Two United States congressmen introduced legislation in late December that would exclude certain digital currencies from being defined as securities – a bill that, if enacted, may finally provide the cryptocurrency industry with regulatory clarity regarding when the offer and sale of digital tokens must comply with federal securities laws.

The Token Taxonomy Act of 2018 – introduced on December 20, 2018 by Reps. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) and Darren Soto (D-Florida) – would, among other things, amend the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to exclude “digital tokens from the definition of a security,” as well as exempt digital tokens from the registration and reporting requirements of Section 5 of the 1933 Act. The bill effectively defines “digital tokens” as tokens created through the operation of the blockchain process and that are not “a representation of a financial interest in a company, including an ownership or debt interest or revenue share.” The definition explicitly includes such tokens issued through an initial coin offering (ICO, or the process of raising capital in exchange for tokens).

The bill leaves room for the SEC to deem certain “digital units” as securities – an umbrella term meant to represent any “economic, proprietary, or access rights that [are] stored in a computer-readable format” – if such units fall outside the definition of “digital tokens” and are actually meant to serve as equity. And when a party has a “reasonable and good-faith belief” that it is selling a token (versus a security) and the SEC disagrees, the bill grants that party a 90-day safe harbor period wherein it can avoid penalty by halting the sale of all tokens and returning all proceeds. Continue Reading Token Taxonomy Act Seeks to Provide Regulatory Clarity to Crypto Industry

The attorney-client privilege, which prohibits the compelled disclosure of confidential communications between an attorney and their client, is enshrined in common law and statutory codes across the country. See, e.g., Cal. Evid. Code § 950 et seq.; Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 389 (1981) (the fundamental purpose of the attorney-client privilege “is to encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice”).

The long-standing recognition of this privilege reflects the policy decision that the encouragement of candor between lawyers and clients outweighs probative and evidentiary value of those frank communications to the administration of justice.

But what happens when a different policy choice is made? Continue Reading What’s Privilege Got to Do With It? Practical Tips for Managing Bank Regulators Access to Attorney-Client Privileged Information

New cryptocurrencies and tokens have been popping up all over the place, leading the SEC to set up an initial coin offering (ICO) section on its website and to promote recent enforcement actions in the digital currency space. The proliferation of new tokens offers a growing opportunity for cross-over and cooperation between different federal agencies. The SEC representative at a recent Bar Association of San Francisco panel last week noted that the SEC’s cyber unit is currently looking at dozens of new cryptocurrency or crypto market enforcement actions, including quite a few with the local U.S. Attorney’s office where fraud is implicated. Continue Reading Branding Concerns Rise Amid Cryptocurrency Proliferation

It always comes when you least expect it – a government inquiry to investigate your business. While it may instill a sense of panic, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re in the best position possible when the investigation begins.

This blog series developed by Chrysty Esperanza, Litigation Counsel at Square, Inc., will address this main question: When you receive a subpoena, CID, or informal request from the government, how should you respond?


Cooperation and Voluntary Disclosure Issues – Benefits + Risks of Self Reporting

The Foreign Corrupt Policies Act (FCPA) unit at the DOJ recently enacted its Corporate Enforcement Policy. According to the policy, if a company self-reports an FCPA violation and cooperates fully and timely, there is a presumption of declination of prosecution.  However, there is an exception – the presumption will not apply if there are aggravating circumstances that warrant a criminal investigation, Continue Reading Battling Government Investigations Series – Cooperation and Voluntary Disclosure

It always comes when you least expect it – a government inquiry to investigate your business. While it may instill a sense of panic, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re in the best position possible when the investigation begins.

This blog series by Chrysty Esperanza, Litigation Counsel at Square, Inc., will address this main question: When you receive a subpoena, CID, or informal request from the government, how should you respond?


When Civil and Criminal Investigations Collide

Civil and criminal investigations are not as separate as you may think, and it is quite possible they may blend together.  While an internal investigation may be launched in response to a civil request from a government agency, the degree of cooperation between civil and criminal government agencies means an open civil investigation can easily trigger a criminal inquiry. When parallel civil and criminal investigations occur jointly, the government agencies may share the work and information from their respective investigations.  For example, a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will always note that information discovered during the investigation can be shared with multiple agencies, like the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Continue Reading Battling Government Investigations Series – Civil and Criminal Investigations

It always comes when you least expect it – a government inquiry to investigate your business. While it may instill a sense of panic, there are steps you can take to make sure you’re in the best position possible when the investigation begins.

This blog series developed by Chrysty Esperanza, Litigation Counsel at Square, Inc., will address this main question: When you receive a subpoena, CID, or informal request from the government, how should you respond?


How do you find the right lawyer to conduct an internal investigation?

When an issue arises that requires an internal investigation, determining who handles the investigation may have a significant impact on the investigation itself. There are basically two options:  use in-house resources or hire outside counsel.  Usually, it is preferable to hire outside counsel, especially where the issues being investigated are serious or involve concerns as to management integrity.  Doing so conveys to the government that you are taking the investigation seriously.  Engaging outside counsel also provides more credibility where senior management are being asked to provide information, and demonstrates your appreciation and understanding of the complexity of the investigation.  It also conveys to senior management internally the seriousness of the matter.  In addition, outside counsel can provide a fresh and objective perspective on your internal practices and may even provide an opportunity to benchmark your business with industry standards and best practices of other companies. Continue Reading Battling Government Investigation Series – Find the Right Lawyer

At a recent panel organized by San Francisco’s Federal Bar Association, the San Francisco Regional Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Jina Choi, confirmed that the agency continues to focus on investor fraud in the pre-IPO private market space. Highlighting enforcement actions against the non-public Zenefits, Credit Karma, and Theranos[1], Ms. Choi reiterated the SEC’s commitment to aggressive oversight over “unicorns,” or privately-held companies valued over $1 billion. The SEC first announced its intent to step up enforcement in this space in a March 2016 speech by previous SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White, and Ms. Choi reported that the current SEC leadership, led by current Chairman Jay Clayton, is equally committed to policing this “beat.”

