Some belated updates on John Babikian, Awesome Pennystocks, Jay Fung, Eric Van Nguyen, & Anthony Thompson

I haven’t kept up with John Babikian (evidently the man behind Awesomepennystocks.com, perhaps the most successful stock promoter of its time) for the last couple years as not much has happened with him. But I did notice a few things have happened that I had not recorded on this blog, so here they are.

Babikian’s (now ex-) wife dropped her suit against Babikian in LA Superior Court three years ago. I have no clue what happened to the divorce proceedings (those are normally sealed in Quebec).

Request to drop suit (pdf)
Order dropping suit (pdf)

In October 2016 Jean-François Cloutier of Journal de Montreal wrote about Babikian’s former associate Robert Kalfayan and his alleged attempts to remove money from Canada to allegedly escape seizure by the tax authority (article in French). See previous article on Revenue Québec getting a lien on Kalfayan’s home.

Meanwhile, the SEC’s case against Anthony Thompson, Jay Fung, and Eric Van Nguyen (associated with Awesomepennystocks predecessor websites) continues. That case is:

1:14-cv-09126-KBF Securities and Exchange Commission v. Thompson et al
Katherine B. Forrest, presiding
Date filed: 11/17/2014

Currently the case is stayed pending the resolution of the parallel criminal case against Thompson, Fung, and Nguyen and the CEOs of five penny stock companies. If the criminal case (supposed to go to trial on September 27, 2017) does not immediately go to trial the civil case may continue per request of Thompson’s attorneys (docket 70; PDF copy). Below is the judge’s decision (hand-written on the last page of docket 70)

The criminal matter is New York State Court (Manhattan Supreme Court) case 3853/14. See the press release about the original indictment.

Back on May 16th, 2016 the judge ordered a bunch of the charges dropped, including larceny charges, because they were deemed not to fit the crime. The order described in that article can be found on Justia.

I should mention that while the promoters were the ones who became infamous, they were not the alleged mastermind(s). Instead, that was allegedly Kevin Sepe (who was not charged in the case). From the statement of facts in the order I linked above:

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The indictment arises from 9 alleged fraudulent “penny stock” “pump and dump” schemes. A penny stock is one which trades for less than $5 per share, is not listed on the NASDAQ and requires limited disclosure, making investments more risky and volatile. The company shares in this case traded for pennies or fractions of pennies but the conduct here also involved millions of shares. Those companies and their ticker symbols (the symbols which designated the companies on the market) were: Blast Applications (BLAP), Blue Gem Enterprises (BGEM), Recyle Tech (RCYT), Hydrogenetics (HGYN), Xynergy Holdings (XYNH), Mass Hysteria Entertainment Company Inc. (MHYS), Lyric Jeans (LYJN), SunPeaks Ventures (SNPK) and Smart Holdings (SMHS) (hereinafter sometimes referred to as the “subject companies”).

The architect and orchestrator of the scheme was Kevin Sepe. The remaining defendants, as described infra, were either affiliates of Kevin Sepe or stock promoters who worked with him to implement the alleged frauds. The Defendants’ work with the companies followed a similar pattern. A publicly traded “shell” company (a company with no substantial business) would be [*3]identified and Mr. Sepe and his affiliates would then act to merge a private company they controlled into the shell company. This allowed the shares of the new company to be freely traded without a waiting period. Money would be loaned to the company and then the loan would be converted into equity through the receipt of shares of the company stock as a substitute for the repayment of the debt. A stock promotion would then take place. Typically, there would have been very little trading in the company’s stock prior to the promotion. Immediately prior to the beginning of the promotion, however, some shares might be leaked into the market so that regulators would not see that a company went immediately from having no shares traded to a large trading volume.

The shares held by Sepe and his affiliates would rise in value following the promotion. Sepe and his affiliates would sell the shares at huge profits. The promotional campaign would then end. The share price would then rapidly decline. Kevin Sepe and his affiliates knew, in advance, that the stocks would follow this pattern pursuant to the beginning and end of internet marketing campaigns and scheduled and coordinated their stock sales accordingly. In each case, the sales and profits followed the pre-arranged pattern.

A key part of the scheme was to conceal the fact that Kevin Sepe controlled a vast portion of the trading shares. To conceal his ownership, his shares were placed in the names of multiple loyal nominees including Defendants Luz Rodriguez and Joseph Dervali who then sold their shares and split the profits with Kevin Sepe. In addition to concealing his ownership and control, having shares held by these nominees allowed Sepe to evade requirements that persons who held more than 5% of the shares of a company be disclosed.

Kevin Sepe was sued by the SEC back in 2012 for his involvement in the pump and dump of Recycle Tech and HydroGenetic and he settled that case. “Sepe agreed to disgorgement of $1,416,466.16, prejudgment interest of $126,761.86, and penalties of $185,000 as well as a permanent bar from participating in an offer or sale of penny stocks.” As with most SEC settlements, Sepe neither admitted nor denied the allegations in the settlment.

 

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.

 

John Babikian update: SEC settles with him, his assets sold off by Revenue Quebec

The SEC settled its lawsuit with John Babikian two weeks ago. This lawsuit, for the promotion and scalping of the stock of America West Resources (defunct now, traded as AWSR then). To the untrained eye, this looks like a tiny slap on the wrist considering all the stock promotions Babikian has run. But the suit against Babikian for AWSR was likely brought in a hurry because of his attempts to liquidate his American assets. As FINRA and the SEC already had investigated AWSR in connection with John Thomas Financial, it was easy to put together a quick lawsuit against Babikian showing that he scalped his promotion. Only the one stock was covered in that SEC lawsuit so the SEC is free to bring more suits against Babikian. Also there is the possibility of criminal charges against Babikian, as pointed out in this Oregon Live article that discusses his investment in an Oregon vineyard:

There remains the possibility the SEC opted to settle to make way for federal prosecutors. If the Department of Justice opts to bring a criminal case against Babikian then Martin’s situation could get more complicated, not less.

Below is from the press release by the SEC:

U.S. SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Litigation Release No. 23039 / July 8, 2014

Securities and Exchange Commission v. John Babikian, Civil Action No. 14-CV-1740 (S.D.N.Y.)

Court Enters Final Judgment Against Promoter in Settlement of Microcap Stock Scalping Case and Orders $3.73 Million in Sanctions

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that the Honorable Paul A. Crotty of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a final judgment on July 8, 2014, against defendant John Babikian in the Commission action styled, SEC v. John Babikian, Civil Action No. 14-CV-1740 (S.D.N.Y.). The Court entered the final judgment, to which Babikian consented without admitting or denying the allegations in the Commission’s Complaint. The final judgment orders Babikian to pay a total of $3,730,000, comprised of $1,915,670 in disgorgement, together with prejudgment interest in the amount of $128,073, and a civil penalty in the amount of $1,686,257. The final judgment also imposes a bar from participating in any offering of penny stock and enjoins Babikian from recommending, directly or indirectly, the purchase of any U.S. publicly traded or quoted stock without simultaneously disclosing any plans or intentions to sell such stock within 14 days of the recommendation. Finally, the final judgment permanently enjoins Babikian from violating Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933 (15 U.S.C. § 77q(a)), Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (15 U.S.C. § 78j(b)) and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder (17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5).

The Commission’s complaint, filed on March 13, 2014, alleged that Babikian used AwesomePennyStocks.com and its related site PennyStocksUniverse.com, collectively “APS,” to commit a brand of securities fraud known as “scalping.” The APS websites disseminated e-mails to approximately 700,000 people shortly after 2:30 p.m. Eastern time on the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2012, and recommended the penny stock America West Resources Inc. (AWSRQ). What the e-mails failed to disclose among other things was that Babikian held more than 1.4 million shares of America West stock, which he had already positioned and intended to sell immediately through a Swiss bank. The APS emails immediately triggered massive increases in America West’s share price and trading volume, which Babikian exploited by unloading shares of America West’s stock over the remaining 90 minutes of the trading day for ill-gotten gains of more than $1.9 million.

The Commission wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the Quebec Autorité des Marchés Financiers and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Disclaimer: I have no position in any stock mentioned. I have no relationship with any parties mentioned above. 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.

Update on SEC v. Babikian

From May 12th, 2014:

Filed & Entered: 05/12/2014: Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Motion

37-1 (PDF)
37-2 (PDF)
37-3 (PDF)
37-4 (PDF)
37-5 (PDF)
37-6 (PDF)
37-main (PDF)

Many of the exhibits above relate to the troubles Babikian’s shell company Oriwa Villas SA has had selling the 1401 Londonderry property in Los Angeles — the buyer wired money to Oriwa but Oriwa did not record a deed transferring the property to the buyer.

Disclaimer: No position in any stock mentioned above. I have no relationship with any parties mentioned above. 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.

A Win in court for John Babikian of Awesomepennystocks

John Babikian of Awesomepennystocks.com won a reduction in the size of the asset freeze against him and also had the writs of attachment against his fractional interest in a NetJets plane, two houses in Los Angeles, and his vineyard vacated.

See the document on Scribd:

Case 1:14-cv-01740-PAC Document 36-1 Filed 04/30/14 Page 1 of 3


Disclaimer: I have no position in any stock mentioned above. I have no relationship with any parties mentioned above. 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.

