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Regulating ICOs

  Regulating ICOs The regulators of money and securities are facing a new challenge with the emergence of crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. Not only do crypto-currencies live in cyberland computers usually outside the jurisdiction of the regulators, their mere existence is a challenge to the modern notion that only nation-states have the right to issue fiat currencies. Recently the Securities and Exchange Commission has entered the fray. It used to be said the securities regulators could be divided between the philosophy of the states and the philosophy of feds. The states were adherents to the central government control view (called “merit review”) believing that the staff of the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) in Olympia knew what was good for investors and would be the appropriate gate-keepers for the investing public. For example, when Apple Computer went public, DFI would not approve its IPO stock for sale in Washington (it was too risky) so Washington investors had to purchase post-IPO stock at a substantial premium on the national public markets. The SEC was said to hold to a view that anything could be sold if there was full disclosure. Over time, the positions modified. The SEC is now known to make it difficult or impossible to register an offering its employees do not like. Recently the SEC insisted on applying traditional stock trading and Investment Company Act of 1940 rules to registration of crypto-currency ETF-like funds which were designed to allow investor speculation in a basket of crypto-currencies1Staff Letter: Engaging on Fund Innovation and Cryptocurrency-related Holdings, January 18, 2018. In a typical government “catch-22”, now that the SEC had held...

Whistleblowers Lose Again

1802 Digital Realty Trust v Somers (download the case) One of the hopes of those who support whistleblowing as a remedy for fraud was that Dodd-Frank had plugged the holes in whistleblowing protection that existed under Sarbanes-Oxley. One common trap was the short deadlines of Sox. Originally the whistleblower had only 90 days to file a complaint with OSHA (increased to 180 days by Dodd-Frank). Often whistleblowers start out as team players and report internally only to be disappointed by the response after waiting many months for the company to address the problem. When they won’t let go of the issue after the company whitewashes it, the 180 days have elapsed, and they have no legal protection. Dodd-Frank seemed to fix this problem by giving six years to file in federal court and skip the OSHA step. Unfortunately, when congress defined “whistleblower” in Dodd-Frank it required a report to the SEC. On February 21, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that whistleblowers have 180 days to either file with OSHA or report to the SEC. Whistleblowers Lose...

U.K. Begins to Advance Protection of Whistleblowers

U.K. Begins to Advance Protection of Whistleblowers Jes Staley, the American CEO of Barclays went after whistleblowers the American way – “get that rat!” This time the U.K.’s Prudential Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct did something about it. They called it an ethical breach and put pressure on Barclays to do something. Barclays issued a statement stating it reprimanded Mr. Staley and will make a “significant” cut to his bonus. How does this balance out? The whistleblower loses his or her career and the executive who cause that damage may lose some part of their future bonus. In the U.S., the SEC insists on revealing the name of the whistleblower if there is a settlement. The SEC justifies its policy by claiming it is merely trying to buttress internal reporting. In my experience, corporations circle the wagons when there is credible whistleblowing. Corporate counsel interrogates and human resources attempts to find legal grounds to terminate. Investigators comb the whistleblower’s computer and office looking for something negative. Usually whistleblowing is a career ending exercise in the U.S. The U.K. does not give rewards to whistleblowers. The SEC does but refuses to allow anonymous filings. It allows temporary anonymity if the whistleblower uses an attorney to file the claim. Like many CEOs, Mr. Staley apparently thinks whistleblowers are disloyal and he felt in this case it was “an unfair personal attack.” After he was told it was not appropriate to inquire into the identity of the whistleblower, he continued to pressure his internal security investigator for the information. A U.S. law-enforcement agency was asked to help. Consider Wells Fargo Bank. It...

Local EB-5 VISA Fraud

Local EB-5 VISA Fraud SEC Complaint: 15-sec-v-dargey-complaint Recent Seattle newspaper headlines have informed us that Lobsang Dargey, a local real-estate developer, has agreed to plead guilty to EB-5 fraud allegedly involving at least $125 million from 250 Chinese investors. This type of fraud is a form of securities and immigration fraud and has become more common on both sides of the transaction: investors make fraudulent claims regarding their eligibility for the program and promoters misappropriate their investments. EB-5 was enacted by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Under a pilot program enacted in 1992, and regularly reauthorized since then, investors may also qualify for EB-5 visas by investing through regional centers designated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on proposals for promoting economic growth. On September 29, 2016, President Obama signed Public Law 114-223 extending the regional center program through December 9, 2016. Ten thousand visas are allocated each year and processing times can be two years. Not only does the investor and family need to be vetted for the visa (e.g. where did the money come from?). There are two investment amounts $500,000 and $1,000,0000. Both require creation of ten full time (35 hours per week) permanent jobs. The $500,000 is by far the most popular and is only available in rural and high unemployment area. This is where the developers get involved. They package a deal, arrange for USCIS processing, and arrange permanent management. Teams of well-paid sales agents sell the package in China and elsewhere. Since the package involves an investment with an expectation...

