The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced fraud charges against a securities lawyer who used his New York law office as the headquarters for planning and implementing market manipulation schemes. Also charged are two stock promoters from Canada who assisted him.
The SEC alleges that Adam S. Gottbetter orchestrated promotional campaigns that touted the prospects of microcap companies and enticed investors to buy their stock at inflated prices so he and his cohorts could sell shares they controlled and reap massive profits. Gottbetter enlisted Mitchell G. Adam and K. David Stevenson to help him in the last of three schemes he conducted in a six-year period. They repeatedly cautioned each other about the dangers of missteps that might draw law enforcement attention to the scheme, such as failing to keep secret the identities of Adam and Stevenson. The three rehearsed stories they would tell if ever questioned by law enforcement. During one meeting in New York City, Gottbetter complained about the difficulties of stock manipulation but conceded that robbing a bank was the only other way to make so much money so quickly.
Gottbetter agreed to pay $4.6 million to settle the SEC’s charges. Stevenson also agreed to settle the SEC charges against him while a case against Adam will be litigated in federal court in Newark, N.J.
In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey today announced criminal charges against Gottbetter, Adam, and Stevenson.
“As a securities lawyer, Gottbetter should have served as a gatekeeper and protected the capital markets and investors from fraudsters. Instead, he swung the gates wide open and illicitly profited at investors’ expense,” said Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Gottbetter was involved in the manipulation of the stocks of Kentucky USA Energy Inc. (KYUS) and Dynastar Holdings Inc. (DYNA) before teaming up with Adam and Stevenson in July 2013 to utilize their offshore ties for a new and potentially more lucrative scheme. Together they schemed to drive up the stock price for purported oil and gas exploration company HBP Energy Corp. (HBPE) through fraudulent trades generated by a trading algorithm. They then planned to launch an extensive promotional campaign featuring multiple call centers, roadshows, and a listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. After creating the false appearance of liquidity and investor interest, they planned to dump their shares of the stock on unsuspecting investors around the world. While Stevenson and Adam managed to do some small coordinated trades, the scheme was thwarted before the planned manipulation and promotion could be launched when Stevenson was arrested by the FBI.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that Gottbetter violated Sections 5(a), 5(c) and Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, and violated and aided and abetted violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5. The complaint alleges that Adam and Stevenson violated and aided and abetted violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5.
Gottbetter agreed to be barred from the penny stock industry in addition to paying $4.6 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest from ill-gotten gains in the Kentucky USA Energy manipulation scheme. He consented to injunctions against future violations. Stevenson also agreed to be barred from the penny stock industry and consented to an injunction against future violations. The settlements are subject to court approval.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Simona Suh of the Market Abuse Unit and Nancy A. Brown and Elzbieta Wraga of the New York office. The case was supervised by Amelia A. Cottrell and Michael J. Osnato Jr. The SEC’s litigation against Adam will be led by Ms. Brown and Ms. Suh. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Newark Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.