Robbing Peter to Pay Paul: Irving Picard’s Quest to Repay Bernie Madoff’s Victims

Author: Dan Stroh, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

Charles Ponzi did not intend to have his name become synonymous with financial fraud; he intended to get rich quickly. While he was not the first to perpetrate such a scheme, Ponzi’s name is attached to a type of fraud in which a fund pays its first investors with the money contributed by later investors—a Ponzi scheme. In 2008, Bernie Madoff was discovered to have been running a Ponzi scheme with investments estimated at $17.5 billion[1] and claimed returns in excess of $65 billion.[2] While Ponzi’s name is still mentioned frequently, many people now view Madoff as the face of Ponzi schemes due to his decades-long run as a famous investment professional all while never actually investing client funds.

When Madoff’s scheme unraveled, Irving Picard was assigned as trustee for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC under the Securities Investor Protection Act (SIPA) and was given the task of attempting to recover as much money as possible to repay the initial investments of Madoff clients.[3] Six years later, the victims of Madoff’s fraud are still seeking repayment of their initial investments.[4] Picard has successfully recovered approximately 60% of the stolen assets to distribute to victims, but he continues to seek more.[5] Recently, the Second Circuit placed a major obstacle in his path when it determined that investors who withdrew more from their accounts than they initially invested were protected by the stockbroker defense in § 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code.[6] Picard argued that these investors profited from Madoff’s scheme and whether they knew of the scheme or not, the profits they enjoyed should be shared by all of the defrauded investors.[7] On March 17, 2015 he filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, which has the potential to increase the amount of recovered assets by at least $2 billion and possibly up to $4 billion. With the holders of these funds currently protected by the “stockbroker defense” under the Second Circuit’s ruling,[8] Picard hopes that the Supreme Court will take the case and rule that this defense should only apply when actual securities are involved, not fictitious ones as is the case with Ponzi schemes. While some see the efforts of Picard as simply robbing Peter to pay Paul,[9] the return of these funds would allow for all defrauded investors to be treated equally and fairly without conveying benefits on those who were lucky enough to withdraw their money from Madoff’s Ponzi scheme first.

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Murking Dirks: Personal Benefits in Insider Trading Violations

Author: Dan Stroh, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

The phrase “insider trading” does not have a positive connotation. Despite the lack of an express provision prohibiting trading on insider information, insider trading has long been prosecuted under anti-fraud provisions found in securities law regulations.[1] A recent focus by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, coupled with the conviction of a billionaire hedge fund manager, has brought renewed attention to this area of law.[2] Mr. Bharara’s presence in the press, combined with his record in policing insider trading, have so far been largely successful in policing conduct harmful to the general public.[3]

A recent ruling by the Second Circuit, however, threatens to undermine much of the work done by Mr. Bharara’s office. In United States v. Newman, a judge reversed the insider trading convictions of two traders with prejudice, declaring the guilty verdict unsupportable and barring the United States from retrying the defendants.[4] By departing from prior case law interpreting certain elements of fraudulent insider trading, the court put an abrupt stop to many of the prosecutions of insider trading, which has reverberated throughout the legal community. Because the decision affects not only the ability of the government to prosecute insider trading in the future but also threatens to undercut much of the work done by Mr. Bharara, whether this decision will stand as is or be reheard will have a significant impact on the landscape of securities law.[5]

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Confusion in Lock-Up: Irrevocable Agreements and Section 11 Claims

Author: Dan Stroh, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

On October 6, 2014, the Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari in Moores v. Hildes, which involved the interpretation of § 11 of the Securities Act of 1933.[1] Section 11 protects investors by requiring disclosures regarding the purchase of securities and imposing liability on actors responsible for misstatements or errors in information regarding the securities.[2] By holding directors and other company leaders responsible for the accuracy of required statements, § 11 aims to instill confidence in securities investors. Generally, the Act does not require an investor to show he relied on misleading information in a company’s registration statements to impose liability on those responsible for the accuracy of the information.[3] However, the Eleventh and Ninth Circuits are split as to whether a plaintiff must show reliance on a misleading registration statement when the registration statement was issued after the shareholder entered a binding lock-up contract in a merger. By choosing not to review Moores v. Hildes, the Supreme Court refused to address the issue of reliance when an investor utilizes § 11 to enforce accountability for this type of error. Because § 11 is one of the few remaining areas of securities law where injured investors turn for protection from misstatements affecting the value of their investments,[4] the Supreme Court’s failure to affirm the ruling in Hildes will result in continued confusion, lack of protection for investors, and disparate rulings that vary by jurisdiction.

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Secure Currency or Security? The SEC and Bitcoin Regulation

Author: Dan Stroh, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) took a bold step in the regulation of virtual currencies on July 23, 2013, when it charged Trendon Shavers and his company, Bitcoin Savings and Trust (BTCST), with defrauding customers in a Ponzi scheme.[1] The defense offered by Shavers in the motions leading up to the judgment was that bitcoin[2] is not a real currency or money recognized by the U.S. government.[3] Because securities fraud law requires an “investment of money”[4] to form an investment contract, Shavers argued that because the SEC could not show this investment, the statutes did not apply to Bitcoin and the SEC’s prosecution must be dismissed.[5] However, on September 18, 2014, a Texas court granted the SEC’s motion for summary judgment on the violations of anti-fraud and registration provisions of several securities laws and imposed fines of over $40 million on Shavers and BTCST. Because Shavers admitted most of the factual basis of the SEC’s argument, once the court held that an investment contract existed, he had no defense to the charges.[6] This ruling was one of the first to determine the status of bitcoin as a security in a United States court. Although Bitcoin may be a newcomer to the securities industry, defining bitcoin as a security gives regulators at the SEC significant and necessary power to combat fraud in this developing area of finance.

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