FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

July 29, 2015

What Would Dr. Seuss Say about an Allowance?

What Pet Should I Get?Earlier this month we had the release of a second book by Harper Lee, “Go Set a Watchman”, which was miraculously discovered having been written some 50+ years ago. This week, there was another release from a (now deceased) author from a newly discovered source. I of course refer to the release yesterday of the new Dr. Seuss book “What Pet Should I Get?, published Random House, which informs today’s compliance lesson.

The book was discovered by Seuss’ widow, as noted in the Sunday New York Times (NYT) Book Review article, entitled “Dr. Seuss Book: Yes They Found it in a Box, when she decided to “have the rest of his notes and sketches appraised, that they closely examined the contents of that box. They found a set of brightly colored alphabet flash cards, some rough sketches titled “The Horse Museum,” and a manila folder marked “Noble Failures,” with whimsical drawings that he had been unable to find a place for in his stories. But alongside the orphaned sketches was a more complete project labeled “The Pet Shop,” 16 black-and-white illustrations, with text that he had typed on paper and taped to the drawings. The pages were stained and yellowed, but the story was all there, in Dr. Seuss’ unmistakable rollicking rhymes.” This finding became the book, What Pet Should I Get?

Reading this discovery made me ponder about how a child would pay for the pet they wanted and of course my thoughts turned to that age-old parenting quandary – the allowance. It is always a question of great interest for both parents and children. As with many things involving parent/child relationships, my views have evolved. As a teenager, I certainly had the view that an allowance was a God-given right and the more the better. I would only note that my parents did not share those views. As the father of a teenaged daughter, my views reached the much fuller expression of spoiling my daughter as often as possible. Which one is correct? I still do not have a final answer.

I thought about the ongoing debate and dialogue over the allowance when I read the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against Mead Johnson Nutrition Company (Mead Johnson). The matter was resolved via SEC Administrative proceeding that concluded with a Cease and Desist Order being agreed to by the parties. Mead Johnson agreed to pay a fine of $12.3MM which consisted of profit disgorgement of $7.7MM, prejudgment interest of $1.26MM and a civil penalty of $3MM. Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, said in a SEC Press Release, “Mead Johnson Nutrition’s lax internal control environment enabled its subsidiary to use off-the-books slush funds to pay doctors and other health care professionals in China to recommend its baby formula and give the company marketing access to mothers.”

The enforcement action turned on violations of the accounting provisions of the FCPA. This is where the ‘allowance’ issue comes into the discussion. According to the Cease and Desist Order, “certain employees of Mead Johnson China improperly compensated HCPs, who were foreign officials under the FCPA, to recommend Mead Johnson’s infant formula to, and to improperly provide contact information for, expectant and new mothers.” One of Mead Johnson’s sales channels in China was through distributors. To facilitate this illegal conduct, funding to the distributors, called the “Distributor Allowance”, was diverted to make illegal payments. The Cease and Desist Order stated, “Although the Distributor Allowance contractually belonged to the distributors, certain members of Mead Johnson China’s workforce exercised some control over how the money was spent, and certain Mead Johnson China employees provided specific guidance to distributors concerning the use of the funds. Mead Johnson China staff also maintained certain records related to Distributor Allowance expenditure by distributors. In addition, Mead Johnson China used some of the funds to reimburse Mead Johnson China’s sales personnel for a portion of their marketing and other expenditures on behalf of Mead Johnson China.”

This tactic was clearly a violation of the company’s books and records obligations under the FCPA. By doing so, Mead Johnson was able to hide its payments to doctors and health care providers (HCPs) from not only regulators but the company’s shareholders as well. As the Cease and Desist Order noted, the company’s “records were incomplete and did not reflect that a portion of Distributor Allowance was being used contrary to Mead Johnson’s policies.” Finally, the Cease and Desist Order concluded, “Up through 2013, certain Mead Johnson China employees made payments to HCPs using funds maintained by third parties. These funds and payments from the funds were not accurately reflected on Mead Johnson China’s books and records. The books and records of Mead Johnson China were consolidated into Mead Johnson’s books and records. As a result of the misconduct of Mead Johnson China, Mead Johnson failed to make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflected its transactions as required by Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act.”

