How SEC Investigations Work: Process, Timeline, and Causes

You never want to be in the situation where the SEC is investigating you, but when they do, you must act quickly and decisively to minimize any harm. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most common reasons why the SEC might initiate an investigation into a company or individual, the SEC investigation process, how long SEC investigations take, and some steps you can take to protect yourself if it happens to you. What Causes an SEC Investigation? The SEC’s Division of Enforcement is in charge of investigating alleged breaches of securities law. Unregistered securities offerings, insider trading, accounting errors, negligence, market manipulation, and fraud are all common reasons for SEC investigations. Need Legal Help? Let’s talk. or, give us a ring at 561-338-0037. The SEC may also investigate a company or individual if they receive a complaint from someone who has been harmed by the alleged violations. Note: If you are under investigation by the SEC, it’s generally safe to assume that you’re under investigation for or a witness to securities fraud. There are Two Types of SEC Investigations: The SEC can conduct two types of investigations: formal and informal. Informal Investigations: For a vast majority of cases, investigations are informal. An informal investigation is less formal and typically occurs when the SEC has general concerns about a company or individual’s compliance with securities laws. The focus of an informal investigation is broader, and the SEC typically relies on information provided by the company or individual under investigation as well as other sources such as whistleblowers. This means that the SEC staff will review the facts and evidence available to them and make a determination as to whether or not an enforcement action is warranted. Following an informal investigation, the SEC may choose to take no action, issue a warning letter, or file a formal enforcement action. Formal Investigation: A formal investigation is more serious and typically occurs when the SEC has specific evidence that a violation of securities laws has occurred. In a formal investigation, the SEC will often use its subpoena power to obtain documents and other information from the company or individual being investigated. The SEC generally reserves formal investigations for more-important matters involving large sums of money or a large number of investors. However, this isn’t always the case, and Enforcement Division staff may elect to pursue a formal inquiry in any situation where it appears that administrative, civil, or criminal fines might be appropriate. All SEC investigations are conducted privately. Facts and evidence obtained by the SEC during an investigation are not made public unless and until the SEC files a formal enforcement action. What Happens When You are Under Investigation? First, you will NOT be told you are under investigation by the SEC. But you will likely receive a letter from the SEC’s Division of Enforcement with a Subpoena requesting documents and/or requiring you to give testimony. At that point, you can request the opportunity to view the Formal Order of Investigation with a summary of the investigation underway. It is a very general description and rarely identifies who or what conduct is under investigation. In most cases, it is important to respond to the SEC as quickly as possible and to provide them with all of the relevant information. Failure to respond or provide false information can lead to civil and criminal penalties. It is strongly advised that you seek legal representation if you are under investigation by the SEC before you respond to the SEC’s letter. An experienced securities defense lawyer will be able to help you navigate the process and protect your rights. What are the Risks of Not Responding to an SEC Investigation? If you do not respond to an SEC investigation, the SEC may take enforcement action against you. This could include filing a lawsuit against you or seeking a court order requiring you to take specific actions such as making restitution to investors or ceasing and desisting from certain activities. The SEC may also seek to bar you from working in the securities industry or from participating in penny stock offerings if you are a registered person. How Long Do SEC Investigations Take? The length of an SEC investigation can vary depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. However, in most cases, the SEC will take a many months to investigate a company or individual before making a decision on whether to take enforcement action. Need Legal Help? Let’s talk. or, give us a ring at 561-338-0037. Of course there are factors outside of the SEC’s control that can also affect the length of an investigation, such as the availability of witnesses or the need to gather evidence from foreign jurisdictions. You can learn more about the SEC’s enforcement process by visiting the SEC’s website. What Happens After an SEC Investigation? After an SEC investigation, the Enforcement Division will decide whether to take enforcement action. Of course, the ideal case (when the SEC has started an investigation) is to conclude the inquiry with no evidence of wrongdoing. However, if the SEC’s Enforcement Division decides to take action, the division will file a lawsuit in federal court. The SEC’s litigation is generally public, and the agency will typically issue a press release announcing its action. The press release will include a summary of the allegations and the relief being sought by the SEC. Defendants in SEC lawsuits have the right to be represented by an attorney and to file a response to the SEC’s allegations. The litigation will proceed through the court system, and a final judgment will be issued by the court. What’s a Wells Notice? If the SEC decides that they want to pursue a formal enforcement action against you, they will send you what is known as a Wells Notice. A Wells Notice is a formal notification from the SEC that they are considering bringing an enforcement action against you for violating securities law. It gives you an opportunity to respond to the allegations and to provide information in defense of yourself. This notice first comes...

