Skip to main content
Menu Icon Menu Icon
Close

InfoBytes Blog

Financial Services Law Insights and Observations
Section Content

Upcoming Events

Filter

Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.

  • SEC announces second-largest whistleblower award; waives “voluntary” requirement for one claimant

    Securities

    On September 6, the SEC announced a whistleblower award totaling more than $54 million— $39 million to one (the second-largest award given under the SEC’s whistleblower program) and $15 million to another—for critical information and continued assistance, which helped the agency bring an enforcement action. The redacted order highlights the denial of related-action claims by both claimants and notes an exception made to the “voluntary submission” requirement for claimant two.

    According to the order, the SEC denied claimant one’s request for an additional award based on another agency’s related action, because the claimant failed to demonstrate the causal relationship required to establish that the “submission significantly contributed to the success of the [related action].” Specifically, the SEC noted that the claimant’s information was never directly transmitted to the other agency, which relied on the SEC’s order to pursue its action. The SEC rejected the claimant’s argument that providing information directly to another agency would be “at war with Congress’ clear instruction that the identity of a whistleblower must be protected” due to the fact that the other agency may not offer the same anonymity as possible under the SEC’s whistleblower program. The SEC notes that while a whistleblower may choose not to provide the information to another agency themselves, the rules allow for the SEC to transmit the information directly, while requiring the other agency to maintain confidentiality, which was not done in this case.

    The SEC also denied claimant two’s related action request, concluding that the claimant should seek an award through the alternative program available from the other agency. The SEC noted that if the claimant were to receive a related-action award there would be the potential that the cumulative award would exceed the 30-percent ceiling established by Congress and would produce an “irrational result” encouraging “multiple ‘bites at the apple’” as it would allow whistleblowers to have multiple opportunities to adjudicate and obtain separate rewards on the same enforcement actions.

    Notably, for claimant two, the redacted order demonstrates that the SEC made an exception to the “voluntary” submission requirements under the rules. Specifically, Rule 21F-4(a)—in order to create an incentive for whistleblowers to proactively provide information about possible violations—requires that a whistleblower “must come forward before the government or regulatory authorities designated in the rule seek information from the whistleblower.” In this instance, it was undisputed that claimant two provided the SEC information after an investigative review by another agency; however, the SEC exercised discretionary authority to grant a limited waiver of Rule 21F-4(a) and permit an award to claimant two. The SEC determined that a limited waiver was appropriate because, although claimant 2 previously “appeared before [the other agency] for an investigative interview” regarding the same violations, at the time of that appearance the claimant  was unaware of the information that would ultimately be deemed by the SEC to be the “critical basis” for the whistleblower claim. The SEC concluded that once claimant two became aware of the critical information, they promptly reported it to both agencies, despite no legal obligation to do so and having no other “self-interested motive to come forward,” achieving a primary policy goal of the program to encourage prompt reporting of information about possible securities law violations.

    Securities Whistleblower Dodd-Frank

    Share page with AddThis
  • Agencies offer relief following Hurricane Florence

    Federal Issues

    On September 19, the SEC announced regulatory relief to publicly traded companies, investment companies, accountants, transfer agents, municipal advisors, and others impacted by Hurricane Florence. The SEC order conditionally exempts affected persons not able to meet a filing deadline due to the weather event and its aftermath from certain reporting and filing requirements of the federal securities laws, for the period from and including September 14 to October 26, with all reports, schedules or forms to be filed on or before October 29. Additionally, the SEC adopted interim final temporary rules that extend the filing deadlines for certain reports and forms that companies must file under Regulation Crowdfunding and Regulation A. 

    On September 18, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued Circular 26-18-18, requesting relief for homeowners impacted by Hurricane Florence. Among other things, the Circular encourages loan holders to (i) extend forbearance to borrowers in distress because of the storms; (ii) establish a 90-day moratorium from the date of the disaster on initiating new foreclosures on affected loans; and (iii) waive late charges on affected loans. The Circular is effective until October 1, 2019.

    Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on disaster relief here.

    Federal Issues SEC Department of Veterans Affairs Disaster Relief Mortgages Securities

    Share page with AddThis
  • SEC awards whistleblower $1.5 million after reducing amount for reporting delay

    Securities

    On September 14, the Securities and Exchange Commission (Commission) announced a whistleblower award likely to yield the whistleblower more than $1.5 million for volunteering information that led to a successful enforcement action. In its order, the Commission notes that it “severely reduced the award here after considering the award criteria identified in Rule 21F-6 of the Exchange Act.” Specifically, the Commission alleges the whistleblower was culpable and “unreasonably delayed” reporting the information for over a year after the occurrence of the underlying facts, only doing so after learning a Commission investigation was ongoing and receiving a “significant and direct financial benefit.”

    The SEC’s whistleblower program has awarded approximately $322 million to 58 individuals since issuing its first award in 2012.