However Mead Johnson did not stop with books and records violations. The Distributor Allowance manipulation allowed the China business unit to “improperly compensate HCPs was contrary to management’s authorization and Mead Johnson’s internal policies. Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that Mead Johnson China’s funding of marketing and sales expenditures through third-party distributors was done in accordance with management’s authorization.” Once again the Cease and Desist Order concluded, “Up through 2013, Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls to ensure that Mead Johnson China’s method of funding marketing and sales expenditures through third-party distributors was not used for unauthorized purposes, such as improperly compensating Chinese HCPs to recommend Mead Johnson’s products. As a result of such failure, the improper payments to HCPs occurred contrary to management’s authorizations, in violation of Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act.”

In an interesting twist Mead Johnson, based on an allegation of potential FCPA violations in China, performed an internal investigation on its China unit in 2011 and came up with no evidence. Somewhat dryly the SEC noted that the company did not make any self-disclosure around these allegations and “did not thereafter promptly disclose the existence of this allegation in response to the Commission’s inquiry into this matter.”

Yet after a second internal investigation in 2013 they turned up evidence of FCPA violations, the company “undertook significant remedial measures including: termination of senior staff at Mead Johnson China; updating and enhancing financial accounting controls; significantly revising its compliance program; enhancing Mead Johnson’s compliance division, adding positions including a second senior-level position; establishing new business conduct controls and third party due-diligence procedures and contracts; establishing a unit in China that monitors compliance and controls in China on an on-going basis; and providing employees with a method to have immediate access the company’s policies and requirements.”

While there was no statement regarding self-disclosure, the company did cooperate extensively with the SEC after the company was called to task. The Cease and Desist Order noted, “Mead Johnson subsequently provided extensive and thorough cooperation. Mead Johnson voluntarily provided reports of its investigative findings; shared its analysis of documents and summaries of witness interviews; and responded to the Commission’s requests for documents and information and provided translations of key documents. These actions assisted the Commission staff in efficiently collecting valuable evidence, including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

There are several lessons to be learned from the Mead Johnson enforcement action. If it was not clear from the GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) imbroglio in China in 2013-14, your internal investigation must be thorough. Performing an investigation, finding no FCPA violations only to have a regulator sitting on your shoulder and later finding such evidence is never good. The SEC also reaffirmed its clear intention to continue to enforce the accounting provisions of the FCPA, with or without a parallel Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement action. Companies must also take heed on their internal controls. Clearly certain China business unit employees had developed a work-around of the compliance internal controls by requiring the distributors to use their allowances to pay bribes. Internal controls must not only exist but they must be effective. That means you have to test their effectiveness, not simply tick the box that you have put them in place.

Finally, and I think Dr. Seuss’ compliance lesson is that when you give out an allowance, while you may restrict some of its uses, you certainly should not direct where the money is spent. Every kid knows that if you are told where to spend your allowance, it is really not your allowance. Perhaps Mead Johnson would do well to remember that long lost lesson from childhood.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

May 21, 2015

Compliance Week 2015 Wrap Up

Wrap UpCompliance Week 2015 has ended. This year was the tenth anniversary of the annual conference and in many ways I found it to be the best one yet. Matt Kelly and his team put together a conference and experience, which was absolutely first-rate. If you were not able to make this year’s event, I hope you will join us for Compliance Week 2016, which Matt announced the dates for at the conclusion of this year’s event. The dates for 2016 are May 23-26, back of course in Washington DC to be held yet again at the Mayflower Hotel. I wanted to give you some of my thoughts on the highlights of this year’s event and what made it so unique.

At my age, I am somewhat loathe to channel my teenage daughter but the first thing that I noticed was a very different vibe this year over past year’s conferences. From the Cocktail Party reception held on Sunday night, all the way through the conclusion of the event, there seemed to be an air that I have not quite been able to put my finger on. It was more than an acknowledgement and perhaps even an excitement about how far the compliance profession has come in the past ten years. While I have written about the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and compliance profession as CCO 2.0, I had the feeling that we may be moving on to CCO 3.0, as that was even the title of a session.

