The Securities and Exchange Commission recently charged New York-based investment manager Peter Siris and two of his firms with a host of securities law violations mostly related to his activities with a Chinese reverse merger company, China Yingxia International Inc.
The SEC alleges that Siris, an active investor in Chinese companies and former newspaper money columnist, misled investors in his two hedge funds through which he invested $1.5 million in China Yingxia. Siris understated his involvement with the company particularly after it went out of business, and used his insider status to make illegal trades based on nonpublic information as he received it. In an attempt to circumvent the registration provisions of the securities laws, Siris also received shares from the China Yingxia CEO’s father and improperly sold them without any registration statement in effect. Siris further engaged in insider trading ahead of 10 confidentially solicited offerings for other Chinese issuers.
Siris and his firms agreed to pay more than $1.1 million to settle the SEC’s charges. The SEC also separately charged five individuals and one firm for securities law violations related to China Yingxia.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Siris and his firms Guerrilla Capital Management LLC and Hua Mei 21st Century LLC became involved with China Yingxia in 2007 and their misconduct continued until 2010. Along with being one of three “consultants” that improperly raised money for China Yingxia, Siris and Hua Mei acted as advisers to the purported nutritional foods company.
Insider Trading and Illegal Short Selling
The SEC alleges that in February and March 2009, Siris sold China Yingxia stock while in possession of material, nonpublic information about problems at China Yingxia that he learned directly from the CEO. This confidential information included that she had engaged in illegal fundraising activities in China and that a company factory had shut down. Siris immediately began selling hundreds of thousands of shares of China Yingxia stock prior to any public disclosure by China Yingxia about these issues. Siris learned additional material, nonpublic information during the late afternoon of March 3, 2009, when he received a draft press release and notice that China Yingxia planned to publicly disclose the problems. Siris increased his orders to sell over the next couple of days before China Yingxia issued its press release publicly on March 6. Siris, through his funds, sold 1,143,660 China Yingxia shares in a matter of weeks for ill-gotten gains of approximately $172,000.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Siris and Guerrilla Capital Management also engaged in illegal insider trading ahead of 10 offering announcements for other Chinese issuers and made approximately $162,000 in ill-gotten gains. After expressly agreeing to go “over-the-wall,” which included a prohibition on trading, Siris traded ahead of the offering announcements in breach of his duty not to trade on such information.
The SEC further alleges that Siris sold short the securities of two Chinese companies prior to participating in firm-commitment offerings.
Fraudulent Representations in a Securities Purchase Agreement
The SEC alleges that in order to induce at least one issuer to sell securities to his funds, Siris falsely represented in a securities purchase agreement that his funds had not engaged in any trading after being contacted in confidence about a particular deal, when in fact his funds had effected sales in that issuer’s securities. Siris directed short sales of a Chinese issuer on Dec. 9, 2009, despite going “over-the-wall” in original solicitation discussions, and nevertheless Siris signed a securities purchase agreement later that afternoon that misrepresented he had not traded in those securities. The following morning, Siris directed additional sales of the company’s shares before the public announcement of the offering. Siris realized illegal insider trading gains.
Materially Misleading Disclosures to Fund Investors
The SEC alleges that Siris generally disclosed that he and his consulting firm Hua Mei, may provide services to Chinese issuers, but he did not disclose the depth of his involvement in China Yingxia. Investors were not informed that Siris and his firm provided drafting assistance for press releases and SEC filings, translation services, management preparation in advance of conference calls, and officer recommendations. By omitting key facts and making misrepresentations about his role with the company, Siris deprived his investors of material information that could have impacted their continued investment decisions with his funds. Furthermore, when China Yingxia later collapsed, Siris wrote to his investors and placed blame on others he claimed were responsible for the SEC filings and key hiring decisions while omitting his significant role in these very same tasks.
Acting as an Unregistered Securities Broker
The SEC alleges that Siris, who was not registered as a broker or dealer nor associated with a registered broker-dealer, acted as an unregistered broker during China Yingxia’s second securities offering, as he raised more than $2 million worth of investments. In a backdated consulting agreement, Siris through Hua Mei in fact received transaction-based fees for leading fundraising efforts for China Yingxia and not for providing consulting services. No disclosures were made to potential or actual investors concerning payments to three so-called consultants including Siris, who sold China Yingxia securities.
Improper Unregistered Sale of Securities
The SEC alleges that Siris and Hua Mei improperly sold securities that Hua Mei received from China Yingxia in a sham agreement intended to hide the fact that they were shares from a person controlled by the company. China Yingxia agreed to pay Siris for due diligence he conducted in connection with his lead investment in the company’s July 2007 PIPE offering. The company transferred shares to Siris with the appearance that they came from a shareholder to reimburse him for services performed for that shareholder. In fact, the sham agreement was simply a means for China Yingxia to provide Hua Mei with shares believed to be immediately eligible for sale, because had the company issued the shares directly to Hua Mei, they would have been restricted stock subject to holding period and other requirements for resale. The shareholder and source of the shares was later revealed to be the father of China Yingxia’s CEO – someone who was in fact a person directly or indirectly controlled by the issuer.
The SEC’s complaint against Siris and his entities alleges violations of Sections 5(a), 5(c), and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Sections 10(b) and 15(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Rule 10b-5 thereunder, Rule 105 of Regulation M, and Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and Rule 206(4)-8 thereunder. Without admitting or denying the allegations, Siris and his firms agreed to pay $592,942.39 in disgorgement and $70,488.83 prejudgment interest. Siris agreed to pay a penalty of $464,011.93. They also consented to the entry of a judgment enjoining them from violations of the respective provisions of the Securities Act, Exchange Act, and Advisers Act. The settlement is subject to court approval.
Also charged for securities law violations related to China Yingxia:
- Ren Hu – the former CFO of China Yingxia made fraudulent representations in Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) certifications, lied to auditors, failed to implement internal accounting controls, and aided and abetted China Yingxia’s failure to implement internal controls.
- Peter Dong Zhou – engaged in insider trading and unregistered sales of securities and aided and abetted unregistered broker-dealer activity while assisting China Yingxia with its reverse merger and virtually all of its public company tasks. Without admitting or denying the charges, Zhou agreed to pay $20,900 in disgorgement, $2,463.39 in prejudgment interest, and a penalty $50,000. He agreed to a three-year collateral bar, penny stock bar, and investment company bar.
- Alan Sheinwald and his investor relations firm Alliance Advisors LLC – were retained as “consultants” to China Yingxia and acted as unregistered securities brokers while raising money for China Yingxia and at least one other issuer.
- Steve Mazur – acted as an unregistered securities broker while selling away from his firm the securities of China Yingxia and one other issuer. Without admitting or denying the charges, Mazur agreed to pay $126,800 in disgorgement, $25,550.01 in prejudgment interest, and a penalty of $25,000. He agreed to a two-year collateral bar, penny stock bar, and investment company bar.
- James Fuld, Jr. – involved in the unregistered sales of securities. Without admitting or denying the charges, he agreed to pay $178,594.85 in disgorgement and $38,096.70 in prejudgment interest.