Want in on the Facebook IPO? Be Wary – As Scams Abound

With a number of “hot” offerings looming such as those of Facebook (possibly delayed until June, according to PC Mag and others) and Twitter, it appears that the scamsters are coming out of the woodwork. The SEC’s Division of Enforcement continues to take action in this area.

On April 4, 2012, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami issued an Order to Show Cause and Other Emergency Relief (Order) to halt Allen Weintraub’s ongoing fraudulent scheme of selling securities of an investment vehicle that he falsely represented owned pre-IPO shares of Facebook, Inc. The Court’s Order temporarily freezes the assets of Weintraub and certain shell companies through which he apparently operates. The order also directed Weintraub to demonstrate, among other things, why he should not be held in contempt for violating the Court’s Final Judgment in SEC v. Allen E. Weintraub and AWMS Acquisition, Inc., d/b/a Sterling Global Holdings, Case No. 11-21549-CIV-HUCK/BANDSTRA (S.D.Fla.), which was entered on January 10, 2012 (Final Judgment). The Final Judgment enjoined Weintraub from violating, among other things, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder.

The Commission’s motion for an order to show cause alleges that in February 2012, Weintraub, acting through an alias, William Lewis, and through entities named Private Stock Transfer, Inc., PST Investments III, Inc. (PST Investments), and World Financial Solutions, defrauded investors by selling them worthless shares in PST Investments. Weintraub had falsely represented that he would sell the investors pre-IPO shares of Facebook, Inc., and that PST Investments had an ownership interest in Facebook stock. The Commission’s motion also alleges that Weintraub was utilizing the website privatestocktransfer.com to perpetrate his scheme. The Court’s Order directed that this website be deactivated. The Division of Enforcement urges anyone who believes that Allen Weintraub may have recently defrauded them to contact John Rossetti, Senior Counsel, at 202-551-4819.

On December 30, 2011, the Court entered an order granting the Commission’s motion for summary judgment against Weintraub and his shell company, Sterling Global. In its Order, the Court found that Weintraub deceived the public by making false and misleading statements regarding Sterling Global’s ability to purchase and operate Eastman Kodak Company and AMR Corporation. The Court’s January 2012 Final Judgment permanently enjoined Weintraub and Sterling Global from future violations of Sections 10(b) and 14(e) of the Exchange Act and Rules 10b-5 and 14e-8 thereunder, and ordered them to each pay a civil money penalty in the amount of $200,000. See Litigation Release 22225 (January 11, 2012). [SEC v. Allen E. Weintraub and AWMS Acquisition, Inc., d/b/a Sterling Global Holdings, Case No. 11-21549-CIV-HUCK/BANDSTRA (S.D.Fla.)]

In another matter in September 2010, a judgment order (see http://sec.gov/litigation/litreleases/2010/lr21654.htm) was entered in favor of the SEC based on allegations that a scam artist had misappropriated more than $3.7 million from 45 investors in four states by offering fake pre-IPO shares of companies, including AOL/Time Warner, Inc., Google, Inc., and Rosetta Stone, Inc. before the companies went public.

The SEC notes that while legitimate offerings of pre-IPO shares in a company are not uncommon, unregistered offerings may violate federal securities laws unless they meet a registration exemption, such as restricting the private offering to “accredited investors” — investors who meet certain income or net worth requirements.  Investors should be mindful of the risks involved with an offer to purchase pre-IPO shares in a company.