    Securities SEC Whistleblower Enforcement

    Share page with AddThis
  • SEC confirms staff statements create no enforceable legal obligations

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On September 13, Securities and Exchange Commission (Commission) Chairman, Jay Clayton, issued a statement confirming that staff communications, in the form of written statements, compliance guides, letters, speeches, responses to frequently asked questions, and responses to specific requests for assistance, are “nonbinding and create no enforceable legal rights or obligations of the Commission or other parties.” Clayton’s statement echoes a similar position taken in a joint statement by five federal agencies regarding supervisory guidance, released two days earlier (previously covered by InfoBytes here). Clayton emphasized that only Commission adopted rules and regulations have the force and effect of law and encouraged public engagement on staff statements in order to assist the Commission in developing future rules and regulations.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance SEC Supervision Enforcement Securities

    Share page with AddThis
  • District court rules U.S. securities law may cover initial coin offering in criminal case

    Securities

    On September 11, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued a ruling that the U.S. government can proceed with a case for purposes of federal criminal law against a New York-based businessman who allegedly made “materially false and fraudulent representations and omissions” connected to virtual currencies/digital tokens backed by investments in real estate and diamonds sold through associated initial coin offerings (ICOs). The defendant—who was charged with conspiracy and two counts of securities fraud for his role in allegedly defrauding investors in two ICOs—claimed that the ICOs at issue were not securities but rather currencies, and that U.S. securities law was unconstitutionally vague as applied to ICOs. However, the U.S. government asserted that the investments made in the tokens were “investment contracts” and thereby “securities” as defined by the Securities Exchange Act. The U.S. government further argued that the jury should apply the central test used by the U.S. Supreme Court in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. to determine if a financial instrument “constitutes an ‘investment contract’ under the federal securities laws.” The judge commented that “simply labeling an investment opportunity as ‘virtual currency’ or ‘cryptocurrency’ does not transform an investment contract—a security—into a currency.” Moreover, while the judge cautioned that it was too early to determine whether the virtual currencies sold in the ICOs were covered by U.S. securities law, he concluded that a “reasonable jury” may find that the allegations in the indictment support such a finding.

    Securities Courts Initial Coin Offerings Virtual Currency Fraud Securities Exchange Act Fintech

    Share page with AddThis
  • CFTC wins $1.1 million judgment in cryptocurrency fraud action

    Securities

    On August 23, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York entered final judgment in favor of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in its suit against a cryptocurrency trading advice company and its owner (defendants) for allegedly misappropriating investor money through a cryptocurrency trading scam. As previously covered by InfoBytes in March, the court granted the CFTC’s request for a preliminary injunction, holding that the CFTC has the authority to regulate virtual currency as a “commodity” within the meaning of the Commodity Exchange Act and that the CFTC has jurisdiction to pursue fraudulent activities involving virtual currency even if the fraud does not directly involve the sale of futures or derivative contracts. The final judgment orders the defendants to pay over $1.1 million in restitution and civil money penalties and permanently enjoins them from engaging in future activities related to commodity interests and virtual currencies.

    Securities CFTC Virtual Currency Cryptocurrency Fraud

    Share page with AddThis
  • International bank agrees to pay $4.9 billion in civil penalties to settle allegations of RMBS misconduct

    Securities

    On August 14, the DOJ announced a settlement with an international bank to resolve federal civil claims of misconduct in the bank’s underwriting and issuing of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) to investors in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. According to the press release, the bank allegedly violated the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act by, among other things, failing to accurately disclose the risk of the RMBS investments when selling the securities. Under the terms of the settlement, the bank has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $4.9 billion. The bank disputes the allegations and does not admit to any liability or wrongdoing.

    Securities DOJ Settlement RMBS Mortgages International FIRREA

    Share page with AddThis
  • Massachusetts Attorney General announces $26.8 million settlement with firm for securitization of subprime mortgages

    Securities

    On August 6, the Massachusetts Attorney General announced a settlement with a securities firm related to the allegedly unfair purchase and securitization of residential mortgage loans that were alleged to be presumptively unfair under Massachusetts law. The settlement is a part of the Attorney General’s ongoing review of subprime mortgage securitization practices in the state. The agreement requires the securities firm to pay $26.8 million, which includes a $5 million payment to the state to compensate governmental entities that allegedly suffered harm, “including cities and towns that incurred extra expenses due to foreclosures.” The remaining funds will be made available to eligible homeowners to assist with principal reductions and related loan payments, and to assist those whose homes were subject to foreclosure.

    Securities State Attorney General Settlement Securitization Mortgages

    Share page with AddThis
  • 2nd Circuit holds NCUA lacks standing to bring derivative suit against two national banks regarding RMBS claims

    Courts

    On August 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit held that the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) lacked standing to bring a suit against two national banks on behalf of trusts created by the agency that held residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). According to the opinion, in 2009 and 2010, NCUA took control of five failing credit unions, including ownership of certificates the credit unions held in RMBS trusts. NCUA then transferred the certificates into new trusts and a financial institution was appointed, pursuant to an Indenture Agreement, as Indenture Trustee. NCUA subsequently brought derivative claims on behalf of the trusts against two national banks, trustees of the original RMBS trusts. In affirming the lower court’s dismissal of the claims, the appellate panel found that the NCUA did not have derivative standing to sue on behalf of the trusts because the trusts had granted the right, title, and interest to their assets, including the RMBS trusts, to the Indenture Trustee. The 2nd Circuit reasoned that therefore only the Indenture Trustee possesses the claims, and the NCUA did not have the right to sue on behalf of the Indenture Trustee under the Indenture Agreement.

    Courts Second Circuit Appellate RMBS Standing Securities

    Share page with AddThis
  • CFTC announces multiple whistleblower awards totaling $45 million

    Securities

    On August 2, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced multiple whistleblower awards, totaling $45 million, to individuals who volunteered information that led to successful enforcement actions. Earlier in July, the CFTC also announced its largest award, of approximately $30 million, to one whistleblower (previously covered by InfoBytes here), and the first award made to a whistleblower living in a foreign country. Under the CFTC’s whistleblower program, eligible whistleblowers can receive between 10 and 30 percent of the monetary sanctions collected from the resulting enforcement action. The CFTC’s Enforcement Director anticipates that this trend of substantial awards will “continue as the Commission continues to receive increasing numbers of high-quality whistleblower tips.”

    The announcement also included three related orders (see here, here, and here).

    Securities CFTC Whistleblower Dodd-Frank

    Share page with AddThis

Pages