The Compliance Gap has been closely tracking SEC compliance enforcement at privately-held companies, which began in earnest last fall when the SEC announced that the non-public human resources company Zenefits and its founder, Parker Conrad had agreed to pay a combined $980,000 to settle claims that the company intentionally misled the company’s Series B and C investors. The SEC alleged Conrad and the company had misled investors about the degree to which Zenefits complied with state licensing laws, resulting in a lowered valuation when the compliance failures were revealed.

In March of this year the SEC reported a first-of-its-kind settlement with Credit Karma, in which the company agreed to pay $160,000 to settle claims that it failed to provide its employees with the disclosures required by Rule 701(e) of the Securities Act.  Rule 701 requires that a company compensating its employees with stock options provide detailed financial and risk disclosures before the date of sale. The SEC alleged that Credit Karma sold approximately $13.8 million in stock options to its employees without providing the information required by Rule 701.

Just two days after announcing the Credit Karma settlement, the SEC also filed a complaint against health care company Theranos, company founder Elizabeth Holmes, and former President and Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. In the complaints the SEC alleged that the company, Ms. Holmes, and Mr. Balwani made false claims about the capabilities of the company’s proprietary blood-test analyzers, regulatory approval of the proprietary blood-test analyzers, and the company’s business relationships with the U.S. Department of Defense.  Theranos and Ms. Holmes agreed to settle the claims made by the SEC, but Mr. Balwani has chosen to litigate what will surely be a closely watched case.

Ms. Choi also highlighted the SEC’s new approach to devising inventive ways to punish investor fraud in the private space. For example, Ms. Choi noted that the agency required both company and individual settlement payments in the Zenefits and Theranos resolutions (Ms. Holmes agreed to pay $500,000 and Mr. Conrad agreed to pay nearly that amount).  Ms. Holmes was also required to forfeit her ownership interest in Theranos, and was permanently banned from serving as an officer or director of any publicly-traded company.  Ms. Choi indicated that these remedies were arrived at through significant consultations with allegedly defrauded investors.  This approach indicates a shift towards creative remediation schemes that reflect the wishes of alleged victims, and the perceived need for individual punishments in the privately-held company space where founders can be interchangeable with the companies they build.

[1] Farella, Braun + Martel, LLP represents an individual in connection with the Theranos investigation. This report contains only publicly available information.

Department of Justice signNext week marks the 40th anniversary of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – it became effective December 19, 1977. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein marked the occasion this month by providing an update on the FCPA Pilot Program announced in spring 2016 and detailed in this Compliance Gap blogpost. Bottom line: the FCPA policy now provides for a presumed declination of prosecution for companies that complete a fulsome self-disclosure disgorgement, and remediation program. Continue Reading FCPA in the Trump DOJ: Continuing Down the Same Path, with a Little More Heft

Last week the SEC announced it had reached an agreement with privately-held company Zenefits, and its co-founder and former CEO Parker Conrad, to settle allegations that Zenefits materially misled Series B and C investors. The parties agreed to settle for over a combined $980,000 (Zenefits agreed to pay $450,000, with Conrad responsible for the balance). This appears to be a first-of-its-kind SEC enforcement action against a privately-held company, reflecting this ongoing enforcement priority for the agency in Silicon Valley.  Continue Reading With Zenefits Settlement Award SEC Demonstrates Continued Commitment to “Unicorn” Scrutiny Despite Administration Change: Same Old Sheriff in Town

globe with digital overlayThe fight over whether the government may access the data of companies and individuals that is stored overseas has officially made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 16, the Supreme Court agreed to review the Second Circuit’s decision in Matter of Warrant to Search a Certain E-Mail Account Controlled & Maintained by Microsoft Corp., 829 F.3d 197, 203 (2d Cir. 2016). The grant of certiorari was a win for the Department of Justice. As we previously reported, the Second Circuit had held that the government could not compel production of Microsoft’s email account data stored in Dublin, Ireland because warrants traditionally may only be enforced domestically under the Stored Communication Act. While there is much speculation about which way the Court may rule, the consensus appears to be that its decision could significantly impact the government’s search and seizure power under the Fourth Amendment. It is also conceivable that the ruling could pave the way for broader discovery in the civil context, allowing parties to subpoena or otherwise request documents stored abroad in the course of civil litigation.

Meanwhile, there are identical legislative proposals (International Communications Privacy Act of 2017 (ICPA)) that have been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives addressing the privacy of internationally stored data. The ICPA would allow the government to obtain with a warrant the electronic communications of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, regardless of where the individuals or communications are located, from service providers. The proposals have received broad support, including from Microsoft, which has stated that the proposed law “updates antiquated data laws to better meet the needs of law enforcement, while protecting people’s privacy rights.”

We will continue to monitor these proceedings, which could have a major impact on our clients.