But this vibe was more tangible than simply a feeling. One key ingredient for me was the use of social media into the conference experience. While many events have a conference app, which can provide you information on such things as the agenda, speakers and their presentations, room locations and the like; the Compliance Week 2015 app was fully interactive, allowing you to live tweet, send IM to fellow conference attendees and receive text messages when a room changed or other conference alteration occurred. It also provided a virtual help desk for all attendees.

Many of sessions were led by CCOs from major corporations and they were able to provide a strategic vision of where they were going at their organizations. This was kicked off from the start of the conference, from the first panel on the first day where the CCOs from Boeing, GE and the Director of Compliance for Wal-Mart began the event. Obviously these are three of the largest companies in the US and do business on a worldwide basis. Yet, while sharing their strategic visions, each one was able to provide a solid example from their respective organization that a CCO or compliance practitioner from any sized company could implement. From Wal-Mart with a workforce of 2.2 million employees, it was keep the message simple. From Boeing, it was incorporate any compliance failures as teaching moments or lessons learned into your internal compliance training going forward. From GE, it was how to inculcate and incorporate compliance into your everyday business planning.

The conversations were excellent as usual. I led the FCPA conversation and there were several alumni present, who told me they look forward to attending each year. One of the reasons is that there is no avenue in their hometowns to get together in an environment to discuss issues of mutual concern. It is concept that Mike Snyder and I used in founding the Houston Compliance Roundtable. A place where you can ask any question and have it answered by another compliance professional in an environment where Chatham House rules apply. While I certainly started the discussion, it quickly became fully interactive with all participants sharing their views on a variety of topics. While we have some great compliance talent in Houston at our Roundtable, it cannot top the level of maturity and sophistication present at the Compliance Week annual conference. We all benefited from the experience.

This experience was doubled when I led a breakfast event on Tuesday. While an inducement to attend was a complimentary copy of my book Doing Compliance, there were 25 attendees who joined me for a very engaging and free-flowing conversation about the state of compliance, we practitioners and where enforcement may be heading. Compliance Week treated us all to breakfast and, once again, I probably learned as much as any one. But since Chatham House rules were in effect, I cannot report on any of the substantive things that were discussed. I will share with you that I am excited to lead such a breakfast again next year and I hope you will be one of the 25 to sign up.

As always there were a number of government representatives who spoke at Compliance Week again this year. For me, the parade was led by Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. While I will be writing further, and in more detail, about Caldwell’s remarks, she said a few things that I think bear emphasis. One was that compliance professionals need to work towards more data analytics in the form of transaction monitoring to assist in moving to a prevent and even predictive and prescriptive mode for your best practice compliance program. Next she emphasized that your compliance program must not be static but must evolve as your business risks evolve. Finally, and much closer to my heart, were her remarks that you need to “sensitize your business partners to compliance.” It was if she was channeling her inner Scott Killingsworth with his groundbreaking work on ‘Private-to-Private’ or P2P compliance solutions. Or, as I might say, she was advocating a business solution to the legal problem of bribery and corruption across the globe.

But Caldwell was not the only DOJ representative as we had Laurie Perkins, Assistant Chief, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit and Kara Brockmeyer, Chief, FCPA Unit; Division of Enforcement from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), on a panel moderated by yours truly. First I would urge that if you are ever asked to moderate a panel with FCPA enforcers and regulators, jump at the chance. The reason is that you get to ask the questions you want answers to; even if you get past your prepared questions, when there is a lull in questions from the audience, you can follow up with something you want to know or in my case always wanted to know. So I asked some basic questions like: What is Criminal Information? (to Perkins) and Could you explain the process for the SEC’s Administrative Procedure? (to Brockmeyer). I was certainly enlightened by their answers to both questions.

The event sponsors were of course there to provide information on their solutions to assist any compliance practitioner. If you have never been to an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the conference rooms are along a wide hall that allows good people flow and adequate room for the sponsors and others to set up, meet attendees and discuss their products and services. I view the sponsors and vendors as a part of the compliance solution going forward and while they are clearly there to sell; they also engage in a fair amount of education. But the education runs both ways with many compliance practitioners communicating needs they have which can be incorporated into new product developments.