 

Where in the world is John Babikian? Probably in the UAE

It is time for another John Babikian update. And as always we must ask, where in the world is he? Lebanon, UAE, and Russia are all possible. My current bet is the UAE (United Arab Emirates). I will explain why below.


It turns out that Babikian’s Seychelles shell company Middlebay Trade Ltd. had purchased a vineyard in The Dalles, Oregon. See coverage of this in The Oregonian and The Dalles Chronicle. The SEC obtained a writ of attachment for that vineyard and for Babikian’s houses in California so that those properties will not be sold. See the SEC’s complaint (pdf) against Babikian. Here is the SEC press release from March 13th about obtaining an asset freeze against Babikian.

SEC v. Babikian Doc 6 Filed 13 Mar 14 by scion_scion

By the way, follow Scion_scion on Scribd to see updates to the legal case against Babikian.

Today the SEC filed a detailed declaration (PDF) in seeking a temporary restraining order and asset freeze. This document (also shown below through Scribd) gives some details not previously disclosed. It also shows that the SEC has relied a lot on Babikian’s ex-wife’s lawsuits, which goes to show that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Also, this document explicitly links Robert Kalfayan to Babikian — something that has been known by penny stock researchers for years but with the SEC stating it the odds increase that he will be named in a suit soon. It is also quite possible that he or others are cooperating with the SEC. Kalfayan’s company is directly linked to paying for some Awesomepennystocks.com (APS) emails (see page 6 of the declaration).

Other interesting tidbits include the fact that Babikian acquired his ASWR shares directly from the company in a PIPE and deposited them at John Thomas Financial and from there he transferred the shares to an account at Frankfurter Bank (Brown Brothers Harriman was the US custodian of the shares). On the day that AWSR was pumped he sold a number of shares from that account and also transferred some shares to an account held at Apex Clearing and sold some from that account. (On a side note, John Thomas Financial collapsed after being investigated by FINRA and the SEC for its involvement with AWSR.)

Getting back to the question in the title of this blog post, I believe that Babikian is in the UAE because NetJets recently agreed to repurchase the fractional jet ownership interest of Vertical International Relief Fund (Babikian’s front charity – see info PDF) for substantially below market cost. And:

Babikian has requested that NetJets wire the proceeds to an account in the name of “Elementos Ltd.” at a financial institution in the United Arab Emirates named Emirates NBD [page 17 of document below]

SEC v. Babikian Doc 15 Filed 21 Mar 14 by scion_scion

Disclaimer: No position in any stock mentioned above. I have no relationship with any parties mentioned above except that I am a paying subscriber of PromotionStockSecrets. 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.

The End of Awesomepennystocks.com: Eric Van Nguyen says he was betrayed by John Babikian

I apologize for the slowness of this post. Life (and trading) have been quite busy this month. Jean-Francois Cloutier posted a new article about Awesomepennystocks.com / John Babikian on January 7th. Read the article (in French) in the Journal de Montreal. Below is a translation for those who don’t read French. See my prior post about Babikian. I think it is quite clear that Eric Van Nguyen’s portrayal of his involvement is self-serving — he is far from innocent.

 

A former close associate of John Babikian, the mysterious 26 year old Montreal resident who is being targeted by the AMF [Quebec securities commission] and Revenue Quebec (Quebec tax authority), says that he was betrayed by Babikian in the promotion of penny stocks.

Eric Van Nguyen defends himself by saying that he was naive in “lending” his account and name for some tens of thousands of dollars to Babikian so that Babikian coule promote penny stocks.

“At that time, I had no idea that this would become this big — you mustn’t doubt.”

Our investigative bureau succeeded in finding this young Quebec man  who had been accused in 2009 along with Babikian of stealing a list of email addresses.

Van Nguyen says that he sold all his penny stock promotion websites in 2012. He did not want to reveal anything about the buyer of the websites other than that the buyer was outside of North America.

This man, who says that he initiated Babikian into the world of penny stocks, is extremely secretive and he has been invisible on the internet for several years. He has no Facebook account. Numerous acquantinces that he knew from his studies at Concordia University have no news of him. Rumors on the internet suggest that he is even in Singapore.

The luxurious mansion that he lives in in West Island is not in his name.

If he is still in Quebec despite the troubles of his old associate, it is because he was worried about his parents, he said.

“I could travel, sure, but I don’t want to leave my parents to deal with my problems. There are a lot of people who come to their door” since the publication of articles on John Babikian. [One of the addresses used for Golden Dragon Media appears to belong to his parents — that is easy information to find.]

Babikian wanted to hide himself

Eric Van Nguyen says that he met Babikian in 2009. At that time, he was himself already involved in the business of promoting penny stocks. His company, Golden Dragon Media, registered in Quebec, is behind a network of stock promotion websites. These sites send newsletters promoting speculative stocks that cost pennies.

“He wanted to know my techniques,” said Van Nguyen.

According to Van Nguyen, John Babikian paid him to use an account at PR Newswire. He was also able to manage websites affiliated with Golden Dragon Media (including Pennystockslove.com, Loveforstocks.com and Unrealstocks.com).

“Today, because of that, my name is in the garbage. He betrayed me — he ruined my name,” said Van Nguyen.

Why would John Babikian have wanted to use Van Nguyen’s name rather than his own, we asked him.

“He never wanted his own name to appear. The SEC had begun to scrutinize the stock promotion business.”

We were not able to reach John Babikian.

Revenue Quebec and the AMF want to meet him again

According to Van Nguyen, the world of pennystocks is just like a lottery.

“One can easily lose everything if you invest in them. To be frank, this is not an extremely white business. It is not black either but certainly grey,” he says. When promotion involves the use of spam emails “it becomes black” according to him.

Van Nguyen even mentions  the presence of a member of the Montreal Mafia in the world of penny stocks.

Van Nguyen saws that agents from Revenue Quebec met him recently to understand how he became rich. The AMF (securities regulator) also asked him questions, but he refused to respond. Too risky, according to him.

“There is talk of an FBI investigation in the USA. One would also think that the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] is also investigating,” he said.

More liens by Revenue Quebec

Revenue Quebec has been granted new liens on $6.6 million worth of John Babikian’s assets. Oddly, none of the properties are in his name. At least one director of a numbered company linked to Babikian, Rawad Adra, appears to be completely fictitious

Three properties adjacent to Babikian’s luxurious mansion on Rue des Anemones (Street of the Anemones) in Laval. 

Value: $2.1 million
Area: 5665 square meters
Official owner: 9264-5076 Quebec Inc
Administrator: Rawad Adra
Shareholder: Tidal East Global
Relief: Robert Kalfayan, Gerard Babikian, Leonnel Iruke [I am unclear what this means in this context]

Sixteen properties in Nominingue, in the Laurentians, around Lake Lafleche

Value: $4.5 million
Total area: 360,478 square meters
Official owner: 9292-2095 Québec inc.
Administrators: Alima Beg, Ehsan Haque
Shareholders: None

 

Disclaimer: I am currently short USTU which is currently being promoted by Pennystocks.com, which up until at least the last stock promotion was run by the same people running Awesomepennystocks.com (presumably John Babikian). I have no relationship with any parties mentioned above. 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.

More on John Babikian: Synopses of three new articles in Journal de Montreal

I will update this post as I complete translations or synopses of the articles. The original articles are in French.

29 November: Une mère monoparentale se souviendra longtemps de Babikian (A single mother will remember Babikian for a long time)

29 November: Une fraude, selon un expert (A fraud, according to an expert)

27 November: Le mystérieux multimillionnaire Babikian dans la mire de l’AMF (The mysterious multimillionaire Babikian in the sights of the Quebec tax authorities)

For my own part, I can state that the AMF (Quebec tax authority) is very aggressively pursuing leads on the whereabouts and assets of John Babikian. They are putting a lot of time and manpower into this.

Highlights of the oldest article:

Jose Lorrea, the current owner of a condo formerly belonging to John Babikian, was interviewed by Xavier Saint-Pierre and David Gallant for a half hour.

“They wanted to know what I knew about the sale of the condo,” he said. He bought the condo on April 4th, 2013 for C$447,000. John Babikian was never present for the sale of the condo and was represented by his parents, Gérard Babikian and Laudy Khairallah.

Babikian acquired the condo in 2009 in the name of a numbered company for the price of C$348,881. During the sale, Babikian declared that he had never been married or in a civil union. However, this is contradicted by a marriage filing with the Montreal court on July 31, 2010.

The Quebec tax authority recently obtained a judgement against John Babikian for C$1.78 million for taxes owed in 2011. According to the judgement on November 21, Babikian must pay C$1,782,518.55 and daily interest from November 22nd. This is in addition to prior judgments against Babikian for taxes owed for the years 2008 to 2010.

Highlights of the second article:

 The case of Sunpeaks Ventures (SNPK), promoted by websites linked to John Babikian, is clearly a stock fraud, according to a former SEC lawyer, Gary Aguirre.

[The article describes how pump and dumps work — which is unnecessary for my readers]

Mr. Aguirre envisaged that there would be a year to file a class action against Sunpeaks Ventures and Awesomepennystocks, after having received many calls from investors who had been fleeced in the pump and dump. However, he was not able to find the person or persons who ran the scheme.

“These are moving targets — they hide themselves behind offshore entities. It is extremely troubling that neither the SEC nor the FBI have yet acted in this case, because only they can unmask the masterminds of this scheme.”

