Every year at around this time, the Mintz Levin securities lawyers are busy collaborating with our December fiscal year-end clients to prepare for the annual year-end reporting season, involving a flurry of 10-Ks, proxy statements, governance review and upkeep, and related matters. Pam Greene and I have worked together for several years now (more than we would care to admit!) on what we fondly refer to as the “year-end kickoff memo,” which you can find here. Each year, we focus on a combination of new developments, reminders of things to keep in mind, and anticipated “hot topics” from the perspective of regulators, shareholders and companies themselves. We are pleased this year to have some terrific contributions to the memo from our partner Bret Leone-Quick, who focuses on securities litigation and related governance issues. We welcome your questions on the memo and look forward to working with all of you on this important annual process.
By Chip Phinney and Geoff Friedman
As we have discussed before, the SEC’s increased use of in-house administrative proceedings in enforcement actions involving allegations of fraud has been a subject of considerable debate. Commentators have questioned the fairness of proceedings where the SEC gains an automatic home field advantage by bringing claims before its own administrative law judges (ALJs), with appeals being heard by the SEC’s own commissioners. But a determined defense can still defeat the SEC by ensuring that it plays by the rules, as demonstrated by a decision issued last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for First Circuit in a case where Mintz Levin attorneys Jack Sylvia, Andy Nathanson, Jess Sergi, McKenzie Webster, and Geoff Friedman represented one of the petitioners.
The First Circuit vindicated two former employees of State Street Global Advisors (SSgA) who had been targeted by the SEC for alleged securities violations during the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis. Despite applying the highly deferential “substantial evidence” standard of review for agency factfinding, the First Circuit concluded that the SEC abused its discretion in holding Mintz Levin’s client, former SSgA Vice President James Hopkins, liable under Section 17(a)(1) of the Securities Act, Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act, and Exchange Act Rule 10b-5. The First Circuit also vacated the Commission’s order holding Mr. Hopkins’ co-defendant, SSgA CIO John Flannery, liable under Section 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act.
Continue Reading First Circuit Overturns SEC Commissioners’ Sanctions Order
Our Venture Capital & Emerging Companies practice group analyzed the SEC’s recently released equity crowdfunding rules (referred to by the SEC as “Regulation Crowdfunding”) in a concise and easy-to-digest article authored by Sam Effron and Kristin Gerber.
The article does a great job of highlighting some of the regulation’s shortcomings, such as the limits it places on amounts that can be raised (at both the company and investor level); the requirement that companies complete and file a new Form C; and certain ongoing reporting obligations for companies. In all, the added costs, burdens, and risks associated with complying with this regulation means that in most cases there are better alternatives (such as raises under Rule 506) for start-up companies looking to access the capital markets.
In her year and a half as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, Leslie R. Caldwell has repeatedly emphasized the importance of a company having a compliance program fine-tuned to its specific risks to prevent fraud and corruption and to best position the company in the event that misconduct nonetheless occurs.
On November 2, 2015, AAG Caldwell spoke extensively on this topic at the SIFMA conference in New York. She stated that when DOJ prosecutors are considering whether to charge a corporation criminally, they “look closely at whether compliance programs are simply ‘paper programs’ or whether the institution and its culture actually support compliance. [They] look at pre-existing programs, as well as remedial measures a company took after discovering misconduct – including efforts to implement or improve a compliance program.”
On November 3, the Criminal Division added a resource for evaluating compliance programs with the hiring of Hui Chen as Compliance Counsel for the Fraud Section. AAG Caldwell addressed this addition in her remarks at the SIFMA conference, noting that DOJ wanted “the benefit of the expertise of someone with significant high-level compliance experience across a variety of industries.” (Ms. Chen reportedly was head of anti-bribery and corruption at Standard Chartered and an Assistant General Counsel at Pfizer focusing on compliance before that). In the context of making charging decisions, Compliance Counsel “will help [DOJ] assess a company’s program, as well as test the validity of its claims about its program, such as whether the program truly is thoughtfully designed and sufficiently resourced to address the company’s compliance risks, or essentially window dressing.” Additionally, Compliance Counsel “will help guide Fraud Section prosecutors when they are seeking remedial compliance measures as part of a resolution with a company.” The idea is to require an effective program without being unduly burdensome.
AAG Caldwell specifically addressed speculation in the legal community that the hiring of compliance counsel was a precursor to a compliance defense. She said it is not and that review of a company’s compliance program will remain one of the several factors considered when DOJ considers whether to charge a company.
Originally created by Congress in 1990, the EB-5 program was intended to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Under a pilot immigration program first enacted in 1992 and regularly reauthorized since, certain EB-5 visas also are set aside for investors in Regional Centers designated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, based on proposals for promoting economic growth. Unscrupulous parties have on occasion taken advantage of interested parties and perpetrated schemes in this area on people who are understandably keen to take part in this otherwise very beneficial program.
On October 22, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, who oversees DOJ’s Civil Division, spoke at the 16th Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress and Best Practices Forum in Washington, D.C. In addressing “current law enforcement efforts that may bear on what the future holds,” Mizer led off with the recent memo by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on individual accountability. Mizer’s remarks complement those by the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, Leslie R. Caldwell, last month. For our previous discussions on the memo and Caldwell’s prior remarks click here and here.