Unfortunately Compliance Week 2015 had to come to an end. But the feeling, information and new friends I met will last with me until Compliance Week 2016 next year. I hope you will plan to join me.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

March 20, 2015

Miss Marple Short Stories and SEC Enforcement of the FCPA, Part V – Final Thoughts

Agatha ChristieI conclude my week of exploration of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by reviewing some of the new things I’ve learnt during this week of research. I learned that Christie made several social observations and revealed much about herself through these stories. She is very much constrained by the roles given to women in the early to mid-1920s, including the lack of a proper education. She also writes about some of the disdainful attitudes of people to an older woman. I found a number of inside jokes that Christie placed into the stories, even referring to the prevalence of detective fiction in print and on the stage at the time the stories were written. Finally is the fact that people make the mistake of not noticing her but that she is watching them and listening and that they will remain unaware of her presence for not too much longer.

In his recent blog post, entitled “Are You An FCPA Contender Or Pretender?”, the FCPA Professor suggested that if you want to practice in the area of FCPA compliance, you really should take the time to read some of the very few underlying sources and documents relating to the subject. After my week exploration of the SEC enforcement of the FCPA, I would note that you can learn quite a bit by heeding his advice.

Internal Controls

There was a trend, beginning in the fall of 2014 of SEC FCPA enforcement actions, where the Department of Justice (DOJ) either declined to prosecute the company or settled with the company via a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA). This led me to conclude that the SEC was ramping up its review and enforcement of the accounting provisions under the FCPA separate and apart from criminal side enforcement of the FCPA by the DOJ. Earlier this month, when Andrew Ceresney, the SEC Director, Division of Enforcement, spoke at CBI’s Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress in Washington DC he discussed the importance of internal controls in SEC enforcement. While his remarks were primarily directed “in the context of financial reporting” I believe they could be equally applicable in the FCPA compliance context.

Ceresney said, “What kinds of practice pointers for how to avoid these issues? Well, in cases we have brought, we see controls that were not carefully designed to match the business, or that were not updated as the business changed and grew. And we see that senior leadership was not asking the tough questions – and sometimes not even asking the easy questions. Senior management in some cases was just not engaged in any real discussion about the controls. As a result, employees did not properly focus on them and the firm and its shareholders are put at risk.” I think these statements, particularly taken in the context of his overall remarks, portend a greater focus on internal controls review and enforcement in the FCPA context.

Finally, in the area of internal controls, is the interplay of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) with FCPA enforcement and several sections of the Act that have FCPA implications. These include SOX §302 that requires the principle officers of a company to “take responsibility for and certify the integrity of these company’s financial reports on a quarterly basis.” Under SOX §404 companies must present annually their conclusion “regarding the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls over accounting.” Finally, SOX §802 prohibits “altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing or falsifying records, documents or tangible objects” with the intent to obstruct or influence a federal investigation, such as the FCPA.

Every public company is required to report on its internal controls. The SEC may well start mining those required, annual public disclosures for information on compliance internal controls. If the SEC finds a company’s report lacking and then after requesting further information, still finds a company’s response lacking, a company may be looking at strict liability and a financial penalty based on profit disgorgement as I lay out next.

Strict Liability

I have written about the coming of strict liability to the SEC enforcement of the FCPA’s accounting provisions, including books and records and internal controls. However, after having read, re-read and reviewed the FCPA and commentary, I now believe that a strict liability interpretation for enforcement of the FPCA is fully supported by the plain language of the Act itself. I come to this conclusion because there is no language in the text of the Act that ties the accounting provision requirements to any other operative violation of the statute. In other words, there is no language that says that an accounting provisions violation must be tied to an offer or payment of a bribe to obtain or retain business. While the FCPA does not specifically say that a company will be strictly liable for a violation of the accounting provisions, it is certainly not prohibited. Since violations of the accounting provisions as enforced by the SEC are civil violations only, I now believe that such a position is not prohibited by the Act.

