Category Archives: Regulatory Actions

Hedge Fund Due Diligence Firm Drops Ball, Receives Fine

In what represents an unbelievable screw-up, professed hedge fund due diligence firm Hennessee Group was charged by the SEC with not performing the due diligence it supposedly provided to hedge fund investors who used their services.  According to the SEC Administrative Order, Henessee did not perform certain key elements of the due diligence process which they advertised to potential clients.  Because of the lack of due diligence, Henessee recommended investing into the fraudulent Bayou hedge fund.

A few of the more interesting parts of the release include the following:

From February 2003 through August 2005, approximately forty clients of Hennessee Group invested a total of over $56 million in the Bayou funds after receiving Hennessee Group’s recommendations. Most of those monies were lost and dissipated by Bayou’s principals, who defrauded their investors by fabricating Bayou’s performance in client account statements, periodic newsletters, and year-end financial statements that included a phony audit opinion fabricated by one of Bayou’s principals.

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Hennessee Group and Gradante, in their capacities as investment advisers, owed fiduciary duties to their clients to perform the services that they represented they would provide and to disclose all material departures from the representations that they made to their clients. Despite their representations about their services, with regard to the Bayou Funds and the funds’ management, Hennessee Group and Gradante did not perform two of the five elements of the due diligence evaluation that they had represented to their clients they would undertake. In addition, Hennessee Group and Gradante failed to adequately respond to information that they received that suggested that the identity of Bayou’s outside auditor was in doubt and that there existed a potential conflict of interest between one of Bayou’s principals and its purported outside auditor.

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With regard to Bayou, Hennessee Group, at Gradante’s direction, failed to perform two elements of the due diligence evaluation that Hennessee Group had told its clients and prospective clients that it would do: (1) a portfolio/trading analysis; and (2) a verification of Bayou’s relationship with its purported independent auditor. By not conducting the entire due diligence evaluation that it had advertised, and by failing to disclose to clients that its evaluation of Bayou deviated from its prior representations, Hennessee Group and Gradante rendered the prior representations about the due diligence process materially misleading and breached their fiduciary duties to Hennessee Group’s clients.

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In the fall of 2002, Bayou refused to provide Hennessee Group with the prime brokerage reports that Hennessee Group had requested. However, instead of insisting that Bayou provide the reports as a condition of potentially being recommended, Hennessee Group proceeded to the next phases of due diligence. Gradante decided that a portfolio/trading analysis was irrelevant for a day-trading fund like Bayou, which stated in marketing materials that it held securities positions for brief periods of time and converted positions to cash prior to each day’s market closing.

As a result, Hennessee Group did not obtain or evaluate any quantitative information about Bayou’s portfolio characteristics, investment and trading strategies, or risk management discipline. Instead of confirming Bayou’s results and processes through an analysis of Bayou’s historical trading data to determine whether the fund was, in fact, executing its purported “high-velocity” day-trading strategy and utilizing appropriate risk management techniques, Gradante and Hennessee Group relied entirely on Bayou’s uncorroborated representations and purported rates of return that Bayou had provided during its initial information-gathering phases.

Hennessee Group never told the clients to whom it recommended Bayou that it had not conducted a portfolio/trading analysis on the funds. By failing to disclose this information in connection with its recommendation of Bayou, Hennessee Group left those clients with the misleading impression that it had conducted a portfolio, trading, and risk management evaluation of Bayou and that Bayou had satisfied Hennessee Group’s purported standards. In so doing, Hennessee Group and Gradante breached their fiduciary duties to Hennessee Group’s clients.

I have written a number of posts about proper hedge fund due diligence and am always surprised how haphazardly investments are made into some hedge funds.  Over the past six to eight months I have also been surprised that so many sophisticated and savvy investors would be duped by frauds like Madoff… but I guess if those gatekeepers who are paid to help investors research managers are asleep at the wheel we can’t really expect much more from investors.

Please contact us if you have a question on this issue or if you would like to start a hedge fund.  If you would like more information, please see our articles on starting a hedge fund.  Other related hedge fund law articles include:

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SEC Charges Investment Adviser That Recommended Bayou Hedge Funds to Clients

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2009-86

Washington, D.C., April 22, 2009 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged New York-based investment adviser Hennessee Group LLC and its principal Charles J. Gradante with securities law violations for failing to perform their advertised review and analysis before recommending that their clients invest in the Bayou hedge funds that were later discovered to be a fraud.

In a settled administrative proceeding, the Commission issued an order finding that Hennessee Group and Gradante did not perform key elements of the due diligence that they had represented they would conduct prior to recommending investments in the Bayou hedge funds. The SEC also finds that they failed to conduct a reasonable investigation into red flags concerning Bayou. Hennessee Group and Gradante routinely represented to clients and prospective clients that they would not recommend investments in hedge funds that did not satisfy all phases of their due diligence evaluation.

“Forewarned is forearmed — investment advisers must make good on their promises or face the consequences of vigorous SEC enforcement action,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

“As the Commission found, these investment advisers failed to honor the representations they made to their clients and did not disclose these material departures from their advertised services,” said Antonia Chion, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “The advice that clients receive from hedge fund consultants is especially critical when the hedge funds are neither regulated nor transparent.”

According to the Commission’s order, approximately 40 clients invested millions of dollars in the Bayou hedge funds from February 2003 through August 2005 after the Hennessee Group recommended those investments. Most of the money was lost through trading or dissipated by Bayou’s principals, who defrauded their investors by fabricating Bayou’s performance in client account statements and year-end financial statements. The SEC charged the managers of the Bayou hedge funds with fraud in 2005.