Highlights of the most recent article:

 The sad history of a single mother from the Chicago area who lost money in an Awesomepennystocks pump and dump can in part explain how John Babikian acquired a huge fortune.

Amy, a 57 year old American, contacted us soon after our first article about John Babikian.

“I don’t know who gave them my address, but I regularly received promotional announcements about certain companies,” she said. In March 2012, she received emails about a company in the business of distributing specialized medicines. The company, Sunpeaks Ventures, was said to be at the point of commercializing their multivitamin product designed for people taking anti-coagulant drugs.

Amy confessed that she had wanted to buy about $35,00 worth of Sunpeaks stock because of her enthousiasm for the product Clotamin. “They said that they were at the point of signing an agreement with Walgreens,” she said.

She ended up investing more and eventually losing over $100,000 on Sunpeaks stock. “I live day to day — $100,000 — that was all my retirement savings. I don’t know how I will get out of this,” she said.

Disclaimer: I have no position in any stocks mentioned and no relationship with any parties mentioned above. 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.

The End of Awesomepennystocks.com: John Babikian flees Canada

A year ago, when Infitialis wrote an article on PRTN on SeekingAlpha, they listed five people as being likely to be behind Awesomepennystocks.com (APS) and its related stock promotion websites. SeekingAlpha was threatened with a libel lawsuit (pdf) so that article was revised and the names were removed. I found a copy of the earlier version of that article still online here. One of the people mentioned as likely to be behind APS was John Babikian.

Babikian was just featured in two articles in the Journal de Montreal (in French):
Les Américains s’intéressent aussi au mystérieux millionnaire – 2013-10-22 (free version)
Le fisc veut sa Bugatti Veyron – 2013-10-20 (English version at the Toronto Sun)

These articles discuss his enormous wealth and the taxes he has not paid. A source told me that there will be more articles to follow and that they will link Babikian to Awesomepennystocks and detail where exactly his money came from.

See my article from yesterday on Awesomepennystocks.com retiring.

Here is an excerpt from the English version of the first article:

MONTREAL – Financial authorities in Canada and the U.S. are searching for John Babikian, a mysterious Montreal playboy who amassed a $100-million fortune in a few short years before moving to Monaco.

The 26-year-old entrepreneur left behind luxury items including a $2-million mansion north of Montreal, a 2008 Bugatti Veyron and 2010 Bentley Continental, QMI Agency has learned.

Revenue Quebec is now chasing the millionaire for back taxes.

Tax authorities allege $11.5 million in income was hidden from the government between 2008 and 2010. Babikian reported $47,677 in income in 2008, documents say.

Quebec’s AMF financial watchdog and its American counterpart, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC ), also want to know how Babikian earned his keep.

Here is a full translation (by me) of the second article:

The origin of the mysterious fortune of Montreal resident John Babikian, estimated at C$100 million, attracted not only the attention of the Quebec tax authorities but also of the American authorities.

The spokesperson for the AMF (l’Autorité des marchés financiers), Sylvain Theberge, indicated to our research bureau that his American counterpart, the SEC, had contacted the AMF about Babikian in 2011.

“The SEC was investigating this gentleman  and they asked us to help them identify him,” he said.

For its part, the SEC refused to confirm the existence of an investigation. “When we take action against someone it becomes public then,” said a spokesperson for the the SEC in New York.

Acorrding to documents prepared by a lawyer of the Bank of Montreal, John Babikian launched his business at the age of 19. He created a company specializing in internet marketing, J.B. Marketing.

Babikian became a specialist in spam. At the time the he opened a business account at the Bank of Montreal in 2006 he disclosed that he earned $24,000 per year, according to documents.

However, his company J.B. Marketing rapidly sent hundreds of thousands of dollars into his bank account. These sums came from nebulous and hard to trace sources.

In March 2010 the Bank of Montreal closed his bank accounts because Babikian, according to the bank, did not furnish satisfactory explanations of where the money was coming from.

[Edit 2013-10-30]: The wife of John Babikian (who just last month filed for divorce in Quebec), sued him in California for fraud for his actions to sell their properties in California while depriving her of her rightful share of the proceeds. See her legal complaint. Credit for finding that lawsuit goes to Infitialis.

The two properties that are discussed in that lawsuit are 1401 Londonderry Place, Los Angeles, CA and 642 North Laurel Avenue Los Angeles, CA (links are to Zillow). The Londonderry house was purchased in March 2012 for $6 million and is currently estimated to be worth $10.5 million by Zillow. The Laurel Avenue house was purchased in December 2010 for $2.2 million and is now estimated by Zillow to be worth $2.7 million. Babikian’s wife alleges that he fraudulently transferred the title of the Laurel Avenue house to Middlebay Trade Ltd., a Republic of Seychelles entity that he secretly controls. The transfer to Middlebay Trade Ltd. is shown by property records.

I also credit Infitialis with finding Babikian’s wife’s divorce suit in Quebec, even though the complaint has been sealed. After posting the lawsuit here I received a request from the lawyer representing Babikian’s wife requesting that I redact her client’s name. Because she asked nicely and admitted that the I was not prohibited by the law from disseminating the lawsuit (because US privacy laws are much looser than Canadian ones), and because her client’s divorce suit will likely help to send Babikian and his colleagues to prison, I have complied with her request and thus have the redacted copy of the lawsuit here (pdf). That redacted copy of the suit is at Promotion Stock Secrets’ website (see their excellent post on Babikian and Awesomepennystocks.com).

[Edit 2013-10-25] A third article has been posted on the Journal de Montreal: Une Fortune Cachee dans les Paradis Fiscaux. Below is my translation:

Passports from four countries, bank accounts in ten tax havens and an encrypted Blackberry destroyed each week, John Babikian, the mysterious 26 year old Montreal multimillionaire , took extreme measures to protect his money.

New information obtained by our research bureau shows that the the multitalented former student of La Dauversiere in the north of Montreal has built a veritable offshore empire. This portfolio has had repercussions in the United States with an investigation by the SEC.

The famous Bugatti Veyron worth $1.5m appeared in the Grand Prix of Montreal in June and is only the tip of the iceberg of an immense fortune for this businessman, according to the allegations in court documents that we consulted.

A wine collection worth $1m and two sculptures by New York sculptor Arturo di Modica worth $600,000 are among the belongings that Babikian has removed from Quebec over the last few months.

Babikian also owns nine condos win the Bahamas of which seven are owned in the name of a shell company according to our sources. He also bought a Pagani Huara in Italy, a luxury car that costs $1.1m.

No less than twenty bussinesses and so-called charities, most of which are completely empty shells in tax havens, help to hide other riches according to the documents we have consulted.

John Babikian has taken extreme measures to evade the watchful eyes of investigators.

“He runs his affairs solely with specially encrypted Blackberrys that he uses for a few days or weeks before he destroys and replaces them,” court documents allege.

After destroying each smartphone and breaking it into multiple pieces that he tosses into different garbage cans “so that it is absolutely impossible … to access the information that they hold”, according to those court documents.

John Babikian also has a special portable device from HSBC Bank in Hong Kong that lets him make international wire transfers from anywhere in the world.

From the infographic at the top of the article detailing some of Babikians holdings:

John Babikian travels in a private Gulfstream jet owned by NetJets. His account with NetJets is in the name of the shell charity “Vertical International Relief Fund”

Hong Kong – Babikian has bank accounts

Seychelles – Multiple shell companies (Middlebay Trade Ltd., Liner Investments Ltd., Intelligent Alliance Corp., Auorora Intour Ltd., Monolith Ventures)

Lebanon – Babikian is a citizen

Malta – Babikian has bank accounts

Monaco – Babikian has two bank acocunts

St. Kitts and Nevis – Babikian is a citizen, has shell companies, and owns real estate

Panama – Shell companies (Montblue Commerce, Nothingham Group, Normandia Capital)

British Virgin Islands – Shell companies (Arrow Import & Export Corporation, Antica Ventures)

Bahamas – Nine condos (seven of which are in the name of a shell company, John Jack Ventures), bank account, company (Kenora Overseas)

Quebec – Numbered companies (9264-5076 Quebec Inc, Bargainoo Est), charity (Tidal East Global Relief)

United States – Two houses in California worth $8.2m, a shell company (Oriwa Villas Ltd), shares of companies, charity organization

Belize – Bank accounts, companies (Antica Ventures Ltd., Mediasky Holdings Ltd., Beddington Marketing)

Guatemala – Diplomatic passport, had taken steps to start a private bank, shell company (One Berger Circle)

 

Disclaimer: I have no position in any stock mentioned and I have no relationship with any parties mentioned above. 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.

Reconsidering George Sharp: An Enigmatic penny stock crusader

Motivation is everything. In the penny stock world, most participants’ motivation is plain: greed. The stock manipulators and promoters do what they do so they can get rich quickly. For the most part, their choices are risky and unethical but smart: only some of them pay the ultimate price of going to prison. Many end up paying settlements on only a portion of their fraudulent activity and still end up with a nice profit and a retirement in some sunny locale. On the other hand, the buyers of penny stocks are stupid and greedy: the vast majority will lose most of their money. A few will make nice profits but only those who are cynical, smart, and a little lucky. There are also the regulators: they are motivated by a combination of trying to achieve justice and trying to make themselves look good and advance their careers.