Profit Disgorgement 

Similar to my views on strict liability for accounting violations, I have also come to believe that profit disgorgement is a remedy fully supported and available to the SEC in FCPA enforcement actions. This change was made by an un-related law, entitled The Penny Stock Reform Act of 1990, which amended the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to: allow the SEC to (1) impose tiered civil money penalties pursuant to administrative findings of violations of the Act; (2) enter an order requiring an accounting and disgorgement; (3) issue cease and desist orders; and (4) issue temporary restraining orders. Profit disgorgement has generally been considered an equitable remedy. Sasah Kalb and Marc Alain Bohn, in their article “Disgorgement: The Devil You Don’t Know, wrote “As an equitable remedy, disgorgement is not intended as tool to punish, but as a vehicle for preventing unjust enrichment. The SEC is therefore only permitted to recover the approximate amount earned from the alleged illicit activities. Disgorging anything more would be considered punitive.”

In conjunction with this equitable nature for profit disgorgement, is the concept of proportionality. In the article by David C. Weiss, entitled “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, SEC Disgorgement of Profits and the Evolving International Bribery Regime: Weighing Proportionality, Retribution and Deterrence”, he wrote that regarding proportionality “punishment schemes fail a utilitarian test when the punishment exceeds, or threatens to exceed, the offense. Put another way, deterrence requires that a punishment be proportionate to the harm—allowing for some multiplier based on the likelihood of being caught. Punishments that are not proportionate are not justified under this utilitarian theory.”

Profit Disgorgement as a Remedy for Strict Liability

In this final section, I give my opinion as to where I think the next step of SEC enforcement may be headed. I think it will be a combination of the enforcement of the accounting provisions of the FCPA through a strict liability reading of them by the SEC to the remedy of profit disgorgement. Admittedly this opinion seems contrary to the equitable nature of the remedy of profit disgorgement. However the greater focus of SEC scrutiny and enforcement of the accounting provisions point me in that direction. While it is also true that profit disgorgement has traditionally required some specific ill-gotten gains; with the statutory authority provided by the Penny Stock Act to the SEC allows for disgorgement with no language around its equitable beginning, this may be enough for the SEC to make such an intellectual leap. Further, as noted by Kalb and Bohn, “Because calculations like these often prove difficult, courts tend to give the SEC considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an ill-gotten gain by requiring only a reasonable approximation of the profits which are causally connected to the violation.”

The final component is the lack of judicial review in FCPA enforcement actions. Every practitioner is aware of the absolute dearth of cases in this area. With the SEC moving towards more administrative actions, through the 2010 Dodd-Frank amendment that enables the SEC to collect civil penalties through administrative proceedings, there may not be many federal district court reviews going forward. Of course to have a federal district court review of a remedy, it generally takes the defendant to make some objection and companies seemingly do not wish to take on the SEC in any FCPA enforcement matter (or the DOJ for that matter). But even if there was a federal district review of a Cease and Desist Order filed before it, you almost never hear the court reject an agreed Order on the grounds that the remedy was too harsh or unwarranted.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned something this week unique to the SEC enforcement of the FCPA. I know I have both enjoyed reading many of the excellent commentators I have reviewed during my research. David Weiss, Marc Alain Bohn, Sasha Kalb, Russ Ryan and the FCPA Professor have all contributed significant legal work and thought leadership in this area that I have built some of my theories on so I thank them for their contributions. Another joy was reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories. If you have a few evenings or some down time for spring break or summer vacation, I suggest you pick up the volume. It is just like visiting with an old friend on a dark and stormy night…

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

 

 

March 17, 2015

The Companion and SEC Enforcement of the FCPA – Part II

The CompanionI will use Agatha Christie’s short story The Companion as the introduction to today’s blog post. This story, related by one of the Tuesday story-telling group of detective aficionados, Dr. Lloyd, and is about two people who are related yet take different paths. It involves the death of a woman while on vacation on the Island of Gran Canaria. The deceased was named Mary Barton and she died while trying to save her companion, one Amy Durrant, from drowning. Sometime later Miss Durrant was deemed missing and presumed drowned off the coast of Cornwall. However there was a double crime as Durrant had actually drowned Barton in Gran Canaria and then faked her own death in Cornwall, however she had returned home to Australia where she actually died within a month of returning. It turned out that Durrant was a cousin to Barton and her only living relation. Since both women were now dead, Barton’s not inconsiderable estate passed on to Durrant’s children, which was her plan all along.

