Jason Napodano of Zacks Small Cap Research sued by SEC (and settles with them) and charged with criminal stock fraud for insider trading

Yesterday the SEC sued Jason Napodano of Zacks Small Cap Research as well as two other men, Bilal Basrai and Bryce Stirton. All three settled the civil suit without admitting or denying the allegations. See the SEC press release. In addition, the employer of all three men, LBMZ Securities (owner of Zacks), agreed to “pay a $240,000 penalty without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings that the firm failed to enforce policies and procedures designed to prevent its employees from misusing nonpublic information.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged a stock market analyst with insider trading prior to the publication of research reports and articles he authored with the false disclaimer that he wasn’t trading in the companies being covered.  He agreed to settle the charges and be barred from trading in penny stocks for the rest of his life.

The SEC alleges that Jason Napodano, who headed a division called Zacks Small Cap Research within a larger investment research firm, misled investors in penny stocks by representing that he wasn’t trading or holding positions in the companies he was writing about while secretly trading the same stocks based on nonpublic information about the publication date of his research.  In an effort to evade detection, Napodano allegedly limited his profits from each illegal trade by taking small positions and closing the positions shortly after his reports and articles were published.

In addition to a permanent penny stock bar, Napodano agreed to pay full disgorgement of his insider trading profits totaling $143,865.48 plus interest of $17,620.87 and a penalty of $143,865.48.  The settlement is subject to court approval.

Basrai agreed to settle the charges by paying disgorgement of his insider trading profits of $39,668.37 plus interest of $4,617.89 and a penalty of $39,668.37.  Stirton agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the allegations by paying disgorgement of his insider trading profits totaling $2,218.87 plus interest of $257.43 and a penalty of $2,218.87.  Basrai and Stirton also agreed to be barred from trading penny stocks and from working in the securities industry, with Stirton having the right to reapply after five years.

The parallel criminal charges (one count each of stock fraud) were filed in the Northern District of Illinois (press release) against Napodano and Basrai. Stirton was not criminally charged. From the press release about the criminal charge:

JASON NAPODANO, a former Managing Director of a Chicago investment research firm, used material, non-public information he obtained while preparing equity research reports about companies to purchase and sell stock in those companies, according to a criminal information filed in federal court in Chicago. The illegal trading profits netted Napodano approximately $143,000, the information states.

In a related case, BILAL BASRAI, a former Managing Director of a Chicago investment banking firm, used material, non-public information to earn approximately $37,157 in illegal profits from the purchase and sale of stock in three companies.  Through his legal counsel, Basrai authorized the U.S. Attorney’s Office to disclose that Basrai has cooperated with the government’s investigation and intends to plead guilty to the charge contained in the information.

This case seems to signal increasing aggressiveness on the part of the SEC — while I do know that the SEC is more aggressive against insider trading than many other violations of securities laws, I cannot recall any other time that the settlement (for anything) has included a complete ban from trading penny stocks as opposed to just a bar from participating in penny stock offerings (“barred from trading in penny stocks for the rest of his life.”).

According to the Charlotte Observer, Jason Napodano is currently running a biotech newsletter called Bio5C:

According to LinkedIn, Napodano worked at Zacks from 2003 to 2015. He then came to Charlotte, where he started a company called BioNap Consulting, then Bio5C. His biography says he “has significant experience as a pharmaceutical and biotechnology stock analyst,” as well as degrees from Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

The “code of conduct” page on the Bio5C web site includes this statement without attribution: “I have made terrible mistakes in the past when it comes to disclosure and personal trading. For these mistakes, I am truly ashamed and sorry. My mistakes, although now just public, were between 2013 and 2015. I learned a tough lesson. I’m committed to impeccable disclosure and ethics on Bio5C.”

 

Disclaimer. No position in any stocks mentioned and I have no relationship with anyone mentioned in this post. This blog has a terms of use that is incorporated by reference into this post; you can find all my disclaimers and disclosures there as well.

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