Company Execs Charged with Inflating Firm’s Stock
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged a purported heart monitoring device company and six individuals involved in a series of fraudulent schemes to artificially inflate the company’s stock.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Adam Eisner and Rachel Nonaka under the supervision of Charles Cain, with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Among those charged are a former pro football player, a Hollywood talent agent, and an attorney who masterminded the scheme.
Heart Tronics allegedly installed former pro football player Willie Gault as a figurehead co-CEO along with former Hollywood executive J. Rowland Perkins in order to generate publicity for the company and foster investor confidence.
Meanwhile behind the scenes, California-based attorney Mitchell J. Stein was controlling most of the company’s business activities, hiring promoters to tout Heart Tronics stock on the Internet, and reaping nearly $8 million from secret trades that he orchestrated unbeknownst to investors.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles, Gault and Perkins rarely questioned Stein’s fraudulent agenda and abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Accordingly, Stein and Gault together defrauded one investor into making a substantial investment in Heart Tronics based on false representations that his money would fund the company’s operations. Instead, Stein and Gault diverted the investor’s proceeds for personal use, including the purchase of Heart Tronics stock in Gault’s personal brokerage account “Catch 83” to create the false appearance of volume and investor demand for the stock.
In addition to Heart Tronics, Stein, Gault and Perkins, the SEC charged three other individuals involved in the scheme, including Stein’s chauffer and handyman Martin B. Carter of Boca Raton, Fla., who carried out the fraud with him.
The SEC also charged stock promoter Ryan A. Rauch of San Clemente, Calif., as well as Mark C. Nevdahl of Spokane, Wash., who was the trustee and stockbroker for a number of nominee accounts that Stein used to unlawfully sell Heart Tronics stock.
In a parallel criminal investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the arrest of Stein.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Heart Tronics was known as “Signalife” during most of the scheme’s time period from December 2005 to December 2008. Heart Tronics common stock was formerly listed on the American Stock Exchange but is now quoted on the OTC Link under the symbol HRTT.PK.
The SEC alleges that Heart Tronics fraudulently and repeatedly announced millions of dollars in sales orders for its product between 2006 and 2008 when, in fact, the company never had viable sales orders from actual customers.
Stein and Carter fabricated numerous documents to support the false disclosures to the public, going so far as to have Carter make a one-day round-trip to Japan at Stein’s direction to mail back a letter from a fictitious customer in order to deceive management, disclosure counsel, and auditors.
They also arranged to ship products to one of Carter’s friends to create the illusion that the company was delivering a heart monitoring device to a bona fide customer. Stein also profited by causing Heart Tronics to unlawfully pay Carter approximately $2 million in cash and Heart Tronics stock in a sham consulting agreement, and Carter paid nearly all of the proceeds back to Stein in the form of a kickback.
The SEC alleges that Stein hired Rauch to solicit numerous investment advisers, retail and institutional brokers, and other investors to buy Heart Tronics stock.
Rauch failed to disclose that he was being paid by Heart Tronics in exchange for promoting company stock to investors. While Stein was orchestrating his campaign of misinformation and other schemes designed to inflate Heart Tronics’ stock price, his wife as the company’s majority shareholder directed the sale of more than $5.8 million worth of Heart Tronics stock while failing to disclose the sales as required under federal securities laws.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Stein enlisted Nevdahl to act as trustee for a number of purportedly blind trusts to create the façade that the shares were under the control of an independent trustee. The trusts were blind in name only, and Nevdahl met Stein and his wife’s regular demands for cash by continually selling Heart Tronics stock though the trusts.
The SEC’s litigation will be headed by Mark Lanpher.