But there is another group involved in penny stocks that many ignore. These are the amateur sleuths, the gadflies, the crusaders against fraud. Some of them are traders, although they are motivated not just by profits — they put effort into research and whistleblower tips to the SEC even when they have no position. But some of the most prolific anti-fraud crusaders don’t even trade penny stocks. There are just a handful of whom I’m aware although I am sure there are others who submit whistleblower complaints to the SEC and never mention things publicly. The most famous is Yolanda Holtzee, who has been doing this for over a decade and seemingly knows every single SEC enforcement agent of note as well as FBI agents and US Attorneys. Janice Shell is also quite well known and she has been posting on investorsHub (primarily on the DD Support Board and Fraud Research Team) for longer than I can remember. The WSJ wrote about her in 2000. Another researcher, known only as ‘nodummy’, has posted on InvestorsHub and then when he saw his research on pump and dumps being used by others to profit from trading those stocks, started a service offering his research (Promotion Stock Secrets, now known as Pennystocks.buzz). I have repeatedly linked to his research, particularly on AwesomePennystocks.

But writing about penny stock frauds and informing regulators about them is one thing. It would be quite another thing to actually do something to directly impede the fraud. That brings me to the most enigmatic penny stock crusader I’ve encountered: George Sharp. The reason to bring him up now is that I just recently came across the news from last June 13th that he had been retained by OTCMarkets.com as a consultant. Before getting into that, I should review what I have previously written about Sharp.

I first became aware of George Sharp (or at least his actions) back in 2011 because of his legal battle with Michael Osborn, a convicted felon at the time who was later convicted of another felony and lost a libel suit brought by Sharp. Also, on May 17th, 2011 George Sharp filed a lawsuit against Writers Film Group (WRIT), an AwesomePennyStocks promotion. This wasn’t even his first lawsuit against a public company. It appears that his first lawsuit was on September 24th, 2010 against Yasheng Eco-Trade Corporation (that suit was filed on 10/19/2009 as 37-2009-00100574-CU-MC-CTL in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego ). He also acquired some attention by suing Arena Pharmaceuticals (a real biotech; not just a pure pump & dump scam).

If you search for Sharp, George on the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego case locator (in San Diego city only to exclude a few cases that involve a different George Sharp), you can see just how litigious Sharp has been (while I am sure that most of the suits below were filed by Sharp, I have not examined every one and it is possible that one or two of them were filed by a different George Sharp). In chronological order, the public companies that Sharp sued were Yasheng Eco-Trade Corporation (10/19/2009), Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA; 9/27/2010), Cuba Beverage Company (CUBV; 4/22/2011), Forex International Trading Corp (FXIT and FXITE; 6/13/2011), IDO Security Inc (IDOI; 7/23/2012), Citadel EFT Inc (CDFT; 2/13/2013), USA Graphite Inc (USGT; 2/20/2013), Xumanii Inc (XUII; 5/13/2013), 3D Eye Solutions Inc (TDEY; 6/24/2013), Clean Enviro Tech Corp (CETC; 6/26/2013), Avis Rent a Car System Inc (this was just a consumer complaint in small claims court; 4/22/2014), America Exploration Resources Inc (AREN; 8/20/2015), and Writ Media Group Inc (WRIT; 7/27/2016). In addition to these lawsuits against public companies (all but Avis and Arena Pharmaceuticals traded over the counter and were allegedly pump and dump scams), Sharp sued LKP Global Law LLP (2/10/2015), which had represented penny stock companies, and Stocktips.com (3/11/2015), a stock promoter. This list is not even exhaustive because Sharp filed other lawsuits in other jurisdictions, including a lawsuit against Writers’ Film Group (WRIT) filed on 9/4/2011 (Los Angeles County Division of California Superior Court Case No. BC461550).

Details on a few of the lawsuits

Note: Most of all of these suits were filed with numerous John Doe defendants whose names were added to the lawsuit once their names became known to Sharp. Rather than show only the names listed in the original complaint for each of the lawsuits I have shown every name listed as a defendant on the list of parties to the lawsuits. In parentheses after each company that was a public company I have included its ticker at the time of the lawsuit.

George Sharp v. Writers’ Film Group (WRIT), Armada International Inc, Christina Kueber, John Diaz, Front Row Networks Inc, Ariella Kapelner, Tal Kapelner, Michael Sullivan, Philip Kueber 

Writers’ Film Group (WRIT) was promoted by Crazypennystocks.com and related websites (a predecessor to AwesomePennyStocks) back in 2011. This is the first lawsuit of Sharp’s I remember seeing. Sharp filed his lawsuit against the company on 9/4/2011 (Los Angeles County Division of California Superior Court Case No. BC461550) and put out a press release about the lawsuit. Defendants Philip Kueber, Christina Kueber, Michael Sullivan, and Armada International were all added as Doe defendants after the suit was filed. Sharp filed for dismissal against defendants Tal Kapelner, Ariella Kapelner, and John Diaz on 2/8/2012. A press release by Writers’ Film Group in 2013 referring to the Kapelners and Diaz states “the settlement stated that they did not engage in any wrongdoing.” Sharp filed for the case against Writers’ Film Group and the remaining defendants to be dismissed on 2/24/2012. In both cases the dismissals were with prejudice (meaning that Sharp could not re-file the suit later). This is one of the most common endings for civil suits and is usually indicative of a settlement of some kind. Unfortunately for bystanders like us, there is no way to know details of such a settlement most of the time — a settlement could be big or small and could favor either side. Sharp litigated the whole case in propria persona (without an attorney). Among Sharp’s suits, this was one of the shortest (lasting about six months).

(Note: the register of parties incorrectly spells the last names of Christina and Philip Kueber as ‘Keuber’. Philip Kueber is best known for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit stock fraud in the case of Cynk Technology).


However, the settlement was actually made public in George Sharp’s subsequent lawsuit against WRIT Media Group (slightly different name, same corporate shell, same ticker). From that complaint:

On or about February 16, 2012, the remaining parties in the 2011 case
entered into a Settlement Agreement whereby SHARP was to receive $10,000 in cash and ten million free-trading shares of WRIT stock. SHARP received the settlement payment and stock as agreed, thus making SHARP a shareholder of WRIT and entitling him to all the rights and protections afford any shareholder. SHARP remains a shareholder of WRIT to this day.

Perhaps most notable about that settlement is that Sharp did not ever sell those shares. Obviously Sharp is not an idiot and knows how penny stocks work — if he were only in this for the money then the obvious thing to do would be to sell the shares right away. Even for someone who is not just in it for the money, the smart thing to do is sell. But for some reason Sharp did not sell those shares and he was eventually diluted to almost nothing. That brings me to his follow-up suit against the successor company to Writers’ Film Group.

George Sharp v. Writ Media Group (WRIT), Inc & Eric Mitchell

On 7/27/2016 George Sharp filed suit against Writ Media Group, Inc and Eric Mitchell (President & CEO of the company). The case is 37-2016-00025434-CU-FR-CTL in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. See the original complaint. Here are a couple excerpts from the complaint (emphasis added by me):

7. On or about May 16, 2011, the Plaintiff filed litigation (“the 2011
case”) against Defendant WRIT and other defendants for Fraud, Negligent Misrepresentation, Violation of California Corporations Code Section 25400 et seq; Violation of California Unfair Business Practices Act – Business & Professions Code Section 17200; and Violation of California Unfair Business Practices Act – Business & Professions Code Section 17500 (LA Superior Court Case No. BC461550).
8. On or about February 16, 2012, the remaining parties in the 2011 case entered into a Settlement Agreement whereby SHARP was to receive $10,000 in cash and ten million free-trading shares of WRIT stock. SHARP received the settlement payment and stock as agreed, thus making SHARP a shareholder of WRIT and entitling him to all the rights and protections afford any shareholder. SHARP remains a shareholder of WRIT to this day.

14. On February 4, 2014 the Defendants executed a one for one thousand reverse split of stock reducing the number of shares outstanding in WRIT from at approximately 5.7 billion shares to approximately 5.7 million shares, effectively wiping out the holdings of small shareholders.
15. From February 4, 2014 to July 24, 2015, the Defendants issued
approximately 455.5 million shares of WRIT.
16. From June 11, 2014 to June 13, 2014 WRIT stock was promoted by various known stock touts who specialize in creating hype for intrinsically worthless penny stocks in order to enable certain insiders to divest themselves of shares. The promotion created an increase in share price and trading volume of WRIT stock. The stock touts usually included a disclaimer within their emails identifying their compensation for services rendered.
17. On July 24, 2015 the Defendants executed a one for five hundred
reverse split of stock reducing the number of shares outstanding in WRIT from at approximately 461.2 million shares to 2,306,061 shares, once again effectively wiping out the holdings of small shareholders

Of the causes of action listed in the complaint, the most interesting to me is the third cause of action, “breach of fiduciary duty”. That cause of action was only asserted because Sharp was a shareholder at the time of the suit. If he had sold his shares after the earlier settlement he would not have been able to assert this cause of action.

On February 28, 2017, Mitchell and Writ Media Group offered to accept judgments of $10,000 each payable to Sharp, with each party paying their own legal costs. These offers were accepted by George Sharp. Those two judgments were quickly paid.