All of which informs today’s topic that being the difference in Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement resolution tools from those used by the Department of Justice (DOJ). While both the SEC and DOJ use Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs); there are other tools in the SEC arsenal, which the DOJ does not use. These revolve around the fact that in FCPA enforcement, the DOJ handles criminal prosecution and the SEC handles things on the civil side of FCPA enforcement.

Traditionally the SEC obtains a Cease and Desist order by going to a federal district court. The FCPA Guidance states, “In a civil injunctive action, SEC seeks a court order compelling the defendant to obey the law in the future. Violating such an order can result in civil or criminal contempt proceedings. Civil contempt sanctions, brought by SEC, are remedial rather than punitive in nature and serve one of two purposes: to compensate the party injured as a result of the violation of the injunction or force compliance with the terms of the injunction.”

In most cases the defendant does not contest these Orders and there are no admissions made by the defendant regarding conduct that may have violated the FCPA. While there has been significant criticism of ‘No Admission’ settlements entered into by the SEC, these types of settlements are not expected to change where there is no corresponding criminal action. In a 2013 speech, SEC Chair Mary Jo White announced an expansion of the “admit” policy, and explained that while “neither admit nor deny” settlements would remain the norm, the SEC would now require defendants to admit wrongdoing “in certain cases where heightened accountability or acceptance of responsibility through the defendant’s admission of misconduct may be appropriate”. SEC enforcement chief, Andrew Ceresney, has added that defendants may be required to admit violations in cases of “egregious misconduct,” such as cases involving obstruction of the SEC’s investigation or harm to large numbers of investors.

However the past year or so, the SEC has moved to handle FCPA enforcement actions through an administrative process. As explained in the FCPA Guidance, “SEC has the ability to institute various types of administrative proceedings against a person or an entity that it believes has violated the law. This type of enforcement action is brought by SEC’s Enforcement Division and is litigated before an SEC administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ’s decision is subject to appeal directly to the Securities and Exchange Commission itself, and the Commission’s decision is in turn subject to review by a U.S. Court of Appeals.”

In a post on the FCPA Blog, entitled “Are Administrative Proceedings the New Civil Complaints?” Marc Alain Bohn explored this expanded use of administrative law proceedings in SEC enforcement of the FCPA, by noting, “which was facilitated in part by a 2010 Dodd-Frank amendment to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 that enables the SEC to collect civil penalties through administrative proceedings.” Moreover, Bohn noted a couple of significant differences in going through a federal district court to obtain a Cease and Desist Order and going through the SEC administrative process. He said, “FCPA cases resolved via administrative proceeding require no judicial approval, as opposed to the settlement of formal civil complaints. This distinction is important because district court judges have complicated several SEC prosecutions in recent years by demanding changes to negotiated settlements or dismissing charges or otherwise limiting claims. In addition, the imposition of a cease-and-desist order under an administrative proceeding requires only that the SEC establish a likelihood that a defendant will violate federal securities law, in contrast with the “reasonable likelihood” required by a court-ordered injunction.” [citations omitted]

The FCPA Professor has been unremitting in his criticism of this administrative settlement process, citing a complete lack of transparency in the process, among other criticisms. Mike Volkov, perhaps more charitably, wrote, “The SEC’s “new” use of administrative proceedings for FCPA cases demonstrates its unwillingness to face judicial scrutiny and undermines the effectiveness of its enforcement program. The SEC likes to play on its home turf and for some reason feels that going to court is not as important.” Whatever your view on the use of the administrative process might be I would only say that it is here to stay so you had better be ready to participate in it if you find yourself in a SEC FCPA enforcement action.

Another criticism of this process is what might be called the home court advantage. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “Firms oppose SEC’s internal enforcement process”, reporter Hazel Bradford quoted Terry Weiss, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig LLP in Atlanta, for the following “I have no problem with fairness when (a case) is brought in a federal District Court and when it is overseen by a federal District Court judge who is appointed by the president of the United States and approved by the U.S. Senate. I have a significant problem when you have (administrative law judges) who are picked by the SEC.” The problem with this argument is that ALJ’s have been a part of the federal enforcement process for a wide variety of agencies, department and issues since the 1930s. To say the SEC is using an approved administrative process that violates the Constitution seems to me to be a stretch.

