Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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This securities fraud lawsuit arises from a series of statements made by K12, Inc., and two of its executives over the spring and summer of 2020. Plaintiffs, a class of K12 shareholders who acquired stock during that time, allege that the statements fraudulently misrepresented the state of K12’s business, thereby artificially inflating the cost of their shares. To survive dismissal under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA), however, they must plead a “strong inference” of scienter, which requires establishing an inference of fraud to be “cogent and at least as compelling as any opposing inference.”   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs claims because Plaintiffs do not satisfy the “heightened pleading instruction”. The court explained by including the language of “we believe,” the statement reflected not an incontestable fact but an individual perspective. The statement was couched as opinion, not as fact. While it is true that the prefatory clause contains an embedded assertion—that K12 is “an innovator in K-12 online education”— plaintiffs do not seriously contest this point. Nor do Plaintiffs deny, in more than conclusory fashion, that K12 “actually holds” its stated belief. Finally, Plaintiffs fail to show that K12’s opinion omitted necessary context. The company’s opinion was not simply emitted into the ether. It was made within the framework of a 10-K filing, where investors could have parsed the ample disclosures at their fingertips before succumbing to K12’s stated view. View "James Boykin v. K12, Inc." on Justia Law

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Armbruster, a CPA with experience working at a Big Four accounting firm, began serving as the controller for Roadrunner's predecessor in 1990 and became Roadrunner’s CFO. Roadrunner grew rapidly, acquiring transportation companies and going public in 2010. In 2014, Roadrunner’s then‐controller recognized shortcomings in a subsidiary's (Morgan) accounting and began investigating. In 2016, many deficiencies in Morgan’s accounting remained unresolved. The departing controller found that Morgan had inflated its balance sheet by at least $2 million and perhaps as much as $4–5 million. Armbruster filed Roadrunner's 2016 third quarter SEC Form 10‐Q with no adjustments of the carrying values of Morgan balance sheet items and including other misstatements. Roadrunner’s CEO learned of the misstatements and informed Roadrunner’s Board of Directors. Roadrunner informed its independent auditor. Roadrunner’s share price dropped significantly. Roadrunner filed restated financial statements, reporting a decrease of approximately $66.5 million in net income over the misstated periods.Criminal charges were brought against Armbruster and two former departmental controllers. A mixed verdict acquitted the departmental controllers on all counts but convicted Armbruster on four of 11 charges for knowingly falsifying Roadrunner‘s accounting records by materially misstating the carrying values of Morgan's receivable and prepaid taxes account, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2), (5), i78ff(a), 18 U.S.C. 2, fraudulently influencing Roadrunner’s external auditor, and filing fraudulent SEC financial statements, 18 U.S.C.1348. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the case against Armbruster may not have been open‐and‐shut, a rational jury could have concluded that the government presented enough evidence to support the guilty verdicts. View "United States v. Armbruster" on Justia Law

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Following proceedings in district court, the trial court t entered a final judgment, finding Defendant liable, ordering him to disgorge over $4,000,000 in funds, and placing two of his entities under receivership in order to sell and reorganize assets to repay investors. Later, a federal grand jury sitting in Miami returned a superseding indictment that described consistent with the district court’s findings of fact.   After an extradition request was filed by the United States, the Supreme Court of Brazil allowed him to be extradited. He returned to the United States, and on the eve of trial, following over a year of pretrial proceedings, Defendant entered into a plea agreement, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud. The district court later sentenced Defendant to 220 months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay $169,177,338 in restitution.   On appeal, Defendant broadly argues: (1) that the custodial sentence imposed and the order of restitution violate the extradition treaty; and (2) that his guilty plea was not made freely and voluntarily. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court fully satisfied the core concerns of Rule 11, and the court could discern no reason to conclude that the district court plainly erred in finding that Defendant’s guilty plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily. The court explained that in this case, the record fully reflects that Defendant agreed to be sentenced subject to a 20-year maximum term, and his 220-month sentence is near the low end of his agreed-upon 210-to-240-month range. View "USA v. John J. Utsick" on Justia Law

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Goulding, an accountant and lawyer, has a history of mail fraud and tax fraud. Goulding formed 15 funds that hired Nutmeg’s advisory services, which he managed. The funds invested in illiquid securities, many of which were close to insolvent. Gould wrote all of the disclosure documents, which overvalued the funds. Goulding made baseless statements about increases in value. Goulding did not use outside advisors and engaged in commingling, holding some securities in his own name.The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goulding under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. 80b, with running Nutmeg through a pattern of fraud, including touting his supposed financial expertise while failing to disclose his crimes, in addition to violating the Act’s technical rules. The district court issued an injunction removing Goulding from the business and appointing a receiver. A magistrate judge enjoined Goulding from violating the securities laws, required him to disgorge $642,422 (plus interest), and imposed a $642,422 civil penalty. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the finding of liability and the financial awards. The extent of Goulding’s wrongdoing makes it hard to determine his net unjustified withdrawals; as the wrongdoer, he bears the consequence of uncertainty. The restitution reflects a conservative estimate of Goulding’s ill-got gains. Nor did the judge err by declining to trace funds from their source to Goulding’s pocket. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Goulding" on Justia Law

