|View Fagenson & Co., Inc. Action (PDF 141 KB)
View RBC Capital Markets Corporation Action (PDF 141 KB)
View Alpine Securities Corporation Action (PDF 141 KB)
View Equity Station, Inc. Action (PDF 141 KB)
View Olympus Securities, LLC. Action (PDF 141 KB)
Washington, DC — The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced today that it has fined five broker-dealers a total of $385,000 for the illegal sale of more than 8 billion shares of penny stock on behalf of their customers. Most of those illegal sales involved one penny stock company, Universal Express Inc. Together, the five firms sold more than 7.5 billion shares of that company's unregistered stock, for proceeds of approximately $8.4 million.
Further, the firms failed to take appropriate steps to determine whether the securities could be sold without violating federal registration requirements – despite certain red flags indicating that illegal stock distributions might be taking place, including a major enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) involving Universal Express's unregistered stock.
The firms are Fagenson & Co., Inc., of New York, which reported earning $44,000 in commissions from the sale of unregistered Universal Express stock and was fined $165,000; RBC Capital Markets Corporation, of New York, which earned $68,000 in commissions and was fined $135,000; Alpine Securities Corporation, of Salt Lake City, which earned $47,000 in commissions and was fined $40,000; Equity Station, Inc., of Boca Raton, which earned $13,575 in commissions and was fined $25,000; and, Olympus Securities, LLC., of Montville, NJ, which earned $5,200 in commissions and was fined $20,000.
"Brokerage firms are the first line of defense when it comes to preventing the illegal distribution of unregistered securities into the public markets," said James S. Shorris, FINRA Executive Vice President and Executive Director of Enforcement. "The failure to detect and prevent these sales creates serious risks to the unsuspecting customers who purchased these unregistered securities."
FINRA found that in each instance, the firms' customers deposited large blocks of thinly traded securities in certificate form and then immediately liquidated those positions. The firm executed these sales despite the fact that the SEC had filed a complaint in early 2004 alleging that Universal Express had issued more than 500 million shares of unregistered stock for distribution to the public and charging Universal's CEO and others with issuing a series of false press releases and other false and misleading statements to promote the sale of that unregistered stock. In early 2007, a federal court ruling enjoined Universal Express from further violations of the securities laws. Ultimately, Universal Express was ordered to disgorge nearly $12 million in ill gotten gains and interest, as well as nearly $10 million in fines.
The five firms nonetheless executed most of the illegal sales of Universal Express unregistered stock either after the SEC commenced its suit or after it had prevailed in its enforcement action.
In addition, FINRA found that four of the five firms – Fagenson & Co., RBC Capital Markets, Alpine Securities and Olympus Securities – failed to establish, maintain and enforce a reasonable supervisory system designed to prevent the sale of unregistered stock.
In settling these matters, the firms neither admitted nor denied the charges, but consented to the entry of FINRA's findings.
Last year, FINRA issued Regulatory Notice 09-05, Unregistered Resales of Restricted Securities, reminding firms and brokers of their obligations to determine whether securities are eligible for public sale before participating in what may be illegal distributions. It also discusses the importance of recognizing red flags of possible illegal, unregistered distributions and reiterates firms' obligations to conduct searching inquiries in certain circumstances to avoid participating in illegal distributions.
Investors can obtain more information about, and the disciplinary record of, any FINRA-registered broker or brokerage firm by using FINRA's BrokerCheck. FINRA makes BrokerCheck available at no charge. In 2009, members of the public used this service to conduct 18.5 million reviews of broker or firm records. Investors can access BrokerCheck at www.finra.org/brokercheck or by calling (800) 289-9999.
FINRA is the largest non-governmental regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States. FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity through effective and efficient regulation and complementary compliance and technology-based services. FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business - from registering and educating all industry participants to examining securities firms, writing and enforcing rules and the federal securities laws, informing and educating the investing public, providing trade reporting and other industry utilities, and administering the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and registered firms. For more information, please visit our Web site at www.finra.org.