Another area the SEC has in common with the DOJ in FCPA enforcement is that they both sometimes decline to bring enforcement actions. The FCPA Guidance cites back to the SEC Enforcement Manual for the “guiding principles” in determining whether the Commission will bring a FCPA enforcement action. The factors the SEC will determine, which are the same for enforcement actions against entities or individuals., are listed as follows:

  • the seriousness of the conduct and potential violations;
  • the resources available to SEC staff to pursue the investigation;
  • the sufficiency and strength of the evidence;
  • the extent of potential investor harm if an action is not commenced; and
  • the age of the conduct underlying the potential violations.

It is important to understand these differences in resolution vehicles and tactics used by the SEC, separate and apart from the DOJ. The civil jurisdiction of FCPA enforcement entails some differences in approach by the SEC. It is important that any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner understand these differences in the event their company goes through a FCPA investigation or enforcement action. We saw three significant FCPA enforcement actions last fall, Smith & Wesson, Layne Christensen and Bio-Rad, where there was no corresponding DOJ FPCA enforcement action brought jointly with the SEC enforcement action. As anti-corruption compliance programs mature, it may well be that this could portend the future. Just as with The Companion simply because it appears that two are together, they may have their own separate callings. Tomorrow I review some of the unique damages available to the SEC in a FCPA enforcement action.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

October 31, 2014

The Great Pumpkin and the Alternative Universe

Pumpkin Patch 1For Halloween last year, I wrote a blog post where I derided Linus and his forlorn quest to have his pumpkin patch named the most sincere by the Great Pumpkin. In response I received this rather terse message from my colleague Doug Cornelius:

Are you trying to say that the Great Pumpkin is not real? 

Just wait ’til next year, Tom Fox. You’ll see! 

Next year at this same time, I’ll find a pumpkin patch that is real sincere! And I’ll sit in that pumpkin patch until the Great Pumpkin appears. He’ll rise out of that pumpkin patch and he’ll fly through the air with his bag of toys. 

The Great Pumpkin will appear! And I’ll be waiting for him! 

I’ll be there! I’ll be sitting there in that pumpkin patch… and I’ll see the Great Pumpkin. Just wait and see, Tom Fox. I’ll see that Great Pumpkin. 

I’ll SEE the Great Pumpkin! 

Just you wait, Tom Fox. 

If Doug Cornelius, who is always right about the Patriots and most everything else, sends me such a scathing note, I thought he must also be right about the Great Pumpkin as well. So this year, I am in the same running with Linus to have the most sincere pumpkin patch and the picture you see in the corner is one that I have adopted as my own. It certainly looks sincere to me.

I thought about my new-found wisdom, appreciation of the Great Pumpkin and the sincerity of my pumpkin patch when I read a recent article in the New York Times (NYT) DealB%k column, entitled “In Turnabout, Former Top Regulators Assail Wall Street Watchdogs”, by Jesse Eisinger, where he reported on his visit to an “alternative universe” populated by former top Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) officials who have all now joined the private sector and are white collar defense lawyers. This alternative universe was facilitated through the Bruce Carton’s recenetly held 2014 Securities Enforcement Forum, where the ‘Director’s Panel had the following luminaries: “Robert Khuzami, President Obama’s first enforcement director who now plies his trade at Kirkland & Ellis; Linda Chatman Thomspen, who served as the George W. Bush-era S.E.C. and now works for Davis Polk & Wardell; William R. McLucas, the long-serving agency enforcement director who is now at WilmerHale; and George S. Canellos, who just left the Obama S.E.C. for Milbank Tweed. (The well-known Stanley S. Sporkin, who served the agency in the 1970s, rounded the panel out.)” All had served as Directors of the SEC. Current SEC enforcement director Andrew Ceresney chaired this “alternative universe” panel.

