SEC Charges Long Island Software Firm with Bribery Scheme
The US Securities and Exchange Commission has charged that FalconStor Software, Inc., a Long Island, N.Y., data storage company, misled investors about bribes it paid to obtain business with a subsidiary of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
FalconStor admitted to the bribery scheme and agreed to pay a $2.9 million penalty and to institute enhanced compliance measures to settle the SEC’s civil lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The settlement is subject to court approval. FalconStor will pay an additional $2.9 million as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the EDNY, which filed a related criminal case against the Melville, N.Y., company.
According to the SEC, FalconStor’s now deceased co-founder, chairman, and former chief executive ordered the bribes, which were paid to three executives of the subsidiary, JPMorgan Chase Bank, National Association, and their relatives, starting in October 2007. Lavish entertainment at casinos, and payments in cash, traveler’s checks, gift cards, and grants of FalconStor options and restricted stock, helped FalconStor secure a multi-million dollar contract with the J.P. Morgan Chase subsidiary, the SEC said.
The J.P. Morgan Chase subsidiary became one of FalconStor’s largest customers and FalconStor touted the relationship in earnings calls and releases as proof of the strength of its products and its strides in moving to direct sales rather than relying on third-party distributors. The SEC said FalconStor never told investors about the bribes and inaccurately recorded the payments as “compensation,” “sales promotion,” or “entertainment” expenses.
“FalconStor overstepped the bounds in its pursuit of business. This case shows that when such conduct results in securities law violations, the Commission will not hesitate to hold wrongdoers accountable,” said David Rosenfeld, Associate Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office, adding, “FalconStor claimed the contract was a vindication of the company’s technology, but neglected to tell investors that the contract derived from the bribes that it paid.”
FalconStor’s CEO resigned in September 2010, after admitting that he had been involved in improper payments to a customer, and FalconStor’s stock fell by more than 22 percent on the news.
According to the SEC’s complaint, FalconStor made materially misleading statements in earnings releases filed with the SEC in April 2008 and February 2009. The SEC said FalconStor also granted restricted stock and options to relatives of two of the JP Morgan Chase executives even though they provided no bona fide services to the company, making the grants ineligible under FalconStor’s incentive stock plan.
In addition, the SEC said FalconStor failed to accurately record the expenses associated with the bribes on its books and records, and lacked effective internal controls to detect or prevent bribery, which violated state law and FalconStor’s own policies. The complaint charges FalconStor with violating the books-and-records and internal controls provisions of U.S. securities laws, and violations of the offering registration provisions and certain antifraud provisions.
Leslie Kazon, Joseph P. Ceglio, Christopher C. Mele, and Preethi Krishnamurthy of the SEC’s New York Regional Office conducted the SEC’s investigation.