The Commission’s order finds that Hennessee Group and Gradante failed to conduct the portfolio and trading analysis that it had advertised to clients. Instead of analyzing Bayou’s results and processes through a review of Bayou’s historical trading methods to determine whether the fund was, in fact, successfully executing its purported day-trading strategy, Hennessee Group and Gradante decided not to perform any analysis after Bayou refused to produce its trading data. They relied entirely on Bayou’s uncorroborated representations about its strategy and its purported rates of return.

The Commission’s order also finds that despite conflicting reports from Bayou about the identity of their independent auditor, Hennessee Group and Gradante failed to verify Bayou’s relationship with its auditor. In fact, the accounting firm that purportedly conducted Bayou’s annual audit was a non-existent entity fabricated by one of Bayou’s principals, who was identified in publicly available state accountancy board records as the registered agent for the bogus accounting firm.

According to the Commission’s order, Hennessee Group and Gradante also failed to respond to red flags concerning Bayou that came to their attention while they were monitoring Bayou on behalf of their clients. In particular, they failed to inquire or investigate when Bayou provided contradictory responses regarding the identity of its auditor or to adequately inquire about a rumor that one of Bayou’s principals was affiliated with Bayou’s purported outside auditing firm.

The Commission’s order finds that Hennessee Group and Gradante violated Section 206(2) of the Advisers Act. The order requires Hennessee Group and Gradante to pay $814,644.12 in disgorgement and penalties, and to cease and desist from committing or causing further violations. The parties also are required to adopt policies to ensure adequate disclosures in the future and to provide copies of the Commission’s Order to all current and prospective clients for a period of two years.

Hennessee Group and Gradante consented to the entry of the Commission’s order without admitting or denying the findings.
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For more information, contact:
Antonia Chion
Associate Director, SEC’s Division of Enforcement
(202) 551-4842
Yuri B. Zelinsky
Assistant Director, SEC’s Division of Enforcement
(202) 551-4769

CFTC Uncovers More Frauds and Ponzi Schemes

This week alone the Commodities Futures Trading Commission issued 5 separate press releases regarding various frauds and ponzi schemes.   As we have noted many times before investors should make sure they conduct adequate due diligence into their managers.  It also goes without saying, but managers should not engage in fraudulent conduct, make misrepresentations to investors, lie to investors or regulators, or do anything that is contrary to what is stated in the investment program offering documents.  Four of the press releases are reprinted below.

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Release: 5646-09
For Release: April 9, 2009

New York Court Enters Order Imposing a $240,000 Fine and Other Sanctions against New York State Resident Michael Vitebsky in a Foreign Currency Scam

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that it obtained $240,000 in sanctions and a permanent injunction in a consent order against Michael Vitebsky, a resident of New York State, in connection with his participation in an illegal foreign currency (forex) boiler room operation and for violating the anti-fraud provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act. The order also imposes permanent trading and registration bans on Vitebsky.

Vitebsky is obligated to pay the $240,000 civil monetary penalty upon satisfaction of a $220,000 forfeiture obligation entered in a parallel criminal proceeding, U.S. v. Vitebsky, E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 04 Cr. 0419.

The order was entered by Judge Leo I. Glasser of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and stems from a CFTC complaint filed in 2003 (see CFTC News Release, 4852-03, October 16, 2003). The order enters findings of fact that Vitebsky and others participated in a scheme in which Vitebsky used A.S. Templeton Group, Inc., a company of which he was the president and treasurer, to fraudulently solicit funds from customers for forex transactions.
According to the order, Vitebsky helped divert customer funds for unauthorized purposes and willfully made false representations to customers regarding the profitability of their accounts.

The CFTC would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for their assistance.

The following CFTC staff members are responsible for this case: Sheila Marhamati, Philip Rix, Steven Ringer, Lenel Hickson, Jr., and Vincent McGonagle.

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Release: 5645-09
For Release: April 9, 2009

CFTC Charges Austin, Texas Resident Steven Leigh Shakespeare and His Company, Guardian Futures, Inc., With Fraud and Unauthorized Trading

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that it charged Steven Leigh Shakespeare, and his company, Guardian Futures, Inc., both of Austin, Texas, with fraud and unauthorized trading of customer accounts, resulting in combined customer trading losses of at least $196,000.

The CFTC complaint, filed on April 8, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, alleges that Shakespeare engaged in a series of unauthorized transactions and fraudulent acts in the accounts of Plains Grain Company, Inc. and Evans Grain Marketing LLC. The complaint charges that Shakespeare, throughout the course of the unauthorized transactions, made misrepresentations and omitted material facts to customers and to Alaron Trading Corporation, the futures commission merchant to whom Shakespeare had introduced the customer accounts.

On the same day the complaint was filed, the court entered a statutory restraining order preserving books and records and providing the CFTC immediate access to such books and records.

In its continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks restitution to customers, disgorgement of all ill-gotten gains, civil monetary penalties, a permanent injunction, and trading prohibitions, among other sanctions.

The CFTC appreciates the assistance of the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

The following CFTC Division of Enforcement staff are responsible for this case: Timothy J. Mulreany, David Reed, Michael Amakor, Paul Hayeck, and Joan Manley.

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Release: 5644-09
For Release: April 9, 2009

William D. Perkins of St. George, Utah Ordered to Pay More Than $2 Million in Sanctions in CFTC Ponzi Scheme Action

Universe Capital Appreciation Commodity Pool, Operated by Perkins, Part of Larger CFTC Action that Has Resulted in More than $45 Million in Judgments

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that it obtained a federal court order against William D. Perkins of St. George, Utah and Tax Accounting Office (TAO), Perkins’ private bookkeeping service, for more than $2 million in an anti-fraud action brought by the CFTC in 2006. The CFTC action alleged that Perkins fraudulently solicited $3.4 million from investors in a commodity pool he operated under the name Universe Capital Appreciation LLC. (See CFTC Release 5240-06 October 5, 2006.)