Why was this an “alternative universe”? These former regulators complained that the SEC is being too tough on their clients and indeed other regulators are being unfair to large banks! As reported by Eisinger, “The conference turned into a free-for-all of high-powered and influential white-collar defense lawyers hammering regulators on how unfair they have been to their clients, some of America’s largest financial companies.” I am also certain that they were SHOCKED, SHOCKED to find that gambling occurred in Rick’s Café American.

What were some of the criticisms from this “alternative universe”? First and foremost was aggressive SEC enforcement specifically focused on the ‘broken windows’ theory to corporate crime. The panel’s luminaries “argued that the commission has focused too much on smaller infractions”. Too bad the Layne Christensen Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) SEC enforcement action had not come out before this conference; imagine how much fun the panel would have with a $4 reference as the amount of a bribe payment to show nefarious conduct. Nothing speaks to sincerity like strictly enforcing the law.

The next criticism was over the SEC moving towards “administrative proceedings to push its cases”. Eisinger said, “The critics liken it to getting a hometown judge instead of putting cases to the test of judges and juries.” But he went on to note that these same banks require customers and others go to arbitration to resolve disputes and the arbitrators on these panels are usually ex-financial sector employees. Oops. I guess what is good for the goose is not good for the gander or as Eisinger said, “When the government does it, they scream foul.” I would certainly point out to the Great Pumpkin that it is certainly sincere to argue that you should receive better treatment than your customers.

The next series of complaints was leveled by Brad S. Karp, the chairman of Paul, Weiss, which centered on the fact that the banks had to navigate many different types of regulators such as the SEC, DOJ, state attorneys general, the New York state financial regulator and others. Boy that sure seems unfair, I mean banks are like the most sincere pumpkin patches around, they want to do business in all those locations but they do not seem to want oversight in all the places they do business. I wonder what these same defense lawyers would same about domestic enforcement of the FCPA and other countries enforcement of their own domestic anti-bribery/anti-corruption laws? For a hint they might want to purchase a copy of my eBook GSK in China. I guess the message here is that there are lots of very sincere pumpkin patches across the world and the Great Pumpkin really has a hard time figuring out which one is the most sincere. Santa Claus has a comparatively much easier job with simple Nice and Naughty lists.

Interestingly Karp also expounded on some of the defense tactics that he uses when the government comes knocking. “First, he pushes to move the charges to a subsidiary. Second, he tries to lower the charge. Third, he said, he focuses “on the powerful individuals in an organization” meaning that lawyers need to put top management first as they prepare a defense.” Does that sound like the results of any FCPA enforcement actions you might have read about lately? Certainly nothing but sincerity in those defense tactics.

However, you cannot argue with the results achieved by this star-studded cast of former government prosecutors in defense of their clients. Eisinger stated, “These strategies have been employed to glittering success. The guilty pleas and admissions have been largely by subsidiaries or been rendered toothless. Entities have admitted to charges that were narrow or unspecific and did not open them up to further private litigation. And, of course, no powerful individuals at any of the large, fine-paying companies have been criminally charged.” Once again, does that sound like the results of any FCPA enforcement actions you might have read about lately? Certainly nothing but sincerity in those defense results.

And finally for all those who decry the ‘revolving door’ of government prosecutors going out into the private sector and being too soft in defense of their clients because, you know, they used to enforce the same laws; Eisinger ended his piece with a dismantling of that argument. He wrote, “Former top officials, whose portraits mount the walls, weigh in on matters of enforcement. Now working for the private sector, they assail regulatory “overreach”…And given what they say in public imagine what goes on behind closed doors.” As a lawyer, I can proudly attest to that kind of sincerity, you sincerely represent the one who pays your bills!

As I near the end of this Halloween piece I fear I have come to the realization that my adopted pumpkin patch may not be the most sincere in the US, let alone the planet. I also fear that once again this year Linus may not be awarded with the one piece of recognition he so earnestly desires as well. I think that the Great Pumpkin will most probably find that the recent 2014 Securities Enforcement Forum where “The conference turned into a free-for-all of high-powered and influential white-collar defense laws hammering the regulators on how unfair they have been to their clients” is certainly the most “sincere” Pumpkin Patch on the planet this year. If you are sitting outside tonight you might well see the Great Pumpkin himself in this “alternative universe”.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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