George Sharp v. IDO Security Inc (IDOI), Benchmark Email, Blue House Works Inc, Peter Dunn, Eco-Trade Corporation (BOPT), Emailvision Inc, Empire Post Media Inc (EMPM), EMPRT Group Ltd, Fidelity Ltd, Flaster Knol Ltd, Michael Goldberg, Internacional Publizierende Gruppe Limitada, Lyris Inc, Mendel Mochkin, Mustang Alliances Inc (MSTG), Natti Reach Ltd, Premier Brands Inc (BRND), Promo Kombo Ltd, Irit Pnina Reiner, Henry Shabat, Stand Online Ltd, Leonard Sternheim, Wild Craze Inc (WILD), & Zegal & Ross Capital LLC

This is one of the more interesting and complicated of the suits filed by Sharp. It was also briefly mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article in 2015. This was against a large number of defendants, many of which likely never existed (they were made up companies), promoted by, employed by the promoted companies, or connected to the spam stock promoter that was known most commonly as StockCastle (though they had many names with at least dozens of different websites). See my blog post on some of their pumps. On July 24th, 2012 George Sharp filed a press release about the lawsuit he had just filed. See the complaint. The case lasted for just under two years (until April 8th, 2014 when Sharp requested dismissal). The case was 37-2012-00101057-CU-NP-CTL in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. You can find the court documents by searching that case number here. With 377 actions recorded in the case I will not attempt to reproduce the full list here. Below is the list of defendants:

The two causes of action listed in the complaint were “Violations of California Restrictions on Unsolicited Commercial E-mail Advertisers (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17529.5)”, which is a law prohibiting spam email, and “Violations of Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Cal. Civ. Code§ 1750 et seq.)”. The Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA) “applies to deceptive acts intended to result in the sale or lease of goods or services as well as acts that actually result in the sale or lease of goods or services”.

On January 17th, 2013, Sharp filed a press release announcing that he had subpoenaed Luke Zouvas, an attorney who had “contacted him [Sharp] on behalf of a client, in order to settle in advance any future claims that Mr. Sharp may have against that client.” (Luke Zouvas was sued on April 26, 2016 by the SEC for an unrelated “pump and dump scheme”). Unfortunately, I found no mention of Zouvas in the court documents from around January 17, 2013 or in any of the other court documents I read.

Of all the parties named in the suit, most of the presumed promoters (the various names they used in their spam emails) were dismissed from the case presumably because they did not actually exist. IDO Security and Mustang Alliances Inc litigated the case and Sharp did not win judgments against them (he likely settled with them — he filed to have both dismissed from the case with prejudice and the dismissal minute order states “Attorney David Harter notifies the Court, case has settled except as to defaulted defendants“).

Empire Post Media litigated and lost. Premier Brands Inc and Wild Craze Inc did not litigate and Sharp won default judgements against them. George Sharp apparently reached a settlement with defendant Blue House Works Inc (see Blue House Works’ earlier first amended answer to the complaint). Blue House Works Inc “provided the MyNewsletterBuilder email marketing service platform from which Plaintiff alleges that he received unsolicited emails.”

On April 8th, 2014 Sharp was awarded a judgment for $30,000 against Empire Post Media (EMPM, one of the promoted companies).

On April 11th, 2014 Sharp was awarded a judgment for $36,080 against Premier Brands Inc (BRND) and $11,300 against Wild Craze Inc (WILD; both companies promoted by the spammers).

Both of these were judgments by default:

Perhaps the most interesting thing I found in all the filings from this case is the following declaration of David J. Harter, George Sharp’s attorney, from a motion to compel IDO Security to produce a PMK (primary most knowledgeable person) to depose. That link also contains the full deposition of Michael Goldberg of IDO Security.

In January 2000, I formed the Law Offices of David J. Harter, APC. My standard hourly rate for litigation cases is between $400.00 and $450.00 per hour depending on the nature of the case. I am billing
Mr. Sharp based on my lowest standard hourly rate for my services in connection with this action.

Hence, the total legal time expended with respect to this motion to compel the deposition totals 10 hours. Based on my lowest standard
hourly rate the reasonable attorney’s fees incurred total $4,000.00.

That is certainly a reasonable rate for an experienced litigator. The point is, with that kind of work required by his lawyer, a not insignificant portion of the settlements Sharp received and judgments he was awarded and able to collect on must have gone to his lawyer. In this case, while Sharp “filed this action in propria persona, he substituted in counsel [David J. Harter] on December 30, 2013 ” (that is from this minute order).

George Sharp filed on 3/24/2014 for dismissal with prejudice of the lawsuit against IDO Security et al (and his attorney notified the court that the case had settled except for the defendants that defaulted). On 4/3/2104 Sharp was awarded a judgment by stipulation in the amount of $30,000 ($25,000 in damages plus $5,000 in attorney fees) against Empire Post Media, Inc (EMPM). The case was dismissed without prejudice.

George Sharp v. LKP Global Law LLP, Ahmad Ashari, Deelaw Ashari, Waleed Ashari, Albert T Liou, and Luan K Phan

George Sharp filed a suit against LKP Global Law LLP and some of the lawyers there on 2/10/2015. Below is the list of parties in the suit:

Unlike some of his other suits, Sharp did not file this pro se / in propria persona but was represented by his long-time lawyer David Harter. The case was 37-2015-00004673-CU-NP-CTL in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. At the end of 2016 the case was transferred from San Diego to Los Angeles. See the original complaint (pdf). This lawsuit was a complaint for “1) MALICIOUS PROSECUTION 2) ABUSE OF PROCESS” against the law firm representing pump and dump Xumanii (XUII), which had sued Sharp for exposing Xumanii. To quote from Sharp’s complaint:

9. This action arises out of the Ashari Class Action wherein Ashari, LKP, Phan and Liou filed a frivolous class action complaint against Plaintiff alleging that Plaintiff engaged in market manipulation and fraud concerning the stock of Xumanii, Inc. (“XUII”) in violation of
Corporations Code sections 25400(d) and 25500. The class action was filed in retaliation, among other things, for SHARP’s exposure of the XUII stock manipulation and for his own action against XUII alleging violations of California’s anti-SPAM email statute.
10. In response to the Ashari Class Action, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike the complaint pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, known as the Anti-SLAPP Statute. The Court granted the Anti-SLAPP motion and dismissed the Ashari Class Action with prejudice finding, among other things, that Ashari and his attorneys had failed to present evidence to establish any element of Ashari’s one and only cause of action. The Court also awarded Plaintiff his fees and costs in the Ashari Class Action in excess of $33,000. True and correct copies of the Notice of Ruling granting the Anti-SLAPP motion and the Notice of Entry of Judgment are attached hereto respectively as Exhibits A & B. The Ashari Class Action was frivolous and filed without probable cause because Ashari and his attorneys had failed to present evidence to establish any element of Ashari’s one and only cause of action and because LPK, Phan and Liou admitted to the Court that they had no evidence to establish any element of Ashari’s one and only cause of action.

Prior to that lawsuit against Sharp, LKP had litigated another lawsuit by a penny stock company against Sharp. That suit was:

known as  Forex International Trading Corp. v. George Sharp, San Diego Superior Court Case No. 37-2011-00092840 (the “Forex Action”). That suit was also dismissed as frivolous pursuant to Plaintiff’s Anti-SLAPP motion. The Court also awarded Plaintiff his fees and costs in the Forex Action in excess of $12,000.

The quote above is again from the complaint against LKP Global Law LLP.

See the San Diego register of actions (click to enlarge):

The case in the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County, is Case Number: BC583586 GEORGE SHARP VS LKP GLOBAL LAW LLP ET AL. Filing Date: 06/02/2015. See the summary here by searching the case number. The case was dismissed on 6/15/2017. See Sharp’s motions to compel from 4/22/2016, 4/26/2016, and 4/26/2016. There was a settlement conference scheduled for May 10, 2017 and with the case having not gone to trial and being dismissed with prejudice I believe the parties settled (although there is no way for me to know what any settlement entailed).

Below is the register of actions:

06/15/2017 Request and Entry of Dismissal (W/PREJUDICE AND AS TO THE ENTIRE ACTION OF ALL PARTIES AND ALL CAUSES OF ACTION )
Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff/Petitioner

05/22/2017 Notice of Change of Address
Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff/Petitioner

02/21/2017 Notice-Change of Address
Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff/Petitioner

01/19/2017 Stipulation and Order (STIPULATION AND ORDER CONTINUING TRIAL AND RELATED DATES: MSC c.f. 5-10-17 to 9-12-17; FSC c.f. 5-19-17 to 9-21-17; J.T. c.f. 5-30-17 to 10-2-17 )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

12/19/2016 Notice of Continuance
Filed by Clerk

11/23/2016 Notice (OF DISASSOCIATION OF COUNSEL )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

10/21/2016 Declaration (SUPPLEMENTAL DECLARATION OF JODY BORRELLI IN SUPPORT OF DEF MOTION TO COMPEL )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/19/2016 Opposition Document (TO MOTION TO COMPEL FURTHER RESPONSES TO FORM INTERR HRG: 11/1/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/19/2016 Statement of Facts (SEPARATE STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF OPPO TO MTN TO COMPEL FURTHER )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/18/2016 Opposition Document (TO MOTION TO COMPEL FURTHER HRG: 10/31/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/18/2016 Statement of Facts (SEPARATE STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF OPPOSITION TO MOTION TO COMPEL HRG: 10/31/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/17/2016 Reply/Response
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