Mizer emphasized a few points from the Yates memo, beginning with the one that has been most discussed: in order to qualify for cooperation credit, a corporation must identify all individuals involved in the wrongdoing and provide all relevant evidence implicating those individuals to the government. As Mizer bluntly stated, “this means no partial credit for cooperation that doesn’t include information about individuals.” He also stressed that the requirement applies to not only criminal but civil investigations, including False Claims Act investigations. Mizer called particular attention to the fact that “in order to qualify for the reduced multiples provision under the False Claims Act, the organization must voluntarily identify any culpable individuals and provide all material facts about those individuals.”
Mizer made two other points following on the Yates memo: both DOJ’s Criminal and Civil Divisions will focus on individuals from the outset of their investigations and DOJ criminal and civil attorneys “have been directed to cooperate to the fullest extent permitted by law at all stages of an investigation.” The latter is a point that Caldwell made early in her tenure overseeing the Criminal Division at the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund Conference. It was at that September 2014 conference that Caldwell announced a new procedure whereby qui tam complaints would be shared by the Civil Division with the Criminal Division as soon as the cases were filed and that attorneys in the Frauds Section of the Criminal Division would immediately review them to determine whether a parallel criminal case should be brought.
The public debate about the Yates memo has centered on whether it really says anything new. In apparent recognition of this debate, Mizer said the memo was issued “to reinforce the department’s commitment” to pursuing not just corporations but the individuals who caused the misconduct to occur and that it shows the “renewed commitment” to pursuing not just corporations but the culpable individuals. Mizer may be foreshadowing that results of this Criminal/Civil Division cooperation are on the horizon.
On Monday, October 19, I’ll be moderating a panel on Strategic Considerations for Navigating a Dual-track M&A and Initial Public Offering Pathway at the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Annual Conference here in Boston. I’ll be joined on the panel by Pete Zorn, Esq., VP of Corporate Development and General Counsel of Albireo Pharma; Stan Piekos, former CFO of NEXX Systems; and Joe Ferra, Managing Director in the Healthcare Investment Banking Group at JMP Securities. If you’re attending the ACC conference, we hope you can join us that day at 4:30 for what we expect will be a great discussion. Continue Reading ACC Annual Conference Panel: Dual-Track M&A and IPO Pathways
On October 13 from 1 – 2:30 pm ET, join Pam Greene and a panel of other experts for a timely webinar covering Regulation A+: Practical Tips and Guidance for Launching a Mini-IPO. Regulation A+ went into effect in June 2015 to allow private US and Canadian based companies to raise equity – up to $20 million under Tier I and up to $50 million under Tier II – from both accredited and nonaccredited investors, subject to certain limitations.
During this webinar, our distinguished panel, including Pam Greene, member in the Corporate and Securities Practice at Mintz Levin; TJ Berdzik, CFA, of StockCross Financial Services, Inc.; Maggie Chou, of OTC Markets; Yoel Goldfeder, of Vstock Transfer; and Rudy Singh, of S2 Filings, will discuss the legal and business considerations in launching a Tier II Regulation A+ offering, how investors can achieve liquidity through the OTC Market, and why many are calling Tier II offerings a “Mini-IPO”.
We hope you can take part in what is sure to be an informative discussion. Click here to register.
On September 22, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Criminal Division, Leslie R. Caldwell, spoke at the Global Investigations Review Conference in New York, addressing the recent memo by Deputy Attorney Sally Yates on individual accountability. Her comments provided a straightforward approach to how the Yates memo could play out in practice.
As recently reported in our Health Law & Policy Matters blog, a central tenet of the Yates memo is that in order to qualify for cooperation credit, a corporation must identify all individuals involved in the wrongdoing and provide all relevant evidence implicating those individuals to the government. AAG Caldwell explained “This means that companies seeking cooperation credit must affirmatively work to identify and discover relevant information about culpable individuals through independent, thorough investigations. Companies cannot just disclose facts relating to general corporate misconduct and withhold facts about the responsible individuals. And internal investigations cannot end with a conclusion of corporate liability, while stopping short of identifying those who committed the criminal conduct.“
Expanding upon DAG Yates’ remarks last week at NYU Law School, AAG Caldwell stated “We recognize, however, that a company cannot provide what it does not have. And we understand that some investigations – despite their thoroughness – will not bear fruit. Where a company truly is unable to identify the culpable individuals following an appropriately tailored and thorough investigation, but provides the government with the relevant facts and otherwise assists us in obtaining evidence, the company will be eligible for cooperation credit. We will make efforts to credit, not penalize, diligent investigations. On the flip side, we will carefully scrutinize and test a company’s claims that it could not identify or uncover evidence regarding the culpable individuals, particularly if we are able to do so ourselves.” AAG Caldwell also explicitly recognized that DOJ can sometimes obtain evidence that a corporation cannot.
To the extent that practitioners read the Yates memo as erecting an impossible hurdle to cooperation credit, AGG Caldwell’s remarks indicate that each case will be evaluated on its facts. AAG Caldwell made at least one other point worth noting: the Yates memo does not change existing DOJ policy regarding the attorney client privilege and work product protection. Prosecutors will not be seeking corporate waiver of these protections.
As originally reported on our Privacy & Security Matters blog, Mintz Levin will sponsor a webinar on September 30 at 1:00 p.m. (ET) to address regulatory compliance and risk management aspects of cyber attacks and data breaches at financial institutions and their service providers.
This topic is especially timely in light of the OCIE’s 2015 Cybersecurity Examination Initiative, announced just this week. For more details about the key aspects of the OCIE initiative and our upcoming webinar, please check out this excellent post on the Privacy & Security Matters blog. To register for the webinar, click here.