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How to Handle an SEC Subpoena [Step-by-Step]

No one ever wants to receive an SEC subpoena, but when you do it is important to take action immediately so as to protect your future. In this article we will review what an SEC investigation subpoena is, the different types of SEC subpoenas you can receive, and what to do, step-by-step, if you receive an SEC investigatory subpoena. What is an SEC Subpoena? An SEC subpoena is a legal order for recorded testimony that is issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with one of its investigations. The subpoena requests documents, data, or both which are relevant to an ongoing investigation. Need Legal Help? Let’s talk. or, give us a ring at 561-338-0037. Note: If you get served with an SEC subpoena, it means you’re likely under suspicion of committing or witness to securities fraud even though the SEC will tell you not to conclude anything from the fact you were served with a subpoena. SEC Subpoena Power The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing securities laws, proposing new securities rules, and regulating the securities industry. The SEC has the power to investigate almost any company or individual for securities fraud. The SEC is primarily interested in issues involving potential stock manipulation, false or misleading statements in offering documents, insider trading, and other areas where investors are being cheated out of money. The staff of the SEC has subpoena power which they can use to compel individuals and companies under investigation to produce requested documents and/or testify at hearings under oath about their involvement with certain companies or businesses. If you receive an SEC subpoena, your life could be turned upside down until the issue is resolved. There are two types of SEC subpoenas: Subpoena ad testificandum: This subpoena compels the person to whom it is addressed to appear at a specific time and place and testify under oath or affirmation. Subpoena duces tecum: This subpoena compels the person to whom it is addressed to produce documents in his possession or control, either at a designated location or before the person who signed the subpoena. What happens when you get an SEC Subpoena?  When you get served with an SEC subpoena, it means that your records are being requested by a federal agency for an investigation. Generally, you’ll be told that you have 30 days from the date of service of this document to provide all records related to whatever it’s requesting. IMPORTANT: You will likely have to appear in front of a SEC enforcement official who may ask you questions under oath and subject to the penalty of perjury and/or making false statements to a government official. Do not lie about not having any records because if they come back and say you lied about having them, you could be charged with obstruction of justice. What should I do if I get an SEC Subpoena? Unfortunately, investigations by the SEC does happen from time to time. If you receive an SEC subpoena, it’s important to act quickly and be proactive. Below are the steps to take after receiving a subpoena from the SEC: Step 1: Consult a SEC defense lawyer who is experienced with SEC subpoenas immediately. Your lawyer will be able to guide you through the process and represent you during the investigation. An attorney can determine how to respond to your subpoena, what information you should immediately turn over, and help you avoid making any mistakes that could result in additional scrutiny or legal consequences. Step 2: Know your rights under the concept of “privileged” information. Under the attorney-client privilege, for example, you do not have to provide anything to the SEC if it would be between you and your lawyer. Step 3: Read the terms of the subpoena thoroughly. Make sure you understand them and determine what information must be turned over. If your subpoena requests specific documents, the SEC will likely want to review all of those documents. Step 4: Respond to the subpoena as soon as possible with an attorney by your side. Returning things too quickly without consulting a lawyer first could look bad for you during the rest of the investigation process. And if they ask for something that is difficult or unrealistic to produce, you can let them know that upon receiving their request. Some items may take longer than 30 days to find/produce depending on how easy it is for you to obtain (i.e., if there are thousands of emails it could take some time). Step 5: Keep a detailed record of all aspects of the process, including any contact or communication with an SEC investigator(s) so that you can protect yourself down the road with evidence in case there is any uncertainty about what happened during the investigation process. Step 6: Keep the details of your case confidential with yourself and your legal representation. Do not discuss or share information about your case with anyone who isn’t an attorney because you do not want to risk incriminating yourself. Step 7: Be proactive and do not engage in any activity that could be considered obstruction of justice, such as lying or concealing information. What types of records might the SEC subpoena? The Commission may subpoena documents related to financial transactions (including transfers of money between accounts), communications (including e-mails), photographs, videos, and other data like employment history or company policies/employee handbooks/training manuals. For example, the SEC may subpoena communications related to specific stock sales or actions taken during an acquisition. Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced SEC Defense Attorney If you are served with an SEC subpoena, you should promptly contact a lawyer experienced in representing parties dealing with federal investigations to guide you through how to handle your case and protect yourself. The Law Offices of Robert Wayne Pearce, P.A. has over 40 years of experience dealing with the SEC subpoenas and enforcement actions. Our attorneys can help you determine what information needs to be turned over, provide advice on how to handle the SEC investigation, and work hard to protect your interests. We will carefully review...