10/13/2016 Opposition Document (CORRECTED OPPOSITION TO PLTF MOTION TO COMPEL FURTHER RESPON TO REQUEST FOR PROD OF DOCU/ DECL OF JODY BRRELLI )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/13/2016 Opposition Document (NOTICE OF ERRATA RE: OPPOSTION TO PLT’S MOTION TO COMPEL FURTHER RESPONSES/SEPARATE STATEMENT )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/13/2016 Statement of Facts (CORRECTED SEPARATE STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF OPPO TO PLTF MTN TO COMPEL FURTHER HRG: 10/24/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/11/2016 Opposition Document (TO PLAINTIFF MOTION TO COMPEL FURTHER RES TO PROD OF DOC )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/11/2016 Opposition Document (TO MTN TO COMPEL FURTHER RESP TO REQ FOR PRODU DECL OF J. BORRELLI/SEP STATE IN OPPO )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

09/27/2016 Notice of Association of Attorneys
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

09/26/2016 Stipulation and Order (STIPULATION AND ORDER CONTINUING MANDATORY SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE FROM 4-13-17 TO 4-20-17; [NOTE: MSC WAS CONTINUED PREVIOUSLY FROM 10-5-16 TO 4-13-17 PER STIP. AND ORDER OF 6-23-16])
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

06/23/2016 Stipulation and Order (STIPULATION AND ORDER CONTINUING TRIAL AND FINAL STATUS CONFERENCE FROM 11-14-16 AND 11-4-16, RESPEC- TIVELY, TO 5-30-17 AND 5-19-17, RESPECTIVELY; MSC SET FOR 4-13-17; DISCOVERY/MOT. CUT-OFFS EXTENDED)
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

06/10/2016 Response (TO DEFEF’S NOTICE OF RELATED CASES )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

06/03/2016 Notice-Related Cases
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

04/26/2016 Motion to Compel (FURTHER RESPONSES HRG 10/31/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/26/2016 Statement of Facts (SEPARATE STATEMENT OF ITEMS IN DISPUTE RE: FORM INTERROGATORIES )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/26/2016 Motion to Compel (FURTHER RESPONSES HRG: 11/1/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/26/2016 Statement of Facts (SEPARATE STATEMENT OF ITEMS IN DISPUTE RE REQUESTS FRO ADMISIONS, SET ONE, )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/22/2016 Motion to Compel (FURTHER RESPONSES )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/22/2016 Statement of Facts (separate statement in dispute )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/22/2016 Motion to Compel (FURTHER RESPONSES HRG: 10/24/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/18/2016 Notice (OF WITHDRAWAL OF MOTION TO COMPEL )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

04/18/2016 Declaration (NOTICE OF TERMNATION OR MODIFICATION OF STAY )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/18/2016 Request to Enter Default (IS REJECTED AS ASHARI #28. )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/13/2016 Opposition Document (TO MOTION TO COMPEL RESPONSES )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/13/2016 Statement of Facts (SEPARATE STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF OPPOSITION TO MOTION TO COMPEL )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

04/04/2016 Statement-Case Management (HRG: 3/29/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

03/21/2016 Statement-Case Management
Filed by Attorney for Defendant/Respondent

03/15/2016 Statement-Case Management
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

01/26/2016 Statement of Facts (SEPARATE STATEMENT IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO COMPEL HRG: 4/22/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

01/26/2016 Motion to Compel (FURTHER RESPONSES TO REQUEST FOR ADMISSIONS )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

01/12/2016 Statement-Case Management
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

01/08/2016 Statement-Case Management
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

01/04/2016 Statement-Case Management
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

10/09/2015 Notice (OF ERRATA RE NTC OF CMC )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

10/09/2015 Statement-Case Management
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

10/09/2015 Proof-Service/Summons
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

09/14/2015 Statement-Case Management
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

09/08/2015 Notice (TAKING MOTION TO QUASH OFF CALENDAR 2/8/16 )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

09/08/2015 Notice (OF WITHDRAWAL OF MOTION TO STAY AND QUASH DEPOSTITION SUBPOENA FOR THE PRODUCTION OF BUSINESS RECORDS )
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

09/04/2015 Answer to Complaint
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

09/03/2015 Answer to Complaint
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

07/27/2015 Joinder (TO NONPARY TO MOTION TO STAY )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/24/2015 Statement of Facts (for pumpsanddumps. com )
Filed by Attorney for Real Pty in Interest

07/24/2015 Motion to Quash
Filed by Attorney for Real Pty in Int

07/21/2015 Motion to Quash (DEPOSITION )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/21/2015 Statement of Facts
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO SCOTTRADE, INC.) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA/ (ISSUE TO FMR, LLC) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION/ ISSUED TO TRADEKING GROUP, )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO THE CHARLES SCHWAB CORP.) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO OMGEO, LLC) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO THE DEPOSITORY TRUST & CLEARING CORP.) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO PROFESSIONAL TRADING SOLUTIONS, INC.) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO SCOTTSDALE CAPITAL ADVISORS CORP) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO TD AMERITRADE, INC. )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/20/2015 Objection Document (TO DEPOSITION SUBPOENA (ISSUED TO TRADE STATION GROUP, INC.) )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

07/06/2015 Amendment to Complaint (DOE 1, 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

06/30/2015 Substitution of Attorney
Filed by Attorney for Deft/Respnt

06/23/2015 Notice
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

06/18/2015 Notice (of cmc )
Filed by Attorney for Pltf/Petnr

06/12/2015 Notice-Case Management Conference
Filed by Clerk

06/09/2015 Notice-Case Management Conference
Filed by Court Attendant

06/08/2015 Affidavit of Prejudice–Peremptory (DEFT LUAN K PHAN’S MTN FOR PEREMPTORY CHALLENGE AND DECL OF JANET LY IN SUPP THEREOF )
Filed by Attorney for Defendant/Respondent

06/02/2015 Complaint

06/02/2015 Summons Filed
Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff/Petitioner

06/02/2015 Notice-Stay (AUTMOATIC STAY CAUSED BY A FILING IN ANOTHER COURT FILED 4/7/15 )
Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff/Petitioner

06/02/2015 Proof of Service
Filed by Attorney for Plaintiff/Petitioner

06/02/2015 Notice of Incoming Case Transfer
Filed by Clerk

Proceedings Held (Proceeding dates listed in descending order)

06/15/2017 at 09:45 am in Department 74, Joseph R. Kalin, Presiding
Court Order – Case Dismissed/Disposed

05/01/2017 at 08:30 am in Department 74, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Presiding
Order Re: Related Cases – Completed

10/24/2016 at 09:00 am in Department 74, Kevin C. Brazile, Presiding
Motion to Compel – Motion Denied

10/05/2016 at 09:30 am in Department 74, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Presiding
Mandatory Settlement Conference ([c.t. 4-13-17 per stip. and orderof 6-23-16]) – Matter continued

04/22/2016 at 09:00 am in Department 74, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Presiding
Motion to Compel – Off Calendar

03/29/2016 at 01:30 pm in Department 74, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Presiding
Conference-Case Management ((c.f. 1-14-16)) – Trial Date Set

01/14/2016 at 09:00 am in Department 74, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Presiding
Conference-Case Management ((c.f. 9-29-15)) – Matter continued

09/29/2015 at 01:30 pm in Department 74, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, Presiding
Conference-Case Management – Matter continued

06/11/2015 at 08:30 am in Department 34, Michael P. Linfield, Presiding
Affidavit of Prejudice – Granted

 

The Other Side: Leslie Howard & First Microcap Report

Back in early 2012 I started noticing ads on Pumpsanddumps.com for FirstMicrocapReport.com which was run by Leslie Howard. The service started out free and purported to identify stocks that were likely to undergo promotion. I wasn’t a huge fan of the service because by its very nature trying to identify and buy stocks pre-pump will lead to trading illiquid stocks and if the pump doesn’t happen then the stock can drop big. (That being said, I did trade a number of the picks, buying quickly and selling to slower traders for over $1500 in total profits.) FirstMicrocapReport acquired a bit of a following and then in late May 2012 Leslie Howard released a paid stock promotion of the Biostem US Corporation (ticker:HAIR and unrelated to current ticker HAIR, Restoration Robotics). For this promotion, Leslie disclosed payment of $15,000 and ownership of the stock. After this stock promotion was over, Leslie Howard continued to release uncompensated picks and did not promote any other stocks for money.

Here is the disclaimer from the first email I received (May 24, 2012) promoting Biostem US Corporation (HAIR):

After this I gave little thought to ‘Leslie Howard’. It wasn’t until October 2013 that I came across a lawsuit George Sharp had filed against Biostem US Corporation (HAIR). It became clear reading the lawsuit that Leslie Howard was the alter ego of George Sharp. I was a bit puzzled about the lawsuit and why Sharp had promoted a company like Biostem US Corp but I really didn’t give it any further thought. I finally have reason to revisit this case (as I will get into below) so I looked back into it and it still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

See the first complaint by George Sharp (and his company Market Broadcast, LLC) against Biostem et al. Below are a series of allegations from Sharp’s third amended complaint (emphasis added by me):

32. On or about May 9, 2012, Defendants ELCO, LONDON and MAZUR, with the consent and participation of BIOSTEM entered into a contract with the Plaintiff MARKET,
entitled “Engagement Agreement for Marketing Services” (“AGREEMENT”). A true and correct copy of that agreement is attached hereto as Exhibit “A,” and incorporated herein by
reference. The AGREEMENT required the Plaintiff MARKET to be provided 300,000 freetrading shares at the time that the investor awareness program began. The AGREEMENT
further provided that Defendants to disclose all known material facts to the Plaintiff MARKET regarding BIOSTEM. The AGREEMENT required Plaintiff MARKET to be kept informed of key developments regarding BIOSTEM.

