FINRA Arbitration and Securities Fraud Litigation Attorney Russell L. Forkey, Esq.
SEC has Announced Charges from its Investigation of Secondary Market Trading of Private Company Shares
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged two managers of private investment funds established solely to acquire the shares of Facebook and other Silicon Valley firms with misleading investors and pocketing undisclosed fees and commissions. The SEC alleges that the fund managers collectively raised more than $70 million from investors.
- SEC Complaint
- Administrative Proceeding: Sharespost, Inc. and Greg B. Brogger
- Administrative Proceeding: Laurence Albukerk and EB Financial Group, LLC
Separately, the SEC charged SharesPost, an online service that matches buyers and sellers of pre-IPO stock, with engaging in securities transactions without registering as a broker-dealer.
The charges stem from the SEC’s yearlong investigation of the fast-growing business of trading pre-IPO shares on the secondary market.
“While we applaud innovation in the capital markets, new platforms and products must obey the rules and ensure the basic fairness and disclosure that are the hallmarks of sound financial regulation,” said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
“Fund managers must fully disclose their compensation and material conflicts of interest. Investors deserve better than the kind of undisclosed self-dealing present in these cases,” said Robert Kaplan, Co-Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Asset Management Unit.
SEC v. Frank Mazzola, Felix Investments LLC, and Facie Libre Management Associates LLC
The SEC alleges that Mazzola, who lives in Upper Saddle River, N.J., and his firms created two funds to buy securities of Facebook and other high profile technology companies. However, Mazzola and his firms engaged in improper self-dealing – earning secret commissions above the 5 percent disclosed in offering materials on the funds’ acquisition of Facebook stock and on re-sales of fund interests to new investors. The hidden charges essentially raised the prices paid by their investors for Facebook stock because it created a disincentive for Mazzola and his firms to negotiate a lower price for fund investors. They also sold Facie Libre fund interests despite knowing the funds lacked ownership of certain Facebook shares.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in San Francisco, Mazzola and his firms also made false statements to investors in other funds they created to invest in various pre-IPO companies. For instance, they misled one investor into believing a Felix fund had successfully acquired stock of Zynga. They also made false representations about Twitter’s revenue to attract investors to their Twitter fund.
The SEC’s lawsuit against Mazzola, Felix Investments, and Facie Libre seeks court orders prohibiting them from engaging in securities fraud and requiring them to disgorge their ill-gotten gains and pay financial penalties.
In the Matter of EB Financial Group LLC and Laurence Albukerk
According to the SEC’s administrative proceeding against Laurence Albukerk, who lives in San Francisco, he and his firm hid from investors significant compensation earned in connection with two Facebook funds they managed. In written offering materials for the funds, Albukerk told investors he charged only a 5 percent fee for an initial investment and a 5 percent fee when the shares were distributed to fund investors upon a Facebook IPO. However, Albukerk obtained additional compensation by using an entity controlled by his wife to purchase the Facebook stock and then buying interests in that entity for the EB Funds while charging investors a mark-up. Albukerk also earned a brokerage fee on the acquisition of Facebook shares from the original stockholders. As a result of the fee and mark-up, investors in Albukerk’s two Facebook funds ultimately paid significantly more than the fees disclosed in the offering materials.
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Albukerk and EB Financial consented to entry of a SEC order finding that they violated Section 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 and Rule 206(4)-8 thereunder. Albukerk and EB Financial also agreed to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $210,499 and a penalty of $100,000.
In the Matter of SharesPost Inc. and Greg Brogger
According to the SEC’s administrative proceeding against SharesPost and its CEO Greg Brogger of Park City, Utah, the online platform facilitated securities transactions without registering with the SEC as a broker-dealer. SharesPost engaged in a series of activities that constituted the business of effecting securities transactions and thus were required to register as a broker-dealer. SharesPost held itself out to the public as an online service to help match buyers and sellers of pre-IPO stock and allowed registered representatives of other broker-dealers to hold themselves out as SharesPost employees and earn commissions on transactions they facilitated through the SharesPost platform. SharesPost and affiliated broker-dealers also created a commission pool that was distributed by an executive to employees who were representatives of these broker-dealers. The company also collected and published on its website third-party information concerning issuers’ financial metrics, SharesPost-funded research reports, and a SharesPost-created valuation index. Additionally, the SharesPost platform was used to create an auction process for interests in funds managed by a SharesPost affiliate and designed to buy stock in pre-IPO companies.
“The newly emerging secondary marketplace for pre-IPO stock presents risk for even savvy investors,” said Marc Fagel, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office. “Broker-dealer registration helps ensure those who effect securities transactions can be relied upon to understand and faithfully execute their obligations to customers and the markets. SharesPost skirted these important provisions.”
SharesPost and Brogger consented to an SEC order finding that SharesPost committed and Brogger caused a violation of Section 15(a) of the Exchange Act of 1934. They agreed to pay penalties of $80,000 and $20,000 respectively. Subsequent to the SEC’s investigation, SharesPost acquired a broker-dealer and its membership agreement was approved by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).