The opinion and order were entered on March 25, 2009, by U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler of the District of New Jersey.

Specifically, the order requires Perkins to repay $1.6 million to investors and a civil monetary penalty of $354,462, and prohibits Perkins from engaging in any business activities related to commodity futures or options trading. The court also ordered relief defendant TAO to repay $76,000 of investor money in which TAO had no legitimate interest.

In the opinion, Judge Kugler found that Perkins was reckless to solicit funds for his commodity pool without making a reasonable inquiry into the validity of representations that third parties made regarding the performance of the “superfund”, especially where Perkins had personal experience in three previous failed high yield investment schemes with one of the parties in which they had lost over $2 million of participant funds.

The CFTC complaint alleged that Perkins touted Universe Capital Appreciation LLC as a way for investors with less than $100,000 to participate in a so-called “superfund” that Perkins claimed was making “astonishing” profits of approximately 100 percent annually trading financial futures contracts. In fact, the CFTC complaint alleged that the “superfund” was itself a massive fraud that was the subject of other CFTC actions resulting in over $45 million in judgments. (See CFTC Press Releases 5447-08 February 7, 2008 and 5357-07, July 23, 2007.)

The following Division of Enforcement staff members are responsible for this case: Elizabeth M. Streit, Joy McCormack, Venice Bickham, Scott R. Williamson, Rosemary Hollinger, and Richard Wagner.

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Release: 5642-09
For Release: April 7, 2009

Federal Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Two Nevada Corporations in $20 Million Commodity Pool Ponzi Scheme Operated by Tennessee Resident, Dennis Bolze

Court Freezes Assets of Centurion Asset Management and Advanced Trading Services; Bolze Is Arrested

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that on April 1, 2009, a federal court judge in Knoxville, Tennessee issued a preliminary injunction against defendant Centurion Asset Management, Inc. (Centurion) and relief defendant Advanced Trading Services, Inc. (ATS), both located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Judge Thomas A. Varlan issued the order that freezes the assets of Centurion and ATS and prohibits Centurion from further violations of the Commodity Exchange Act, as charged. The court determined that the preliminary injunction was necessary to protect the public from further loss and damage and to enable the CFTC to fulfill its statutory duties.

The order stems from a CFTC complaint filed on March 3, 2009, charging Dennis Bolze of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Centurion, with fraud and misappropriation in operating a $20 million commodity pool Ponzi scheme. (See CFTC v. Bolze, et. al., No. 09 C 88 [E.D. Tenn. 2009] and CFTC Press Release 5634-09, March 12, 2009).

As alleged, Bolze and Centurion operated a Ponzi scheme for at least six years that defrauded more than 100 investors and caused approximately $20 million in investor losses. ATS was charged as a relief defendant for receiving funds from defendants to which it was not entitled. Bolze and Centurion told investors that they were pooling and investing customer money in S&P 500 and NASDAQ 100 stock index commodity futures, but instead misappropriated most of the funds, according to the complaint.

Bolze Arrested on March 12

On March 12, 2009, Bolze was arrested in Pennsylvania by federal authorities in connection with a related criminal complaint. However, Bolze was in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service at the time of the March 31 hearing. As a result, Judge Varlan’s preliminary injunctive order did not address the CFTC’s charges against him.

In the continuing litigation, the CFTC is seeking permanent injunctive relief, return of funds to defrauded participants, repayment of ill-gotten gains, civil penalties, and other equitable relief.

The following CFTC Division of Enforcement staff are responsible for this case: Jon J. Kramer, Diane M. Romaniuk, Michael Tallarico, Mary Beth Spear, Ava M. Gould, Scott R. Williamson, Rosemary Hollinger, and Richard B. Wagner.

CPOs and CTAs Now Submit Disclosure Documents Electronically

NFAs Electronic Filing System Went Live Yesterday

The NFAs new electronic filing system for CPO and CTA disclosure documents went live yesterday.  All NFA members are required to use the electronic system for filing their disclosure documents.   While I have not yet used the new system, it is expected to be a big improvement over the previous system which relied on emails to an anonymous system.  The NFA says that this new system should help both the NFA and the Member Firm by speeding up and streamlining the disclosure document approval process.

I will provide an update on whether this system does in fact make the process more efficient.  Also, I will provide updates on how this system works with the new forex registration requirements.  It is expected that forex CPOs and forex CTAs will also use this same electronic submission process for their forex disclosure documents.

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Notice I-09-09

March 26, 2009

Using NFA’s Electronic Disclosure Document Filing System becomes mandatory for CPOs and CTAs
Effective April 6, 2009, CPOs and CTAs filing a disclosure document with NFA for review will be required to submit the filing through NFA’s Electronic Disclosure Document Filing System. NFA will not accept any disclosure document filings through any other mode (i.e., email, fax, or regular mail) after this date. CPOs and CTAs are encouraged to begin using the new system prior to the effective date to make the transition as smooth as possible.

This new system will benefit NFA’s CPO and CTA Members by creating a more efficient document review process. Electronic filing will allow NFA to identify issues sooner in the review process. Firms will also be able to track the status of their submissions online, in real-time, and will have instantaneous access to NFA’s comment and acceptance letters. Additionally, all correspondence, including filed disclosure documents and NFA’s comment or acceptance letters, will be archived in the system, creating an electronic file cabinet that will be easily accessible to CPOs and CTAs at any time.