34. On or about May 24, 2012, Defendants breached the AGREEMENT by failing to provide the stock when required under the AGREEMENT.
35. Defendants further breached the AGREEMENT by failing to inform the Plaintiff of all known facts and failing to keep Plaintiff informed of key developments as required under the AGREEMENT, including but not limited to failing to inform Plaintiff that the equity financing agreement between Defendants BIOSTEM and ELCO that was announced on May 24, had not been consummated and would not be consummated

41. In that April 12, 2012 meeting Defendants MAZUR and Ari Kaplan made the following false statements to Plaintiffs: (1) that BIOSTEM was a reputable and viable business in the hair restoration industry, (2) that BIOSTEM had reached and consummated an equity financing agreement for $5,000,000 with Defendant ELCO, (3) that BIOSTEM had entered into
a medical affiliate agreement with Pizarro Hair Restoration Clinics, and (4) that there was an increasing market demand for BIOSTEM shares.

45. The facts were that BIOSTEM was a sham business and it had no equity financing agreement for $5,000,000 or any other amount and had no medical affiliate agreement with Pizarro Hair Restoration Clinics which was in fact an actual reputable company in the hair restoration industry.

71. As a further result of this fraud, most subscribers to the newsletters retained by MARKET to bring investor awareness to BIOSTEM and who purchased the common stock of
BIOSTEM, lost a significant portion, if not all of their investment, and MARKET has since been unable to retain additional paying clients for investor awareness programs.
72. SHARP was further damaged in reliance on these false statements in that he was induced to purchase additional shares of BIOSTEM stock on the open market. Sharp made 23 separate purchases of BIOSTEM stock during the relevant period all to his damage in an amount to be proven at the time of trial

73. As a further result of this fraud, the reputation of SHARP as a forthright and credible source of information and as a crusader against stock fraud was compromised, causing damages in an amount to be proven at the time of trial

A few things from the above allegations strike me as odd. First, it seems odd that a stock promoter would specify in his contract that his client “disclose all known material facts” about the company and “be kept informed of key developments.” The typical promoter just parrots whatever the pump and dump mastermind wants him to say or makes up his own puffery. He does his sales job and doesn’t worry about the details of the company. Second, Sharp made 23 open market purchases of Biostem stock — again I have only rarely heard of a stock promoter buying stock in the open market in an ongoing paid pump & dump scheme. Also odd was that Sharp filed the suit seven months after the arrest of most of the participants in the pump and dump scheme — obviously he wouldn’t have a chance of collecting any damages from any of the defendants except maybe Crocs (yes, that Crocs — the executives of Biostem had come from Crocs), and Crocs as a defendant seems to me a very long-shot.

Sharp and his company dropped the suit on October 1st, 2014 after filing a notice on September 22nd, 2014 stating that the case had been settled. Crocs had filed a demurrer that was then sustained by the court on August 7th, 2014 so it was not part of the settlement. The order sustaining the demurrer essentially stated that Sharp had failed to prove that Crocs was sufficiently involved in the alleged conspiracy.

Even among promoted stocks, Biostem US Corp was a total disaster — in early 2013 the FBI arrested fourteen people for market manipulation in Biostem and four other companies. The case was USA v. Sherman Mazur et al and is Case 2:13-cr-00062-SVW in the US District Court, Central District of California, Western Division. Read the indictment. I have not had time to read through everything in the case but it looks like the FBI messed up in a very big way. See the transcript of the proceedings in the application by Sherman Mazur’s lawyer for review/reconsideration of order setting conditions of release/detention (docket 460 from 4/16/2014). The charges against Mazur and the other defendants were dropped in late March, 2014 “because of problems with a wiretap application”.

What does this all mean? Was it just a coincidence that the first (and only) stock George Sharp promoted later resulted in a number of arrests and criminal prosecutions (criminal prosecutions of pump and dump schemes are rare). Did he get involved to try to assist the already ongoing investigation? I really don’t know but that wouldn’t surprise me.

George Sharp, helping to put promoter scum in prison?

Sharp took partial credit for the indictment of Jamie Boye and Eric Cusimano. See update on Cusimano’s guilty plea. Presumably that is because he obtained information relevant to the prosecution and sent it to the authorities, but of course there is no way to confirm or disprove this with access only to public records.

George Sharp working for OTC Markets

For the following few years George Sharp continued to periodically sue penny stock companies and promoters. Other than that, I paid him little thought. I figured that he had just gotten greedy and that in his lawsuits he was looking for quick settlements. In the case of a promoted stock, many of which have management in on the scam, it is good business to settle quickly to get someone like Sharp to go away rather than risk going to discovery and having the whole scheme revealed. Despite that logic, many of Sharp’s lawsuits were long and drawn-out affairs.

I did not reconsider any of this until I saw the news this summer that Sharp had been hired by OTCMarkets.com as a consultant. Below is the full text of the press release:

OTC Markets Group Inc. (OTCQX: OTCM), operator of financial markets for 10,000 U.S. and global securities, today announced it has retained well known, market analyst George Sharp, as a consultant. Mr. Sharp will assist OTC Markets as we develop compliance processes to bring more timely and actionable data to the OTC market.

“George’s expertise in tracking small and microcap market activity makes him a valuable asset as we improve market transparency.” said Matthew Fuchs, Executive Vice President of Market Data and Strategy at OTC Markets Group. “Our goal is to use data to bring greater transparency to the market, arming investors, issuers and market participants with information they need to make informed decisions and identify unusual activity.”

“I am pleased to work with OTC Markets Group as they take a proactive approach to improve the small and microcap market by providing more information to investors,” stated George Sharp. “Information availability and investor education are key elements of a trusted, efficient markets.”

Obviously I had to reconsider my earlier opinion that Sharp was mostly in it for the money. I can’t imagine that OTC Markets Group pays fabulously well and if Cromwell Coulson considered Sharp to be just a pro-se ambulance chaser and stock promoter then he would not have hired Sharp. I do believe that Coulson is a man of good faith and has worked to reduce the prevalence of scams that trade on OTC Markets (although I don’t think he has done nearly enough). At the end of the day, of course Sharp likes the money he wins in his lawsuits. But he is suing many bad people (although I’m sure at least some of the CEOs of promoted companies in his suits were not involved in any promotion) and I no longer doubt that he does consider himself a crusader against penny stock fraud. Maybe he uses his lawsuits to gather useful information (during discovery) about penny stock companies that he then uses in other ways. I can’t know for sure. Two things are certain: George Sharp will keep suing people and the world is a better place as a result of his lawsuits. I can only hope that his anti-scam fervor spreads throughout the OTC Markets organization and that he really does as much behind the scenes to inform regulators as he has claimed (such as in his tweets about Cusimano).

 

 

 

Appendix: George Sharp’s lawsuits against other penny stock companies

In the near future I aim to add a brief description of all the lawsuits mentioned above including the outcome of each suit. This post is being published before this is complete because frankly this is an exhausting task. I may never get around to posting all the lawsuits.

George Sharp v. Stocktips.com, Alkame Holdings Inc (ALKM), Amerada Corp, Aweber Communications, Aweber Systems Inc, Robert Bandfield, Coastal Integrated Services Inc (COLV), Ecrypt Technologies Inc (ECRY), Empire Stock Transfer Inc, Harold Gewerter, Laluna Services Inc, Quicksilver Stock Transfer LLC, Telupay International Inc, Adrian Herman Thomas, Tiger Oil and Energy Inc (TGRO), & Well Power Inc (WPWR)

George Sharp filed case 37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego on 3/11/2015 and dismissed on August 15, 2017. (Read the first amended complaint filed May 27, 2016.) I cannot find any evidence of the case being settled and Sharp requested dismissal of the case a few days before a hearing on an order to show cause (OSC).