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How to Respond to a CFTC Subpoena

Receiving a subpoena from the CFTC (U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission) is often met with panic by anybody who receives one. The recipient will usually have no advanced notice of the subpoena, other than a letter from the CFTC stating that he or she should produce documents related to a specific time period. The recipient may be scared of what will happen if they do not comply with the subpoena, but in fact there are several ways to proceed after receiving a CFTC subpoena. The first thing to note is that all subpoenas issued by the CFTC are civil subpoenas. In other words, they are issued to an individual or business that may or may not be accused of a violation of the Commodity Exchange Act or any CFTC rules and regulations in a civil proceeding. But aware of the fact that the CFTC can share whatever documents or information it gathers with criminal prosecutors and other agencies. What is a CFTC Subpoena? A CFTC subpoena is a document issued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that requires a person or entity to provide information or documents to the CFTC. The subpoena is a formal order from the court to produce documents, data, or both. Need Legal Help? Let’s talk. or, give us a ring at 561-338-0037. IMPORTANT: The CFTC will not inform you whether you are a target, subject, or witness. In fact, the CFTC attorneys and investigators will tell you nothing about the investigation! This is why the first thing you should do if you receive a subpoena from the CFTC is contact an experienced CFTC defense attorney. A lawyer can help you decide how you are going to respond to the subpoena. Although there are several ways to proceed, a lawyer can recommend the best course of action based on your specific circumstances and reduce your chances of making a procedural misstep that will result in a more aggressive investigation by the CFTC or worse. CFTC Enforcement Actions If you do not produce the documents, or if you fail to comply in another way outlined by the subpoena, then you could be facing an enforcement action. The usual course of an enforcement action is for the CFTC prosecuting attorneys to file a complaint with the federal district court where your business is located. What happens next could include the filing of a complaint with the federal district court where you or your business is located. The filing will contain a proposed order for the court to enter. The order will direct you to produce specific documents and information, and inform you if you do not comply with the order you may be held in contempt of court and put in jail until you comply. If you receive a subpoena from the CFTC, be sure to contact an experienced lawyer right away! CFTC’s Information Gathering Process As a general matter, it is important to know that the CFTC has very broad powers when it comes to investigating suspected violations of the Commodity Exchange Act. Specifically, the CFTC can issue subpoenas to a person or entity for any records related to its investigation. The compelled production must be made within the date stated on the subpoena. The CFTC can be quite aggressive in investigating suspected violations of the Commodity Exchange Act. This investigation can include issuing subpoenas for documents and testimony as noted, as well as using the depositions of those who appear or testify before them in court. They may also issue subpoena duces tecum orders to require production of books, records, papers and other data that they believe might be relevant to their investigation. This means that anybody could be served with a subpoena if the CFTC believes that you have relevant information in your possession. The CFTC has very broad powers when it comes to enforcing subpoenas issued by them. For instance, they can issue a civil investigative demand to require an individual or entity produce for inspection and copying all records relating to any transactions or activities related to any agreements, contracts, or transactions in any commodity. The CFTC can also issue an administrative subpoena to require that someone appear before them to testify under oath about the production of documents and records. Do not assume that because you are only served with a subpoena for documents, that this is all you have to worry about. You may be subject to a deposition or some other form of testimony at some point during the investigation. It is important to know that, as an individual or entity being investigated by the CFTC , you have a right to counsel present at any hearings on enforcement matters. Steps to Take When Receiving a CFTC Subpoena When you receive an administrative subpoena issued by the CFTC, it is important to take certain steps that can greatly reduce your risk. These include: Preserve all documents and gather supporting evidence. All staff that need to know must be notified (in-house counsel and certain officers) and a litigation hold must be issued. Consult with an experienced CFTC defense lawyer immediately. Examine any potential legal responsibility under the relevant laws and regulations. The Formal Order of Investigation should be obtained by your attorney. If your attorney thinks it’s necessary, he or she may want to speak with the CFTC’s Staff about limiting the subpoena’s scope where appropriate. If you’re not sure whether an internal investigation is required, consult with your lawyer. Review all collected documents for responsiveness, privilege and confidentiality Consider whether any particular employee requires independent legal counsel if you are unsure. Your CFTC defense lawyer can help you with this. Determine whether there are any objections to the scope or burden of the subpoena, as well as whether to fight the subpoena (by motion to quash) or comply. If the subpoena recipient is a corporation, see if public disclosure is required. Given the complexity and number of necessary action steps involved with responding to a CFTC subpoena, individuals and firms without experienced legal representation are often...

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A Stockbroker’s Introduction to FINRA Examinations and Investigations

Brokers and financial advisors oftentimes do not understand what their responsibilities and obligations are and what may result from a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) examination or investigation. Many brokers do not even know the role that FINRA plays within the industry. This may be due to the fact that FINRA, a self-regulatory organization, is not a government entity and cannot sentence financial professionals to jail time for violation of industry rules and regulations. Nevertheless, all broker-dealers doing business with members of the public must register with FINRA. As registered members, broker-dealers, and the brokers working for them, have agreed to abide by industry rules and regulations, which include FINRA rules.

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