To use the new electronic system, a security manager entering the system for the first time must designate himself as a disclosure document user in NFA’s Online Registration System (“ORS”). The security manager can also designate additional users to file disclosure documents through the system. Filers can access the system at https://www.nfa.futures.org/appentry/Redirect.aspx?app=DDOC. Once in the system, filers will be required to enter certain information specific to the filing and to upload the filing in either a PDF or Word format.

NFA also has prepared a web seminar to assist users with the new system. This online seminar is entitled “How to File CPO and CTA Disclosure Documents Electronically with NFA” and is available at: http://video.webcasts.com/events/pmny001/viewer/index.jsp?eventid=29268.
If you have any questions about the new filing system, please contact Susan Koprowski at [email protected] or (312) 781-1288 or Mary McHenry at [email protected] or (312) 781-1420.

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Other articles related to the CPO and CTA disclosure document filing process:

CFTC Fines BD/FCM For Books and Records Violations

Firm Fails to Institute Procedure for Bunched Orders

(www.hedgefundlawblog.com)

The fines can be hefty for breaking CFTC regulations or NFA rules.  We have seen a large number of actions both with the SEC and the CFTC as well as with the NFA.  Below is another example of a group who has been fined for failing to supervise its employees.  I think maybe even more importantly the group below got into trouble for not having written policies regarding “bunching” client orders.

Yesterday I wrote a post about hedge fund bunched orders and I specifically stated how important it is for managers to understand how bunched orders are allocated to their separately managed account clients.  I discussed how it is important from a disclosure standpoint and that each manager should have the broker’s back office or compliance group review the disclosures regarding bunched orders so that the manager is sure that the disclosure is accurate.  Evidently the broker below did not have managers who followed this protocol.  I would imagine that it is likely that managers had a broad statement that gave them the ability to allocate trades to client accounts in their own discretion.  In the future broad statements like these are going to become less prevalent and specific statements regarding the actual allocation procedures will become the industry best practice, if not the industry standard.

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Release: 5639-09
For Release: March 26, 2009

CFTC Sanctions ADM Investor Services, Inc. $200,000 For Failing To Diligently Supervise Its Employees

Washington, DC — The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today simultaneously filed and settled charges against ADM Investor Services, Inc. (ADMIS) for violating rules governing post-execution allocations, maintenance of books and records, and supervision of its employees. The CFTC order sanctioned ADMIS with a $200,000 civil monetary penalty, among other things.

The CFTC entered an order on March 26, 2009, which finds that during 2002 to 2004, ADMIS, a Chicago-based registered futures commission merchant, failed to diligently supervise its employees concerning post-execution allocations of bunched orders.

According to the order, ADMIS had no written policy or procedures concerning post-execution allocations of bunched orders. To the extent ADMIS had unwritten procedures concerning such allocations, ADMIS on certain occasions failed to implement those procedures, the order finds. Additionally, ADMIS allowed an account manager to conduct post-execution allocations days after orders were originally executed and failed to maintain records that identify orders subject to the post-execution allocations. Finally, the order finds that ADMIS prepared, but failed to keep, forms related to such allocations.

Post-execution allocation is a procedure where an account manager is permitted to bunch customer orders together for execution, and to allocate them to individual accounts at the end of the day. Bunching of orders involves an account manager placing trades for two or more customers at the same time in the same order. By allowing all customers the opportunity to have their orders bunched, customers may receive better execution and better pricing of their orders. After the bunched orders are executed, an account manager must assign the trades to customers’ accounts, a process known as allocation. The allocation must be made in a manner that is fair and equitable.

The order also requires ADMIS to implement enhanced procedures to assure adherence to rules governing post execution allocation of trades.

The CFTC wishes to thank the National Futures Association for its cooperation in this matter.

The following Division of Enforcement staff was responsible for this case: W. Derek Shakabpa, Eliud Ramirez, Nathan Ploener, Manal Sultan, Lenel Hickson, Jr., Vincent A. McGonagle, and Stephen J. Obie.

Last Updated: March 26, 2009

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Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions on this article or if you are interested in starting a hedge fund.  Other related articles include:

NFA Prohibits CPO Firm From Doing Business

For Immediate Release

For more information contact:
Larry Dyekman (312) 781-1372, [email protected]
Karen Wuertz (312) 781-1335, [email protected]

NFA takes an emergency enforcement action against GlobeFX Club, Inc.

March 24, Chicago – National Futures Association (NFA) announced today that it has taken an emergency enforcement action against GlobeFX Club, Inc. (GlobeFX Club), a Commodity Pool Operator located in Homestead, Florida. Effective immediately, the Member Responsibility Action (MRA) is deemed necessary to protect pool participants, customers and other NFA Members because GlobeFX Club has provided contradictory information in regards to whether it is conducting business, has customer accounts and is operating a pool. NFA has been unable to determine the nature of GlobeFX Club’s business, the identities of its customers, the treatment of customer funds and the identity of two individuals who purportedly loaned money to the firm. The firm has also failed to produce books and records requested by NFA and answer questions concerning its operations.

The MRA suspends GlobeFX Club from NFA membership until further notice. GlobeFX Club is prohibited from soliciting or accepting any customer or pool participant funds or placing trades for any pool that its operates or customer accounts that it holds. Additionally, the MRA prohibits GlobeFX Club from disbursing or transferring any funds from any accounts without prior NFA approval.

The MRA will remain in effect until GlobeFX Club has demonstrated that it is in complete compliance with all NFA requirements. GlobeFX Club may request a prompt hearing before NFA’s Hearing Committee.

The complete text of the MRA can be found on NFA’s Website (www.nfa.futures.org).

NFA is the premier independent provider of innovative and efficient regulatory programs that safeguard the integrity of the futures markets.