Following are some of the documents from the case:

37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-110_08-05-16_Minute_Order_1509378411802
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-137_10-07-16_Minute_Order_1509378411880
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-142_10-06-16_Request_for_Dismissal_with_Prejudice_Party_1509378411974
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-147_10-27-16_Request_for_Dismissal_with_Prejudice_Party_1509378412083
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-162_11-04-16_Minute_Order_1509378412161
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-169_12-02-16_Minute_Order_1509378412224
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-180_08-04-17_Notice_of_Hearing_SD_1509405496917
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-181_08-15-17_Request_for_Dismissal_with_Prejudice_Entire_Acti_1509378412333
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-179_08-04-17_Minute_Order_1509405496839 37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-44_01-08-16_Minute_Order_1509378410708 37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-45_01-19-16_Order_to_Show_Cause_Sanctions_SD_1509378410817 37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-53_01-29-16_Minute_Order_1509378410911
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-55_01-29-16_Minute_Order_1509378410989
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-65_03-26-16_Order_Other_1509378411098
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-91_05-27-16_Amended_Complaint_1509378411208
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-92_05-20-16_Amendment_to_Complaint_Cross_Complaint_naming_Doe_1509378411333

37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-99_06-20-16_General_Denial_1509378411458
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-101_06-20-16_General_Denial_1509378411552
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL_ROA-106_08-09-16_Demurrer_1509378411630
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL ROA -89 05-25-16 Motion to Compel Discovery from COLV
37-2015-00008210-CU-NP-CTL — Subpoena to Aweber (dated 8-31-2015)

George Sharp v Xumanii (XUII), African Copper Corporation (ACCS), Amwest Imaging Inc (AMWI), John Babikian, De Groupa Tenner Morales Media Corp, Goff Corporation (GOFF), Harbor Island Development Corp (HIDC), Intertech Solutions Inc (ITEC), Pacific Clean Water Technologies Inc (PCWT), Pacwest Equities Inc (PWEI), Pharmagen Inc (PHRX), Pub Crawl Holdings Inc (PBCW), Red Giant Ventures Inc (REDG), Swing Plane Ventures Inc (SWVI), Taglikeme Corp (TAGG), Victory Mark Corp Ltd, Vumee Inc (VUME), & World Moto Inc (FARE)

George Sharp filed suit against Xumanii and other companies promoted by Awesomepennystocks and Victory Mark Corp on 5/13/2013. The case is 37-2013-00048310-CU-MC-CTL, in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego.

See the judgment won by Sharp. All the judgments in this case were default judgments. I know at least in the case of his judgment against Goff the judgment has not been collected.

Default judgment is entered in favor of Plaintiff George Sharp and against Defendants Vumee, Inc., Intertech Solutions, Inc. fka Amwest Imaging, Inc , Goff Corporation, and Excelsis Investments, Inc..
Plaintiff George Sharp to recover from Defendant Vumee, Inc. the total amount of$19,700, consisting of statutory damages in the amount of $18,000 and attorney’s fees in the amount of $1,700.
Plaintiff George Sharp to recover from Defendant Intertech Solutions, Inc. fka Amwest Imaging, Inc. the total amount of $43,220, consisting of statutory damages in the amount of$41,000 and attorney’s fees in the amount of $2,220.
Plaintiff George Sharp to recover from Goff Corporation the total amount of $57,450, consisting of statutory damages in the amount of $55,000 and attorney’s fees in the amount of $2,450.
Plaintiff George Sharp to recover from Defendant Excelsis Investments, Inc. the total amount of $19,700, consisting of statutory damages in the amount of $18,000 and attorney’s fees in the amount of $1,700.

George Sharp v America Exploration Resources Inc (AREN), Agrieuro Corp (EURI), Aweber Systems, & iContact LLC

George Sharp filed suit against America Exploration Resources on 8/20/2015. The case is 37-2015-00028270-CU-BT-CTL in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. Sharp posted the original complaint to Scribd. See his subpoena to iContact from 8/31/2015.

George Sharp v. Citadel EFT (CDFT), Buzzbahn LLC, Diane Dalmy, Gary Deroos, & Nancy Figueiredo

See George Sharp’s press release about his lawsuit against Citadel EFT. The case (37-2013-00034768-CU-FR-CTL) was filed on February 13, 2013 in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego.

Appendix 2: Further Info

George Sharp’s Scribd profile
George Sharp’s blog

Disclaimer: No position in any stocks mentioned and other than being a subscriber to Pennystocks.buzz and having interacted with all of the anti-fraud crusaders mentioned above I have no business or close 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.

Broker and OTC market maker Wilson-Davis Co. fined by SEC for Reg SHO violations

In an administrative proceeding released on April 26, 2017, the SEC issued a cease and desist order (PDF) to brokerage and OTC market maker Wilson Davis (Market maker ID: WDCO) for violations of Regulation SHO and ordered the company to pay $235,714.50 in disgorgement of profits and interest thereon and a $75,000 civil penalty. But the headline of a violation of short selling regulations obscures the fact that the trading in question was related to some of the biggest pump and dumps ever perpetrated, all promoted by AwesomePennyStocks.com or related websites.

There are a few details in the order that are key. First, Wilson-Davis had two separate trading groups. From the SEC’s order linked above:

WDCO was comprised of two trading groups: a retail trading group and a proprietary trading group. The activity that is the subject of this Order pertains to WDCO’s proprietary trading group. Traders in the proprietary trading group had agreements with WDCO under which the traders were allowed to use WDCO funds for proprietary trades of securities and would split their profits with WDCO in accordance with their agreements.

Not mentioned in the order is that one of the traders was Anthony Kerrigone, who has already been sanctioned by the SEC in December 2016 (PDF). From that administrative order:

Kerrigone, a proprietary trader at WDCO, is a WDCO representative who caused WDCO’s Regulation SHO violations by executing certain short sales of securities on behalf of WDCO without WDCO being engaged in bona-fide market making activity and without WDCO obtaining a locate prior to effecting the short sales. Kerrigone improperly relied on the bona-fide market making exception for certain short sale trades without having a reasonably sufficient understanding of the rule, without sufficiently discussing with anyone at WDCO whether such trading qualified WDCO for the bona-fide market making exception, and by conducting such trading in a manner that closely resembled examples explicitly identified by the Commission— years before the conduct at issue—as activity that generally is not bona-fide market making.

Anthony Kerrigone was ordered to pay disgorgement of profits (and interest thereon) of $550,000.50 and a civil penalty of $50,000. Prior to the SEC order, Kerrigone (CRD#: 2612581) was also cited by FINRA back in November 2015. From FINRA BrokerCheck (FINRA does not allow direct linking so you have to search for Kerrigone by his name):

Initiated By FINRA
Allegations
Without admitting or denying the findings, Kerrigone consented to the sanctions and to the entry of findings that he caused his member firm to violate Rule 203(b)(1) of SEC Regulation SHO when on occasions, Kerrigone placed orders to sell short low-priced stocks through the firm’s proprietary trading account and failed to locate the securities, claiming the market marker exemption to the locate requirements. The findings stated that the market maker exemption was not available to the firm because Kerrigone was not engaging in bona-fide market marking activities in these securities. The firm generated over $158,239 in profits from these short transactions.
Resolution
Acceptance, Waiver & Consent(AWC)
Sanctions
Civil and Administrative Penalty(ies)/Fine(s)
Amount: $10,000.00
Sanctions
Suspension
Duration: six months
Start Date: 12/7/2015
End Date: 6/6/2016

Surprisingly, Kerrigone was able to get another job in the industry after that suspension and according to BrokerCheck he still holds it, working for BMA Securities, another OTC market maker (Market maker ID: BMAS).

The Pumps & Dumps

Listed in the SEC order are five examples of stocks where a trader or traders at Wilson Davis improperly sold short stocks using the market maker exemption while not acting as a bona fide market maker: Amwest Imaging (AMWI), North Springs Resources Corp (NSRS), Sunpeaks Ventures (SNPK), Great Wall Builders (GWBU), and Pristine Solutions (PRTN). AMWI was promoted in December 2011 by Crazypennystocks.com and related websites (a predecessor promoter to Awesomepennystocks). NSRS was promoted in January and February of 2012 by Crazypennystocks.com. See synopses of these and other big promotions of 2011/2012. SNPK was promoted in April 2012 by Awesomepennystocks-related websites. GWBU was promoted by Awesomepennystocks in June 2012. See also this article on GWBU manipulation. PRTN was promoted by Awesomepennystocks in September/October 2012. Infitialis wrote an excellent article on SeekingAlpha at the time alleging manipulation of PRTN.

That Infitialis article in particular does a great job of explaining some of how a trader at WDCO allegedly traded Awesomempennystocks pumps while at Wilson-Davis. From that article:

We also know that one specific broker dealer Wilson Davis & Company is continually engaged in showing abnormally large bid sizes on every single APS scam since 2010.

The most obvious question to ask is why? Why would WDCO go out of its way to display such larger orders if their true intention was to buy the shares. The obvious answer is that WDCO is not trying to buy shares they are trying to manipulate the stock while other market makers such as ATDF liquidate shares. These transactions occur simultaneously often serendipitously:

  1. APS Stock begins to decline
  2. WDCO shows up with an abnormally sized bid, stock stabilizes
  3. ATDF shows up on the offer and sells into the buying generated by WDCO.

This behavior is described in the SEC order as WDCO updating its bids for stocks but having a very high offer and then short-selling through other market makers (“While posting an offer quotation that was not at or near the best offer, WDCO executed short sales at prices that were substantially away from its posted quotation.”). Of course, that SEC order makes no mention of big bids, yet that is something that has been documented many times (most traders who traded Awesomepennystocks pumps will recall this and this is documented on numerous blogs and tweets). For example, here is a post about manipulation on GWBU that shows multiple screenshots of Wilson-Davis (WDCO) displaying huge bids. Here are screenshots of big bids by WDCO on NSRS. I have copied just two of those screenshots below in case the original website is taken down.

Note: None of this is to suggest that the firm approved of or ordered any trader to act in an unethical or illegal manner — all I know is that I have seen someone at WDCO posting large bids on many of these stocks.

Just for fun, here is WDCO showing absurdly large offers on a non-Awesomepennystocks pump (I make no commentary during the video so just mute it if you do not want to hear the music I was listening to at the time):

 

Disclaimer. No position in any stocks mentioned and I have no relationship with anyone mentioned in this post. I traded (both long and short) most if not all of the stocks mentioned in this post at the time they were promoted. 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.