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On December 6, 2016, after nearly twenty years of silence on insider trading, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Ninth Circuit in holding that prosecutors need not show that a tipster received a pecuniary or other tangible benefit for providing inside information where the insider and trader are close friends or relatives. Salman v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court Case No. 15-628.

Salman was convicted for trading on information received from his friend, Michael Kara, who had in turn received the information from his brother and Salman’s brother-in-law, Maher Kara, a former Citigroup investment banker. Although Salman was not the insider, he was convicted based on so-called “tippee liability,” where the insider discloses nonpublic information to an outsider (a “tippee”) who then trades on the basis of the information, as established by the Supreme Court in its landmark Dirks decision. Dirks v. S.E.C., 463 U.S. 646 (1983).  Under Dirks, a tippee can be liable for insider trading provided the insider received a “personal benefit” from tipping the information, which benefit may be inferred where the tipper receives something of value in exchange for the tip or “makes a gift of confidential information to a trading relative or friend.”


Continue Reading Insider Trading Conviction in First Insider Trading Case in Nearly Two Decades Affirmed by Supreme Court

The announcement that San Francisco private company Hampton Creek faces an SEC inquiry related to their alleged “buyback” program of vegan mayo comes as no shock. See reporting on Bloomberg. As soon as the facts were initially reported it seemed only a matter of time until the regulators, who have been looking for a poster child (or rather, a whole class of poster children) of private company enforcement in the Bay Area, swooped in.
Continue Reading Developments in SEC Private Company Enforcement: Sophisticated VC’s in the Role of Victim

We noted with interest the latest moves by some Bay Area tech giants to permit their employees to sell restricted stock to help them realize the stock value as part of their compensation: See New York Times reporting here. It should come as no surprise that private company employees in our tech economy rely on their potential restricted stock value as an important part of their compensation package, and also their decision whether to work for, or stay working for, one of the “hot” pre-IPO companies (which are legion in Northern California). What may surprise private companies is that this kind of restricted stock sale by employees creates a very easy “in” for the SEC to bring a case should any hidden compliance failures or fraud later be revealed.
Continue Reading Private Company Employee Stock Sales Highlight Hidden Dangers of Compliance Failures

Every day corporate entities and individuals in some parts of the world provide payments to foreign officials in exchange for business favors. While it may be a common feature of business in these places, this kind of activity is illegal under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which criminalizes various acts of bribery and related accounting fraud. The consequences for failing to comply with the FCPA are severe, and ensuring compliance can be especially difficult for start-up or relatively young companies growing rapidly and expanding into foreign markets before they can institute robust compliance systems.
Continue Reading Minding the Compliance Gap in an Evolving FCPA Landscape

When the Volkswagen emissions scandal hit the press last year, we wondered which agency would manage the subsequent investigations. We are still waiting on the car company’s plan to remedy the emissions testing software and waiting to see if criminal charges will be filed—and if so, who specifically will be in the DOJ’s criminal crosshairs (DOJ filed a mammoth civil suit in January). The DOJ isn’t the only agency stepping up enforcement in the emissions space, however. This past week the SEC got in the emissions game on the security side, charging Navistar International with misleading investors in connection with their truck engine emissions.
Continue Reading SEC Spotlight Hits Emissions Issues

The Federal Bar Association’s annual kick-off event – “Views from the Top” – provides the white collar criminal defense bar an invaluable preview of the enforcement priorities of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Yet one preview that should be of particular interest to local companies stood out – the typically opaque pre-IPO space should expect heightened scrutiny by the SEC.
Continue Reading Pre-IPO Companies – SEC 2016 Enforcement Priority