NASAA Proposes Multi-State No-Action Request Process

Currently each state has their own securities laws and their own interpretation of those laws.  While many of the laws and regulations are based on the same set of model rules, no two states seem to take the same interpretation with regard to the rules.  Enforcement is completely different as well.  This presents many problems for those involved in the securities and investment management industries because of the disparate treatment under similar circumstances in different states.

NASAA is taking a step forward to try to unify the laws of the states through a multi-state no-action request process.  Basically questions on the application or interpretation of state securities laws would be decided on a multi-state level instead of at just a single state(each state would have the ability to issue a distinct opinion or opt out of the discussion, see below for more details).  This is good because it (1) allows all states to address an issue which may be applicable (currently or in the future) to a resident of their state and (2) it will promote discussion between the states as to how to handle certain situations.  Hopefully this create a more uniform set of laws between the states which will decrease lawyer fees in the future and will increase certainty in the application of current laws and regulation.

With regard to the specific proposal we will likely respond to the NASAA with the following comments:

Section 5, number 7 – this section should be deleted unless it goes directly to an issue with the request at hand.  Disclosing this information otherwise would serve no purpose with regard to the request.

Suggestion – NASAA should also create a database on their website to track all of requests as well as the rulings on the requests.

We will be covering this in greater detail over the next few weeks.  Please contact us if you have questions or ideas with regard to the proposal.

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Notice of Request for Public Comment on NASAA’s Proposed Adoption of a Statement of Policy Regarding Multi-State Review of Requests for Interpretive Opinions and No-Action Letters

The NASAA Coordinated Interpretations Project Group requests comment from the public on the adoption of a new Statement of Policy Regarding Multi-State Review of Requests for Interpretative Opinions and No-Action Letters.

The comment period begins February 20, 2009 and will remain open for 30 days.  Accordingly, all comments should be submitted on or before March 22, 2009.  Comments should be directed by email or in writing to:

Rick A. Fleming
General Counsel
Office of the Securities Commissioner
618 S. Kansas Avenue
Topeka, Kansas  66603
[email protected]

Rex Staples
General Counsel
NASAA
750 First Street, NE, Suite 1140
Washington, DC  20002-4251
[email protected]

Background and Purpose of the Proposed Statement of Policy

Many state securities regulators have the authority issue “no-action letters” in which staff confirms that a transaction carried out under a set of assumed facts will not result in a recommendation for enforcement action.  Some states also issue “interpretive opinions” in which staff provides guidance by indicating how a provision of law applies to a situation presented.  These types of no-action letters and interpretive opinions are authorized by subsection 413(e) of the Uniform Securities Act of 1956, as amended, and subsection 605(d) of the Uniform Securities Act (2002).

Subsection 420(b)(7) of the 1956 USA and subsection 608(c)(9) of the 2002 USA authorize the states to cooperate with each other in the development of no-action letters and interpretive opinions in order to encourage uniform interpretation of laws and maximize the effectiveness of regulation.  Toward those ends, NASAA proposes this Statement of Policy.

Summary of the Proposed Statement of Policy

The proposed Statement of Policy describes the application and review process for multi-state consideration of requests for interpretive opinions and no-action letters.  The proposed Statement of Policy contains the following major elements:

  • Section II contains definitions, including the terms “interpretive opinion” and “no-action letter.”
  • Section III places restrictions on the types of matters that qualify for multi-state review.  For example, it prohibits requests concerning purely hypothetical situations and transactions that have already occurred.
  • Sections IV and V contain rules governing the content of the request letter, citation to state laws, payment of fees, etc.
  • Section VI describes the review process.  Conference calls and a list-serve will be used to facilitate communication between states, and responses to requests for interpretive opinions and no-action letters should be generated within 60 days.
  • Section VII contains optional disclaimers for the states to consider using.

The full policy statement, reprinted below, can also be found here.

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STATEMENT OF POLICY REGARDING
MULTI-STATE REVIEW OF REQUESTS FOR
INTERPRETIVE OPINIONS AND NO-ACTION LETTERS

(Adopted ____)

I. OVERVIEW

1. This Statement of Policy of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) describes the application and review process for multi-state consideration of requests for Interpretive Opinions and No-Action Letters.

2. The policy is intended to promote efficiency in the review of applications and produce responses to requests within 60 days.

3. This policy is intended to promote consistency in the interpretation of blue sky laws, particularly when the laws are based upon uniform or model provisions. However, the issuance of Interpretive Opinions and No-Action Letters is done solely at the discretion of each state, and each state is ultimately responsible for interpreting and enforcing its own law.

II. DEFINITIONS

1. “Interpretive Opinion” means a letter that states a conclusion regarding the applicability of a relevant provision of law to a situation presented. An Interpretive Opinion represents a judgment based solely on the fact situation as described by the applicant and an analysis of existing law and judicial, legislative, and administrative history.

2. “No-Action Letter” means a letter by which a person is advised that a transaction carried out under a set of assumed facts will not result in a recommendation by staff that an enforcement action be taken. An Interpretive Opinion often includes an assurance of “no action;” however, a No-Action Letter does not necessarily include any interpretation of law.

3. “Participating Jurisdictions” means those states that have agreed to accept applications for multi-state review of requests for Interpretive Opinions or No-Action Letters in accordance with this Statement of Policy. Authority for a multi-state review is provided in section 608(c)(9) of the Uniform Securities Act of 2002 and section 420(b)(7) of the Uniform Securities Act of 1956, as amended by NASAA. All Participating Jurisdictions are listed on Form MS-ONA.

4. “Selected Jurisdictions” means the states from whom an applicant seeks an Interpretive Opinion or No-Action Letter, as indicated by the applicant on Form MS-ONA.