National Whistleblower Appreciation Day

CELEBRATING WHISTLEBLOWING Where were you on July 30, 2016? The United States Senate unanimously declared July 30, 2016 as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day” in a resolution adopted on July 7, 2016. It stated “. . . in 1777, before the passage of the Bill of Rights,10 sailors and marines blew the whistle on fraud and misconduct harmful to the United States. . . . the Founding Fathers unanimously supported the whistleblowers in words and deeds, including by releasing government records and providing monetary assistance for reasonable legal expenses necessary to prevent retaliation against the whistleblowers. . . . on July 30, 1778, in demonstration of their full support for whistleblowers, the members of the Continental Congress unanimously enacted the first whistle blower legislation in the United States that read: ‘Resolved, That it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States, as well as all other [of] the inhabitants thereof, to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of  any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge’” The 2016 resolution further provided: “. . . . it is the public policy of the United States to encourage, in accordance with Federal law (including the Constitution, rules, and regulations) and consistent with the protection of classified information (including sources and methods of detection of classified information), honest and good faith reporting of misconduct, fraud, misdemeanors, and all other crimes to the appropriate authorities at the earliest time possible. . .” The resolution was cosponsored by Grassley and Wyden...

Regulatory Compliance: It’s the Little Things…

Regulatory penalties can be devastating for a company, yet many companies, especially small companies, fail to plan for or devote resources to regulatory compliance. These companies can be confused and incredulous when they become the focus of investigations or sanctions and may delay responding until their very existence is at stake. Proper counsel can help companies understand regulators’ focus which helps them to prepare for and address compliance issues in a timely manner.

WA Consumer Protection Law applies extraterritorially

Under the CPA an out-of-state plaintiff may bring a claim.against a Washington corporate defendant for allegedly deceptive acts. Similarly, an out:of-state plaintiff may bring a CPA claim against an out-of-state defendant for the allegedly deceptive acts of its in-state agent.

Waiver Under Washington’s Deed of Trust Act Permitted Where Technical Violations Did Not Harm Plaintiff

Merry v Nationstar –Wn App 324745-III   Background to Deed of Trust In 2007, Sharon Weirich borrowed $205,440 from Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. and executed a Deed of Trust on her real property as security. The deed identified Countrywide as the lender, Landsafe Title of Washington as the Trustee, and the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) as “a separate corporation that is acting solely as a nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns.” In Bain v. Metropolitan Mortgage Group, 175 Wn.2d 83, 93, 285 P.3d 34 (2012), the Supreme Court of Washington held that the MERS registry’s business practices in creating and transferring beneficial interests with regard to mortgages conflict with the requirements of Washington’s Deed of Trust Act. Beginning in 2011 MERS made a number of assignments and changes in ownership of the note, beneficiary, and trustee using the business practices found to conflict with the Deed of Trust Act.  Following these changes, in October 2012, Northwest Trustee Services, Inc. served Mrs. Weirich with a notice of default on behalf of Bank of America. The same month Ms. Weirich executed a deed of trust to Thomas Merry. This deed of trust secured payment of a $68,000 promissory note. Ms. Weirich also executed a power of attorney and an assignment of legal claims to Mr. Merry. In December 2012, Ms. Weirich received a notice of trustee’s sale informing her that her property would be sold on April 19, 2013 to satisfy her promissory note she originally gave to Countrywide. However, property was not sold on April 19, 2013 and no sale was rescheduled within the 120-day window...

Business Liability for Foreseeable Harm

McKown v Simon Property Group, Supreme Court of Washington, March 5, 2015 Decision:  050405-McKnown-v-Simon-Properties After 40 years of practicing U.S. law, I have grown to appreciate the gift we received from our colonizing parent, the common law. The civil law systems suffer from the same rigidity that all statutes impose: one size fits all. The legislature drafts a statute as a solution to a perceived problem not understanding how it might be unjust in a different fact situation. The common law can smooth out these injustices by providing court-made law which reacts to the facts and needs of justice in a particular case. The negatives of the common law system that has decisions made by juries include unpredictability and indefensible awards. The common law has invented tools to minimize the negatives. One of those tools is “foreseeability”. It allows a court to claim that no one could have foreseen the harm so the defendant is not liable. Foreseeability is often the only legal barrier protecting a business from liability. Unfortunately it has proven to be a two-edged sword. The limits of foreseeably was highlighted in McKown v Simon Property Group. On Sunday, November 20, 2005, Dominick S. Maldonado walked into the Tacoma Mall and opened fire on shoppers and mall employees, injuring seven people. Maldonado wore a dark trench coat concealing a MAK-90 rifle and an Intratec Tec-9 pistol, and carried a guitar case filled with ammunition. McKown, an employee at one of the retail stores, tried to stop Maldonado, but was shot and wounded. Simon Property Group owned the Tacoma Mall. Under Washington Law, the Tacoma Mall is liable to McKown...

Failure to Reconvey: Quiet Title Without a Quiet Title Action

What do you do when a seller fails to reconvey the title to property following payment of the loan, then dies? Failure to reconvey puts a cloud on the title that must be quieted. Quiet title actions can be drawn out and expensive. Is there a way to obtain a quiet title without the quiet title action? This article explores four possible tools for obtaining a quiet title outside a traditional quiet title action.