A California federal jury sided against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, June 6, finding the founder of storage device maker STEC Inc. not guilty on insider trading charges. This is the second insider trading loss in a week for the SEC, following a May 30 defeat in which a New York federal jury rejected insider trading allegations against three defendants, including hedge fund manager Nelson Obus.
In STEC, the SEC alleged that founder Manouchehr Moshayedi made a secret deal with a customer to conceal a drop in demand in advance of a secondary offering. According to the complaint, Moshayedi knew that one of STEC’s key customers, EMC Inc., would demand fewer of STEC’s most profitable products than analysts expected. The SEC alleged that he then made a secret deal that allowed EMC to take a larger share of inventory in exchange for a steep, undisclosed discount.
Summer is coming, but this is probably not the vacation Southern District of New York Judge Jed Rakoff had in mind. On June 4, 2014, the Second Circuit vacated Judge Rakoff’s order refusing to approve the SEC’s $285 million settlement with Citigroup regarding a 2007 collateralized debt obligation (“CDO”) offering. The highly anticipated opinion – the decision did not come down until more than a year after oral argument – sharply limits the instances in which a court may reject or even modify a Commission settlement, even when the SEC does not extract an admission of facts or liability. The decision, which comes at a time when the SEC has been seeking and obtaining more admissions from public companies in connection with settlements, is sure to have a significant impact on the agency’s future approach toward settlements and admissions.
Though the facts of the underlying case are almost a footnote at this point, the SEC had alleged that in 2007, Citigroup negligently represented its role and economic interest in structuring a fund made up of tranches of CDOs. As with similar allegations against Goldman Sachs and its ABACUS CDO, the SEC alleged that Citigroup hand-picked many of the mortgage-related assets in the fund while telling investors that the assets were selected by an independent advisor. The SEC further alleged that Citigroup chose mortgage-backed assets that it projected would decline in value and in which it had taken short positions. Thus, according to the SEC, Citigroup sold investors assets on the hope the CDOs would increase in value, while Citigroup had selected and bet against these same assets on the belief they would actually decrease in value. The SEC alleged that Citigroup was able to reap a substantial profit from shorting the assets it selected for the fund, while fund investors lost millions.
A trader who uses material nonpublic information to execute trades but does not personally benefit from the resulting gains may nonetheless face disgorgement of all profits, according to a recent Second Circuit opinion. In Securities Exchange Commission v. Contorinis, No. 12-1723, the Second Circuit affirmed a judgment from the Southern District of New York requiring defendant Joseph Contorinis, a former hedge fund manager at Jeffries & Co., to disgorge nearly $7.3 million in profits realized through an investment fund he had managed. The court rejected the argument a person can only disgorge profits that are personally enjoyed and instead found that disgorgement may also apply unlawful gains that flow to third parties. Relying on a principle that the limit for disgorgement is the total amount of gain flowing from illegal action, the Second Circuit concluded that district courts may impose disgorgement liability for gains that flow to third parties. Read More
As noted in a previous blog, in Police & Fire Retirement Systems of City of Detroit v. IndyMac MBS, Inc., 721 F.3d 95 (2d Cir. 2013), the Second Circuit held that tolling under American Pipe – which plaintiffs had often used to revive claims by relying on earlier-filed class actions – does not apply to statutes of repose, including Section 13 of the ’33 Act. The significance of IndyMac was felt in New Jersey Carpenters Health Fund, et al. v. Residential Capital, et al., No. 08 CV 8781, 08 CV 5093 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 18, 2013), where Hon. Harold Baer, Jr. was asked to reconsider his pre-IndyMac order denying defendants’ motion to dismiss a securities class action involving mortgage-backed securities. Upon reconsideration, Judge Baer dismissed one of the defendants, Deutsche Securities Inc., and several claims against other defendants, finding that intervening plaintiffs did not have standing to sue because the claims were not filed within the ’33 Act’s three-year statute of repose. As the case highlights, IndyMac’s effect will continue to be felt in pending cases – Judge Baer held that it should be applied retroactively – and will significantly limit the timing of future lawsuits.
In 2008, Rajat Gupta made a handful of short phone calls to his friend Raj Rajaratnam. The information that Gupta conveyed to Rajaratnam in those phone calls is now likely to cost Gupta millions of dollars, two years in prison, and the loss of his livelihood. These are the fateful consequences of the government’s use of wiretapping to uncover evidence of insider trading on Wall Street.
In June 2012, after a weeks-long trial and relying heavily on recorded conversations between Gupta and Rajaratnam, a jury convicted Gupta of three counts of federal securities fraud and one count of criminal conspiracy. The jury found that Gupta, a former director of Goldman Sachs, had provided Rajaratnam with material non-public information regarding Goldman’s then-unreported financial results and an imminent investment by Berkshire Hathaway at the height of the financial crisis. Though the court found that Gupta did not receive “one penny” in return for providing the information, he was convicted and ultimately sentenced by Judge Jed Rakoff to two years in prison and assessed a $5 million fine, a heavy penalty for his gratuitous generosity to his friend, Rajaratnam. To prove insider trading, the government is not required to prove that the “tippee” receive any direct financial benefit in recompense for transmitting material nonpublic information in violation of a duty of nondisclosure.