III. CRITERIA FOR ELIGIBILITY

1. An application for multi-state review of a request for an Interpretive Opinion or No-Action Letter shall not involve a hypothetical situation, a past transaction, or an issue that is currently subject to or in preparation for litigation.

2. An application shall not involve a matter that the applicant knows or should know is currently under investigation or subject to regulatory action.

3. An application shall not relate to an interpretation of antifraud provisions.

IV. APPLICATION PROCESS

1. To apply for multi-state review of a request for an Interpretive Opinion or No-Action Letter, the applicant shall file the following documents with each Selected Jurisdiction and the Program Administrator:

a.  A copy of “Form MS-ONA – Application for Multi-State Review of Request for Interpretive Opinion or No-Action Letter.” The form is available on the NASAA web site at [insert current web address] and contact information for each state is available at [insert current web address].

b.  A request letter that complies with the requirements set forth below; and

c.  Any supporting materials.

2. The applicant shall submit an application fee directly to each Selected Jurisdiction in the amount indicated on Form MS-ONA.

V. CONTENT OF REQUEST LETTER

1. A request for an Interpretive Opinion or No-Action Letter shall succinctly present the issue to be considered and provide a thorough recitation of all material facts. The request shall contain the applicant’s reasoning and legal analysis, including references to applicable law and previous Interpretive Opinions or No-Action Letters that support the interpretation or relief requested. Additionally, the request should include a discussion of previous Interpretive Opinions or No-Action Letters that militate against granting the interpretation sought or relief requested and set forth the applicant’s reasoning and legal analysis distinguishing them from the facts and issues presented in the request.

2. The request should be limited to one legal issue and should be narrowly tailored to resolve the specific issue. The request should not attempt to discuss every possible situation.

3. The request must identify the persons or entities that are the subject of the request or will rely upon the response and identify the states in which such persons reside or maintain their principal places of business. The request may state that the person or entity seeks confidential treatment to the extent permitted by the open records or public records laws of the Selected Jurisdictions (e.g., state laws modeled after section 607 of the Uniform Securities Act of 2002). However, the applicant should take note that the laws of some states do not permit confidential treatment, and this Statement of Policy does not assure that any state will maintain the confidentiality of the person or entity or any other information contained in the application.

4. If a request for an Interpretive Opinion or No-Action Letter relates to a definition, exemption, or other provision that is derived from the Uniform Securities Act of 1956, the Uniform Securities Act of 2002, a NASAA model rule, or a NASAA Statement of Policy (SOP), the request letter shall include in the heading a citation to the relevant provision(s) of each applicable uniform act, model rule, or SOP.

5. The request shall set forth in tabular form, as an appendix, a specific citation to the relevant laws of each Selected Jurisdiction.

6. The request shall include a representation that any proposed transaction has not yet been consummated, that the matter is not currently subject to or in preparation for litigation, and that the applicant is not aware of any regulatory investigation involving the matter.

7. The request shall disclose whether any of the persons who are the subject of the request or will rely upon the response, or any of the persons’ predecessors, affiliates, directors, officers, general partners, beneficial owners of 10 percent or more of any class of its equity securities, any promoter presently connected with the persons in any capacity, any underwriter to be involved in a transaction described in the request, or any partner, director or officer of the underwriter:

a.  Within the last five years, has filed a registration statement which is the subject of a currently effective registration stop order entered by any state securities administrator or the United States Securities and Exchange Commission;

b.  within the last five years, has been convicted of any criminal offense in connection with the offer, purchase or sale of any security, or involving fraud or deceit;

c.  is currently subject to any state or federal administrative enforcement order or judgment, entered within the last five years, finding fraud or deceit in connection with the purchase or sale of any security; or

d.  is currently subject to any order, judgment or decree of any court of competent jurisdiction, entered within the last five years, temporarily, preliminary or permanently restraining or enjoining such party from engaging in or continuing to engage in any conduct or practice involving fraud or deceit in connection with the purchase or sale of any security.

8. If the applicant has communicated with any state securities administrator concerning the transaction or subject matter that is the subject of the request, the applicant shall disclose the nature of the communication and any response received from the state. If a separate request for an Interpretive Opinion or No-Action Letter has already been filed with one or more states in connection with the same transaction or subject matter, the applicant shall (1) provide a copy of any requests that have been filed and disclose the status of each state’s response; (2) provide a copy of any response that has been issued by a state; and (3) explain the reason that it did not initially seek multi-state review.

VI. REVIEW PROCESS

1. Within 5 business days after receipt of an application, the Program Administrator will determine whether the application is eligible for multi-state review and in proper form. If the application is ineligible or deficient, the Program Administrator will notify the applicant and the Selected Jurisdictions. If the application is eligible for multi-state review, the Program Administrator will notify the applicant and Selected Jurisdictions of the deadline to review the application and issue responses in accordance with paragraph VI.3. The Program Administrator will also send a copy of the application to any other state that provides contact information in accordance with Paragraph VI.6.

2. Within 45 days after receipt of a proper application by the Program Administrator, the Program Administrator shall arrange for a conference call to discuss the application and shall provide notice of the call to all states who submit contact information in accordance with paragraph VI.6. The Program Administrator may appoint a facilitator for the conference call, and the Program Administrator or facilitator may schedule additional conference calls as needed.

3. Within 60 days after receipt of a proper application by the Program Administrator, each Selected Jurisdiction shall use its best efforts to issue its response to the applicant. The response may include an Interpretive Opinion, No-Action Letter, or letter declining to give any such assurance. Failure of a Selected Jurisdiction to issue a response does not indicate assent to the granting of the interpretation or relief requested. A copy of the response should be sent to the Program Administrator and added to an electronic library containing the Interpretive Opinions and No-Action Letters issued under this Statement of Policy.