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Weller was convicted of insider trading, Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b). Fleming, a vice president of Life Time Fitness, had learned that his company was likely to be acquired by a private equity firm at an above-market price. Fleming told a friend, Beshey, who told Clark and Kourtis (who knew that the information had been misappropriated), who told others, including Weller. Most of them profited by trading on the information and showed their appreciation by “kickbacks.”Weller unsuccessfully argued that he did not know that Fleming violated a duty to his employer by passing the information to Beshey and that the government did not prove a financial benefit to Fleming. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions. Although Weller did not interact with all of the others, he did conspire with at least Kourtis to misuse material non-public information for their own benefit. The court upheld Weller’s 366-day below-Guidelines sentence, noting that Weller profited more than the others. View "United States v. Weller" on Justia Law

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The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act requires defendants convicted of certain crimes to reimburse their victims for “lost income and necessary child care, transportation, and other expenses incurred during participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense or attendance at proceedings related to the offense,” 18 U.S.C. 3663A(b)(4). The Second Circuit previously held that “other expenses” could include attorneys’ fees incurred by victims while helping the government investigate and prosecute the defendant and costs incurred while privately investigating the defendant. The Supreme Court subsequently held that “the words ‘investigation’ and ‘proceedings’ are limited to government investigations and criminal proceedings.”Afriyie was convicted of securities fraud after trading on inside information he misappropriated from his employer, MSD. The district court entered the restitution order, covering the fees MSD paid its law firm to guide MSD’s compliance with investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the SEC; to help prepare four MSD witnesses to testify at Afriyie’s criminal trial; and to represent MSD during the post-verdict restitution proceedings.The Second Circuit held that attorneys’ fees can sometimes be “other expenses” but a victim cannot recover expenses incurred while participating in an SEC investigation. Restitution is appropriate only for expenses associated with criminal matters; civil matters, including SEC investigations, even if closely related to a criminal case do not qualify. View "United States v. Afriyie" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit for fraud, rescission, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, fraudulent conveyance, and unjust enrichment alleging that defendants had misrepresented that collateral managers would exercise independence in selecting assets for collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants.The Second Circuit affirmed and held that plaintiffs have failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, reliance on defendants' representations. In this case, plaintiffs based their investment decisions solely on the investment proposals their investment advisor developed; the advisor developed these detailed investment proposals based on offering materials defendants provided and on the advisor's own due diligence; plaintiffs premised their fraud claims on the advisor's reliance on defendants' representations; but New York law does not support this theory of third-party representations. The court also held that plaintiffs have failed to establish that defendants misrepresented or omitted material information for two of the three CDO deals at issue—the Octans II CDO and the Sagittarius CDO I. The court explained that defendants' representations that the collateral managers would exercise independence in selecting assets were not misrepresentations at all, and defendants did not have a duty to disclose their knowledge of the hedge fund's investment strategy because this information could have been discovered through the exercise of due care. View "Loreley Financing (Jersey) No. 3 Ltd. v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law

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Guy Jean-Pierre, a corporate and securities attorney, aided an illegal stock trading operation. Through a series of self-dealing transactions, Jean-Pierre and his co-conspirators artificially inflated stock prices of a company they controlled. Jean- Pierre sent letters on the company’s behalf to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that contained false and misleading information and omitted material information from disclosures to potential investors. Jean-Pierre appealed his convictions for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud as to four of the twenty-eight counts of conviction, arguing the district court erred in admitting evidence that he had previously used his niece’s signature without her permission to submit attorney letters to a stock trading website. Jean- Pierre also argued that three of the four convictions should have been reversed because the district court declined to give a requested instruction reiterating the government’s burden as to a specific factual theory. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jean-Pierre" on Justia Law

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In 1999-2016, Wilkinson convinced approximately 30 people to invest $13.5 million in two hedge funds that he created. By 2008, Wilkinson lost the vast majority of their money. Wilkinson told them that the funds’ assets included a $12 million note with an Australian hedge fund, Pengana. The “Pengana Note” did not exist. Wilkinson provided fraudulent K-1 federal income tax forms showing that the investments had interest payments on the Pengana Note. To pay back suspicious investors, Wilkinson solicited about $3 million from new investors using private placement memoranda (PPMs) falsely saying that Wilkinson intended to use their investments “to trade a variety of stock indexes and options, futures, and options on futures on such stock indexes on a variety of national securities and futures exchanges.” In 2016, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a civil enforcement action against Wilkinson, 7 U.S.C. 6p(1).Indicted under 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, Wilkinson pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that he sent fraudulent K-1 forms and induced investment of $115,000 using fraudulent PPMs. The court applied a four-level enhancement because the offense “involved … a violation of commodities law and ... the defendant was … a commodity pool operator,” U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(20)(B). Wilkinson argued that he did not qualify as a commodity pool operator because he traded only broad-based indexes like S&P 500 futures, which fit the Commodity Exchange Act’s definition of an “excluded commodity,” “not based … on the value of a narrow group of commodities.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wilkinson’s plea agreement and PSR established that Wilkinson was a commodity pool operator. View "United States v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions for securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud, holding that Defendants' claims of trial and sentencing error were unavailing.Defendants were two biostaticians employed by two publicly traded biopharmaceutical companies. The jury found Defendants guilty of conspiracy of commit securities fraud and all counts of securities fraud with which they were charged. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in denying Defendants' motions for judgments of acquittal as to the conspiracy and securities fraud convictions; (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendants' motion to compel production of a letter from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority; (3) imposed sentences that were without error; and (4) did not err in awarding restitution. View "United States v. Chan" on Justia Law