It is important to note that Gupta’s brief phone calls, which later became the key evidence used against Gupta in the criminal trial, were recorded by federal criminal prosecutors without Gupta’s knowledge or consent. (The SEC can seek to obtain wiretap evidence from criminal proceedings through civil discovery.) While the nation debates NSA snooping, this is a reminder that the Department of Justice could be listening to and recording your most sensitive domestic telephone conversations with court authorization. Gupta’s criminal prosecution was only possible because federal law enforcement officials had obtained warrants to record telephone communications of Gupta’s friend, Rajaratnam – telephone conversations that happened to include Gupta – based on evidence of possible insider trading. Gupta’s criminal conviction was then used to underpin his civil liability. The use of federal wire taps, previously the weapon of choice in organized crime prosecution, to generate the evidence needed to pursue both criminal and civil insider trading cases is a watershed moment in securities enforcement. Read More
On May 28, 2013, in Delshah Group LLC v. Javeri, a rare securities trial regarding credit-crisis related claims, Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order directing a complete defense judgment following a two-week bench trial. The decision includes a noteworthy discussion and analysis of loss causation in the context of credit crisis litigation—directly applicable to pending cases under Sections 10, 11 and 12—and highlights a tension between the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and longstanding securities law when it comes to proving culpable intent.
The case arose from a real estate investment gone bad. In March of 2007, plaintiff purchased interests in a venture called 40 Broad Street Project. That project sought to make a return on converting commercial real estate space into condominiums and thus take advantage of the rapidly rising value of condos in New York City. Plaintiffs claimed that defendant misrepresented how far along the building project was, whether it was under budget, and how much “skin in the game” defendants had in the project. When the credit crisis hit and the real estate market collapsed, plaintiff lost substantial sums on its investment and claimed the above misstatements were its cause. Read More
Few can ignite a legal firestorm like U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York. Last week, in a mortgage fraud suit against Bank of America and Countrywide, Judge Rakoff refused to dismiss a novel claim for civil penalties under the obscure Financial Institutions Reform Recovery Enforcement Act (“FIRREA”). The ruling will surely encourage civil prosecutors to make wider use of FIRREA, which provides a generous ten-year statute of limitations and low burden of proof, in pursuing financial fraud cases.
FIRREA was enacted in response to the Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s, as well as the fraud scandals that emerged during that era. The statute includes a clause imposing a civil penalty for mail and wire fraud and other violations “affecting a federally insured financial institution.” Until recently the civil penalty provision has been ignored by prosecutors, leaving courts without occasion to decide what exactly the statute means by “affecting” a financial institution. Read More
Almost two years after the Supreme Court issued its momentous decision in Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, 131 S. Ct. 2296 (2011), lower courts continue to reach significantly different conclusions concerning its scope. The Supreme Court held that, for purposes of SEC Rule 10b-5, “the maker of a statement is the person or entity with ultimate authority over the statement, including its content and whether and how to communicate it.” Id. at 2302. Specifically, in Janus, the Supreme Court held that an investment advisor could not be liable for statements in prospectuses filed by a related, but legally separate entity. Because the investment advisor did not “make” the statements—that is, did not have “ultimate authority” over them—it could not be liable as a primary violator of Rule 10b-5 for any misstatements or omissions contained therein.
Janus established a bright-line rule. But the Southern District of New York, in particular, has split over whether Janus applies beyond the context of private actions brought under Rule 10b-5(b). In the most recent decision from that district to address the issue, SEC v. Garber, No. 12 Civ. 9339, 2013 WL 1732571 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 22, 2013), Judge Shira A. Scheindlin deepened this divide. Read More
On April 16, 2013, Judge Victor Marrero conditionally approved a $600 million consent judgment between the SEC and CR Intrinsic Investors LLC (“CR”) where CR “neither admitted nor denied” the allegations brought against it. The settlement was on the heels of a highly publicized investigation and lawsuit regarding CR’s purported insider trading scheme involving S.A.C. Capital Advisors and former S.A.C. trader Mathew Martoma. Despite finding the proposed injunctive and monetary relief “fair, adequate, and reasonable, and in the public interest,” Judge Marrero questioned the appropriateness of the “neither admit nor deny” provisions because of the extraordinary public and private harm caused by CR’s alleged wrongful conduct.
Approval of the CR settlement was conditioned upon the outcome of the pending Second Circuit appeal in S.E.C. v. Citigroup Global Markets, Inc., 11-cv-5227 (2d Cir.). In Citigroup, Judge Rakoff (of the Southern District of New York) denied approval of the SEC’s proposed settlement of fraud charges against Citigroup. Rakoff’s opinion harshly critiqued the agency’s use of “no admission” settlements as imposing “substantial relief on the basis of mere allegations.” He questioned whether “no admission” settlements could be properly judged when the Court did not know the relevant facts and therefore “lack[ed] a framework for determining adequacy.” Both Citigroup and the SEC appealed Rakoff’s decision to the Second Circuit, where the decision remains pending. Read More
On April 8, 2013, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York granted auditor Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu CPA’s (“DTTC”) motion to dismiss a shareholder class action, finding that plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege scienter or any misstatements by DTTC pursuant Section 10(b) and Rule 10b-5 of the Securities Exchange Act. Plaintiffs alleged that DTTC issued unqualified audit opinions on behalf of its client Longtop from 2009 to 2011. During that period, Longtop reported very strong financial results, which were later revealed to be fraudulently inflated.
In May 2011, DTTC released a public letter of resignation as Longtop’s auditor, disclosing that its second round of bank confirmations were cut short by Longtop’s deliberate interference, that Longtop’s CEO admitted the company’s books were fraudulent, and that DTTC had resigned due to that admission and Longtop’s deliberate interference with its audit. As a result, the NYSE stopped trading on Longtop’s securities and delisted the company.
In dismissing shareholder claims against DTTC, the court applied the stringent test for plaintiffs to meet when alleging scienter against an auditor. Because “an outside auditor will typically not have an apparent motive to commit fraud, and its duty to monitor an audited company for fraud is less demanding than the company’s duty not to commit fraud,” an auditor’s mere failure to identify problems with a company’s internal controls and accounting practices will not constitute recklessness. Read More
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