4. The Program Administrator may seek additional information from the applicant on behalf of any Selected Jurisdiction, and the applicant shall file copies of all supplemental material with each Selected Jurisdiction and the Program Administrator. If supplemental material is requested, the review period may be extended up to 30 additional days after receipt of the supplemental material at the discretion of the Program Administrator. The Program Administrator will notify the applicant and Selected Jurisdictions of the extension and send copies of the supplemental material to states that are not Selected Jurisdictions.

5. The timelines contained herein may be postponed at the discretion of the Program Administrator in extenuating circumstances. The Program Administrator will notify the applicant and the Selected Jurisdictions of the new deadlines and the reasons for any postponement.

6. Each Participating Jurisdiction and any other state that wants to receive notices from the Program Administrator must provide and update the Program Administrator with the name, title, address, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address of one or more contact persons. The Program Administrator will maintain a list-serve or other electronic system to facilitate communication between such persons.

VII. DISCLAIMERS

1. Each Participating Jurisdiction is encouraged to use the following disclaimers in any letter issued under this policy:

a.  The letter applies only to the party requesting it, and persons having similar fact situations should submit a separate request.

b.  The letter is conditioned upon the specific facts set forth in the request and the accuracy of any representations that are required to be made under this Statement of Policy.

c.  The conclusions are based upon current law, should not be regarded as precedent, and are not binding on any court, agency, or tribunal.

d.  The letter does not preclude investors, other regulatory agencies, or other persons from asserting their rights under the law.

Ponzi Scheme Targets Deaf Community

SEC and CFTC Act to Halt New Fraud

Another fraud was unveiled today as the SEC and the CFTC worked in conjunction to halt a ponzi scheme which purportedly made great returns by trading in the off-exchange foreign currency (forex) markets.  The scammer was a member of the deaf community and perpetrated the fraud on others in the deaf community – a classic example of affinity fraud.  The press releases from both the SEC and the CFTC are reprinted below.

This fraud comes on the heels of other well publicized frauds within the investment management industry including:

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SEC Halts Ponzi Scheme Targeting Deaf Investors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
2009-30

Washington, D.C., Feb. 19, 2009 — The Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained a court order halting a Ponzi scheme that specifically targeted members of the Deaf community in the United States and Japan.

The SEC alleges that Hawaii-based Billion Coupons, Inc. (BCI) and its CEO Marvin R. Cooper raised $4.4 million from 125 investors since at least September 2007 by, among other things, holding investment seminars at Deaf community centers. The SEC also alleges that Cooper misappropriated at least $1.4 million in investor funds to pay for a new home and other personal expenses. The order obtained by the SEC freezes the assets of BCI and Cooper.

“This emergency action shows that the Commission will act quickly and decisively to help victims of affinity fraud,” said Linda Chatman Thomsen, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.

“A Ponzi scheme targeting members of the Deaf community is particularly reprehensible,” said Rosalind R. Tyson, Regional Director of the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office. “This case is an example of successful coordination between federal and state agencies to protect vulnerable investors.”

The SEC’s complaint, filed yesterday in federal court in Honolulu, alleges that BCI and Cooper represented to the investors that their funds would be invested in the foreign exchange (Forex) markets, that investors would receive returns of up to 25 percent compounded monthly from such trading, and that their investments were safe. According to the complaint, BCI and Cooper actually used only a net $800,000 (cash deposits minus cash withdrawals) of investor funds for Forex trading, and they lost more than $750,000 from their Forex trading. The complaint further alleges that BCI and Cooper failed to generate sufficient funds from their Forex trading to pay the promised returns, and instead operated as a Ponzi scheme by paying returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.

The SEC alleges that BCI and Cooper have violated the registration and antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. In its lawsuit, the SEC obtained an order temporarily enjoining BCI and Cooper from future violations of these provisions. The SEC also obtained an order: (1) freezing the assets of BCI and Cooper; (2) appointing a temporary receiver over BCI; (3) preventing the destruction of documents; (4) granting expedited discovery; and (5) requiring BCI and Cooper to provide accountings. The Commission also seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions, disgorgement, and civil penalties against both defendants. A hearing on whether a preliminary injunction should be issued against the defendants and whether a permanent receiver should be appointed is scheduled for March 2, 2009, at 9 a.m. HST.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) also filed an emergency action yesterday against BCI and Cooper, alleging violations of the antifraud provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act. The State of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), Office of the Commissioner of Securities, issued a preliminary order to cease and desist against BCI and Cooper.

The Commission acknowledges the assistance of the Hawaii DCCA’s Office of the Commissioner of Securities and the assistance of the CFTC in this matter.

# # #

For more information, contact:

Andrew Petillon
Associate Regional Director, Los Angeles Regional Office
(323) 965-3214

Kelly Bowers
Senior Assistant Regional Director, Los Angeles Regional Office
(323) 965-3924

John B. Bulgozdy
Senior Trial Counsel, Los Angeles Regional Office
(323) 965-3322

http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2009/2009-30.htm

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Release: 5614-09
For Release: February 19, 2009

CFTC Charges Hawaii-based Marvin Cooper and Billion Coupons, Inc. with Operating a $4 Million Foreign Currency Ponzi Scheme Aimed at Defrauding the Deaf Community

Court Freezes Defendants’ Assets and Appoints Temporary Receiver

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today that it charged Marvin Cooper and his company Billion Coupons, Inc. (BCI), both of Honolulu, Hawaii, with operating a Ponzi scheme that involved more than 125 customers — all of whom are Deaf — in connection with commodity futures trading and foreign currency futures (forex) trading.

