On Friday, the SEC filed a complaint against James C. Cope, a former member of the Executive Committee of Pinnacle Financial Partners’ (“PFP”) board of directors, alleging that he engaged in insider trading. The same day, Cope pleaded guilty to related insider trading charges brought by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Tennessee. The government alleges that Cope personally traded on information about a pending acquisition that he learned during board meetings, in breach of his duties to the company.
Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia moved to dismiss public corruption charges against former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, and his wife, Maureen McDonnell. The decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously vacated the former Governor’s corruption conviction earlier this summer. McDonnell v. United States, 579 U. S. ____ (2016). The government’s decision not to further pursue charges against the McDonnells is a signal that prosecutors are paying heed to the Supreme Court’s warnings about over-aggressive interpretations of criminal statutes and that they had scant additional evidence against the McDonnells.
This week, Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates delivered remarks at the New York City Bar Association reflecting on the eight months since the release of the “Yates Memo,” or as Deputy AG Yates prefers, the “Individual Accountability Policy” (“the Policy”). The Policy’s release in September 2015 followed prolonged criticism over a perceived lack of prosecution of individuals responsible for corporate misconduct. Aimed at increasing prosecutions of such individuals, the Policy outlined six directives to prosecutors, which we covered in an earlier post.
Yesterday, SEC Director of Enforcement Andrew Ceresney gave a keynote address on Private Equity Enforcement. In his remarks, Ceresney reiterated the SEC’s view that private equity is and will be a key enforcement area, and detailed recent actions showing the Commission’s particular focus on undisclosed fees and expenses and on increasing transparency in the industry. Ceresney also provided guidance on arguments that the SEC staff has typically found unavailing.
Ceresney noted that the unique nature of private equity investments were a concern, asserting that the “investment structure of private equity and the nature of private equity investments can lend themselves to some of the misconduct that we’ve observed.” However, recent enforcement actions show that problems typically arise when fee and expense allocations are not appropriately managed, giving rise to undisclosed conflicts of interest. Ceresney further stated that as fiduciaries, private equity advisers are expected to eliminate or disclose such conflicts.
Prosecutors in the District of Connecticut have appealed a district court’s ruling that conspiracy and aiding and abetting charges cannot be used to extend the FCPA’s jurisdictional reach.
The Department of Justice yesterday upped the ante in its efforts to encourage companies to self-report potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) violations when it unveiled a one-year pilot program that includes carrots for companies who take the self-reporting route and sticks for those that don’t. This announcement follows the Department’s recent emphasis on prosecuting individuals in white collar cases, the addition of new resources to combat corruption that includes ten new FCPA prosecutors and three new squads of FBI agents dedicated to investigating corruption, and enhanced cooperation between U.S. law enforcement and their international counterparts. Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Leslie Caldwell said that the objective of the pilot program is to provide greater transparency into the Department’s charging decisions and to provide an incentive for companies to self-disclose FCPA misconduct so that the Department can prosecute “individuals whose criminal wrongdoing might otherwise never be uncovered by or disclosed to law enforcement.”
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is new legislation introduced in the UK with the intention of combatting slavery and human trafficking. Continuing the trend for legislation to have extra-territorial reach, as illustrated by the UK Bribery Act, it can apply to entities based outside of the UK.
Of particular importance to businesses is Section 54. This contains a requirement for certain businesses to state annually and publicly the steps they have taken to ensure that their business and supply chains are free from human trafficking and slavery (a “Section 54 Statement“).
After prolonged criticism over its lack of prosecution of individuals responsible for corporate misconduct, the Justice Department has issued new internal guidance that makes clear that prosecuting individuals in white collar cases is a high priority and should be considered at the very early stages of a corporate misconduct investigation.