Articles Tagged with AWC

Since 1972 the Securities & Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) has maintained a rule that imposes a gag order on settling defendants in civil enforcement actions.  In 2003, Barry D. Romeril, CFO for Xerox, entered into a consent agreement with the SEC that included the following language:

“Defendant understands and agrees to comply with the [SEC]’s policy ‘not to permit a defendant . . . to consent to a judgment or order that imposes a sanction while denying the allegation in the complaint . . . .’ 17 C.F.R. § 202.5. In compliance with this policy, Defendant agrees not to take any action or to make or permit to be made any public statement denying, directly or indirectly, any allegation in the complaint or creating the impression that the complaint is without factual basis. If Defendant breaches this agreement, the [SEC] may petition the Court to vacate the Final Judgment and restore this action to its active docket. Nothing in this paragraph affects Defendant’s: (i) testimonial obligations; or (ii) right to take legal or factual positions in litigation in which the [SEC] is not a party.”

Language to this effect is in every consent agreement with the SEC.  The CFTC and FINRA also place substantively identical injunctions regarding what defendants can say about their cases once they settle.

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When settling a FINRA investigation, the Staff drafts a letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC) setting forth the terms of the settlement.  In the AWC, FINRA routinely demands the settling party consent to the following restraint on speech:

“Respondent may not take any action or permit to be made any public statement, including in regulatory filings or otherwise, denying directly or indirectly, any finding in this AWC or create the impression that the AWC is without factual basis.”

A matter before the U.S. Supreme Court may upend FINRA’s use of a gag order.

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This is a classic case of buyer’s remorse.  In the case at hand, FA Jeffrey Mohlman settled with FINRA by executing a letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (called an AWC) and, in so doing, agreed to a bar from the securities industry.  Apparently displeased with his decision, he filed an action in court seeking almost $900,000 in damages by claiming that FINRA “committed fraud by inducing Plaintiff to fail to testify at a second disciplinary interview, thus allegedly fraudulently avoiding an alleged requirement that Defendants consider mitigating factors in the Plaintiff’s disciplinary case…”   Mohlman’s claims received a chilly reception by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (Mohlman v. FINRA, et al., Case No. 19-cv-154), which granted FINRA’s motion to dismiss on February 24, 2020.

Background

Mohlman entered the securities industry in 2001.  In March 2015, Mohlman’s then-employer, Questar Capital Corporation, terminated his registration and filed a Form U5 claiming that Mohlman “resigned while under internal review for failure to follow firm policies and procedures regarding his participation in private securities transactions.”  FINRA then launched an investigation and requested his appearance at an on-the-record interview (OTR) on September 11, 2015.  On September 9, 2015, Mohlman’s lawyer informed FINRA that Mohlman received the OTR request but would be declining to appear.  On September 17, 2015, Mohlman signed an AWC in which he agreed to a bar from the securities industry and waived various procedural rights.

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FINRA wants a member firm to enforce its written supervisory procedures.  And FINRA wants a member firm to recommend securities that fit within the customer’s investment objectives.  And certainly FINRA wants a member firm to avoid falsification of business records.  So what happens when a member firm doesn’t quite live up to FINRA’s expectations?  Let’s play the over / under game and try to guess the size of the FINRA sanction when a member engages in the following misconduct:

  • Failure to enforce WSPs governing the sale of high-risk mutual funds subject to significant volatility
  • Failure to reallocate portfolios to reduce risk or otherwise update investment objectives to correspond with the assumption of additional risk
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