The CFTC alleges that since at least September 2007, Cooper and BCI solicited approximately $4.4 million from more than 125 Deaf American and Japanese individuals for the sole purported purpose of trading forex. Also, according to the complaint, while Cooper and BCI opened both forex and futures accounts with approximately $1.7 million of customer money, Cooper misappropriated more than $1.4 million of customer funds for personal use. Cooper allegedly used the misappropriated funds to purchase computer and electronic equipment, flying lessons, and a $1 million home. He also allegedly returned approximately $1.6 million to customers as purported “profits” and as commissions to employees and agents.

“This case is a clear example of affinity fraud: Cooper preyed upon the Deaf community to leverage and exploit the inherent trust within so that his scheme would prosper. The CFTC urges the public to be cautious with their investments even when opportunities are presented by those with whom they have an association,” said CFTC Acting Director of Enforcement Stephen J. Obie.

Cooper and BCI allegedly lured in customers with promises of 15 to 25 percent monthly returns, depending on the amount and size of the customer’s investment, while representing that the investment would be low risk and that the promised return was produced by their successful trading. Cooper and BCI, however, were running a Ponzi scheme since the purported “profits” paid to customers came from existing customers’ original principal and/or from money invested by subsequent customers.

Finally, the complaint alleges that to conceal and perpetuate their fraud, Cooper and BCI provided customers with false account statements representing that their accounts were increasing by as much as 25 percent, when, in fact, the accounts were collectively losing money every month.

Court Orders Freeze of Assets and Appoints Temporary Receiver

On February 18, 2009, the Honorable J. Michael Seabright of the United States District Court of Hawaii granted the CFTC’s request for emergency action by, among other things, freezing Cooper’s and BCI’s assets, granting immediate access to Cooper’s and BCI’s documents and appointing Barry Fisher as temporary receiver. Judge Seabright ordered Cooper and BCI to appear in court on March 2, 2009, at 9 a.m. for a preliminary injunction hearing. In the continuing litigation, the CFTC seeks restitution, disgorgement, civil monetary penalties, and permanent injunctions against further violations of the federal commodities laws and against further trading.

The CFTC requests that all victims of Cooper’s and BCI’s actions contact the temporary receiver at (310) 557-1077.

The CFTC appreciates the assistance of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC simultaneously filed a related emergency action against Cooper and BCI. The CFTC also wishes to thank the State of Hawaii, Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Office of the Commissioner of Securities.

The following CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members are responsible for this case: Kenneth W. McCracken, Elizabeth Davis, Michael Loconte, Rick Glaser, and Richard Wagner.

Last Updated: February 19, 2009

Two Separate CPOs Subject to NFA Action

In two separate actions the NFA has effectively shut down two separate Commodity Pool Operators who were operating in the Northeast.  The press releases are reprinted below.

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For Immediate Release

NFA takes emergency enforcement action against New York commodity pool operator

February 9, Chicago – National Futures Association (NFA) announced today, that it has taken an emergency enforcement action against Mark E. Bloom, a Commodity Pool Operator (CPO) located in New York City. Bloom has failed to cooperate with NFA in its investigation of allegations that Bloom and North Hills Management, LLC, operated an illegal commodity pool, and exercised unlawful control over $8 million which was given to them by a charitable trust and a corporation owned by that trust for the purpose of making investments on their behalf. North Hills Management, LLC is a former CPO and Commodity Trading Advisor Member of NFA of which Bloom was principal. The Member Responsibility Action (MRA) is deemed necessary to protect the commodity futures markets, pool participants, customers and other NFA Members.

Effective immediately, the MRA suspends Bloom from NFA membership and associate membership indefinitely. The MRA also prohibits Bloom from soliciting or accepting any customer or pool participant funds or placing trades for pools that he operates. Additionally, Bloom and any other person acting on his behalf, is prohibited from disbursing or transferring any funds from any accounts which he owns or controls without prior approval from NFA. NFA Members who carry accounts in the name of, controlled by or advised by Bloom are prohibited from disbursing funds to Bloom or to any entity or account controlled by him without prior NFA approval. The MRA provides that it will remain in effect until such time Bloom has demonstrated to NFA that he is in complete compliance with all NFA Requirements. Bloom may request a hearing before an NFA Hearing Panel.

NFA is the premier independent provider of innovative and efficient regulatory programs that safeguard the integrity of the futures markets.

For more information contact:
Larry Dyekman (312) 781-1372, [email protected]
Karen Wuertz (312) 781-1335, [email protected]

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For Immediate Release

NFA bars New Jersey commodity pool operator

February 9, Chicago – National Futures Association (NFA) has ordered Progressive Investment Funds (Progressive), a Commodity Pool Operator located in Glenrock, New Jersey, to withdraw from NFA membership and not reapply. Victor E. Cilli, Progressive’s sole principal, also agreed to withdraw from NFA membership. If Cilli reapplies for NFA membership in the future, his application will be subject to certain conditions, including a requirement that he pay a $10,000 fine. The Decision, issued by an NFA Hearing Panel, is based on a Complaint filed in August 2008 and a settlement offer submitted by Progressive and Cilli.

The Complaint charged that Progressive and Cilli had failed to produce certain books and records requested by NFA as part of an inquiry relating to a pool operated by Progressive. NFA previously issued a Member Responsibility Action against Progressive and Cilli in June 2008. See previous press release.
NFA is the premier independent provider of innovative and efficient regulatory programs that safeguard the integrity of the futures markets.

For more information contact:

Larry Dyekman (312) 781-1372, [email protected]
Karen Wuertz (312) 781-1335, [email protected]

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