  The SEC also filed a parallel civil action against Milton, alleging violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act and Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act, and which contends that Milton engaged in a “relentless public relations blitz” on social media and the popular press directed at “Robinhood investors” in order to inflate Nikola’s stock price.

These actions further confirm the heightened law enforcement and regulatory scrutiny of SPACs, as well as continuing interest by government authorities in protecting retail investors in so-called meme stocks.[2]
Continue Reading DOJ Indicts Founder of Nikola for Allegedly Defrauding Retail SPAC Investors

As discussed in our prior blog post, earlier this year the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Second Circuit’s decision in a high-profile insider trading case, United States v. Blaszczak,[1] for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court’s “Bridgegate” decision in Kelly v. United States.[2]  In Blaszczak, the Second Circuit had previously found that a government agency’s confidential pre-decisional information constituted “property” under Title 18, and that therefore the Blaszczak defendants had committed fraud under the applicable statutes when they obtained the information and traded on it.[3]  However, following that decision, the Supreme Court held in Kelly that a government regulatory interest did not constitute “property” for the purpose of Title 18 fraud statutes.[4]  The Blaszczak defendants filed a petition for certiorari, contending that the Second Circuit’s reading of Title 18 could not be reconciled with the Supreme Court’s holding.[5]  After the Blaszczak defendants filed their petition, the government consented to a remand to the Second Circuit.
Continue Reading DOJ Concedes Error In Title 18 Insider Trading Convictions After Supreme Court’s “Bridgegate” Decision

On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $507,375 settlement with BitPay, Inc. (BitPay), a payment processor for merchants accepting digital currency as payment for goods and services, for 2,102 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs between 2013 and 2018.[1] The settlement highlights that financial service providers facilitating digital currency transactions must not only establish sanctions compliance programs to screen their own customers but also must monitor third-party non-customer transaction information.
Continue Reading OFAC Settles with Digital Currency Payment Processor for Sanctions Violations

Corporate investigations under the Biden Administration’s Department of Justice (“DOJ”) are expected to increase in the coming months.  Navigating such investigations can be complex, distracting, and costly, and comes with the risk of prosecution and significant collateral consequences for the company.  Recently, Cleary Gottlieb partners and former DOJ prosecutors, Lev Dassin, Jonathan Kolodner, and Rahul

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded a high-profile insider trading case, United States v. Blaszczak, to the Second Circuit “for further consideration in light of Kelly v. United States.”[1]  Kelly is more commonly known as the “Bridgegate” decision, in which the Supreme Court restricted the application of federal fraud statutes to schemes seeking to obtain property, to the exclusion of schemes primarily targeting regulatory actions by government officials.  In light of the remand, the Second Circuit will now reconsider its endorsement in Blaszczak of liability under Title 18 for a scheme targeting “political intelligence.”
Continue Reading Second Circuit to Reconsider the Scope of Insider Trading Prosecutions Under Federal Fraud Statutes After Supreme Court’s Bridgegate Decision

Antitrust was front-page news in 2020: regulators sued Google and Facebook in some of the biggest antitrust enforcement actions in recent decades. Robust antitrust enforcement can be expected to continue under a Biden administration.
Continue Reading U.S. and EU Antitrust: Expect Robust Enforcement in 2021

Insider trading law has remained a subject of significant debate and attention, including with a recent Second Circuit decision addressing the use of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 (wire fraud) and 1348 (securities fraud) in insider trading cases[1] and a new insider trading bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in December by an overwhelming majority.  Yesterday, a blue ribbon task force headed by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, published a report studying the history and current state of insider trading law and proposing reforms that would bring greater clarity and certainty to the law.
Continue Reading Task Force Led By Preet Bharara and Cleary Gottlieb’s Joon H. Kim Issues Report Recommending Reforms to Insider Trading Law

On Tuesday, November 12, 2019, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC” or “Commission”) announced a proposed settlement with InfoTrax Systems, L.C. (“InfoTrax”), a third-party service provider, regarding multiple data security failures.  As a result of these security shortcomings, a hacker accessed about one million consumers’ sensitive personal information after more than twenty intrusions into InfoTrax’s network.  This settlement marks one of the first instances in which the FTC has alleged a violation of the FTC Act predicated solely upon the failure to maintain reasonable security measures by a third-party service provider.  The settlement is also notable for a Commissioner’s concurring statement criticizing the settlement’s standard twenty-year term.
Continue Reading Latest FTC Data Privacy Settlement May Signal More Direct Approach to Regulating Data Security

Have the right policies in place

– Ensure clear, readily accessible, and (where necessary) country-specific policies are in place indicating the permitted uses of company devices and other IT equipment, including messaging services. If you allow employees to use their own devices to perform work, make sure your policies adequately address issues of access in the context of investigations.
Continue Reading Be Prepared: How to Proactively Account for Data Privacy

Many investigations, particularly those that are cross-border in nature, are likely to present data privacy issues, and managing these issues is frequently a key consideration in an investigation.  By keeping data privacy laws in mind as soon as an investigation starts, an organization will avoid the risk that it has failed to satisfy certain requirements, thereby exposing itself to the possibility of a fine or sanction from a regulator.
Continue Reading Incorporating Data Privacy Considerations Into Investigations