史上第一起SEC对于EB-5行业非法中间人处罚案-细节披露

6月24日的文章中,EB5Sir报道了,SEC史上首次对于EB-5融资的非法中间人行为的处罚。上次的报道,还是比较初步的信息,今天来看一篇对于该起处罚的细节分析,供读者朋友们参考。

在美国的融资行为,是受到非常严厉的证券法的监管的,EB-5融资也不例外。今天我们就来看看这篇,Cohen & Grigsby律所的Paul DeRosa和Christie Tillapaugh律师所作,对于该起,www.whicheb5.com网站非法EB-5中间人行为,是如何操作的,并且又为何受到SEC处罚。本文由业内朋友Dora义务翻译,特此感谢。

Sec
SEC对于EB-5融资非法Broker行为的禁止令

影响EB-5金融机构的一个重要发展是:SEC发出了禁止由两个未注册的经纪人(broker)和相关人员在EB-5签证计划下进行项目投资者的资金募集工作。该行政处罚令是对区域中心的一个警示提醒,他们应该避免给募资人和其他行业参与者支付费用,如果这些人员没有在SEC注册成为经纪人或或者是注册经纪人的相关人,的话。该处罚令,提供了EB-5行业之外的从业者的宝贵教训,通过提供按照1934年证券交易法15(a)节中要求一个人必须在SEC注册成为broker的活动类型的总结。

事实

Stephen Parnell和Andrew Bartlett在2006年成立Ireeco LLC和2012年成立Ireeco Limited(这两个公司一起,称为“Ireeco”或“公司”)。Ireeco招募希望通过区域中心投资于EB-5签证计划的外国投资者。

该公司在美国雇佣了四到五人并维护一个网站(www.whicheb5.com)向外国人提供营销服务。这个服务是帮助潜在投资者决定EB-5签证计划是否适合他们,然后向他们提供他们在选择正确的区域中心进行投资所需要的信息。公司的网站包含Stephen Parnell和Andrew Bartlett的背景和经验的信息。在网站上,该公司声称它已经为超过3,300位潜在移民投资者提供了服务,并吹嘘它在申请过程中帮助客户获得他们无条件绿卡的成功。

网站提醒潜在投资者,区域中心希望投资者投资于他们的项目,但过于强调积极因素,而“没有让你知道任何潜在的负面影响”。

未注册的经纪(Broker)行为

公司的活动程序总结如下:

1. 通过这个网站,公司给外国投资者在选择EB-5项目方面提供协助。潜在投资者将通过网站获取信息,并由公司代表联系他们确定对项目的兴趣和认知水平。订单表明:至少有10个潜在投资者,在他们招募时,都以临时签证居住在美国。

EB5Sir注:按照美国证券法的规定,如果EB-5融资活动是对于在美国境外的合格投资者进行招募的话,是可以免除SEC注册的,但是在美国境内发生的话,必须符合SEC的Broker Dealer注册要求。

2. 公司代表在初步的电话沟通之后,将继续讨论EB-5投资过程的下一步。该公司将给潜在投资者发送电子邮件,邮件内容包括EB-5项目信息和吹嘘Stephen Parnell和Andrew Bartlett的EB-5投资经验和专业知识的市场信息。在第一次接触之后的三个月,公司会自动发送跟踪联络电子邮件,然后在18个月后,再次发送跟踪联络电子邮件。

3. 在与表示感兴趣的潜在投资者后续电话中,该公司的代表将与潜在投资者讨论,从而确定他们的背景和签证状态,他们的经商经验和是否对哪个特定的地理区域或特定的EB-5项目类型感兴趣。根据所获得的信息,该公司确定潜在投资者是否适合EB-5项目和他或她的投资偏好是什么。

4. 该公司将尽可能给潜在投资者提供一个或多个EB-5区域中心项目进行选择,并提供这些区域中心的背景信息。公司将对其为客户挑选的,供选择的,每个区域中心进行“尽职调查”。

5. 一旦潜在投资者确定最感兴趣的区域中心,该公司通过提供客户姓名、联系信息和签证状态,向适用的区域中心“报备”客户。投资者将直接与区域中心进行交易,区域中心直接提供项目认购文件给潜在投资者。如果他们对投资或是项目认购文件有问题的话,投资者将不时联系该公司。

6. 通过“推荐合作伙伴协议”,区域中心将为每位投资在EB-5投资基金的潜在投资者给该公司提供报酬。一旦投资者的I-526申请(有条件绿卡)被USCIS批准,公司就能赚取费用。

7. 该公司已经收取了招募了超过158位外国投资者,对区域中心的投资总计7900万美元。大部分的投资者被引导到有限的几个区域中心。

基于这些活动,SEC决定,该公司,在没有向SEC注册为broker-dealer或没有与在SEC注册为broker-dealer相关联的情况下,参与影响交易的业务,为他人账户或诱导或试图诱导购买或出售,证券交易,故意违反了证券交易法的15(a)条款。根据处罚令,该公司同意进一步的程序来确定是否需要追缴罚款和/或民事处罚。

总结

A. 近年来,由于涉及所谓EB-5计划的虚假陈述的一系列丑闻,所以EB-5行业已经成为监管部门着重审查的目标。这个处罚令可能是对于,已经有一段时间的传闻,的证实,即SEC将严禁非法EB-5融资行为。这次行动可能是旨在确保未来的投资者,在投资EB-5产品时受到美国证券法律保护的一系列行动的开端,包括受SEC和FINRA监管的执牌经纪人,进行的投资过程的监管。

EB5Sir注:FINRA系SEC旗下监管broker dealer(证券经纪人)的机构。

B. 之前,在行业期刊和会议上,区域中心和EB-5项目的其他参与者已经被警告,在他们的筹款过程中使用无牌执业经纪人的风险。但是,据作者所知,这是SEC对涉及中介从事未经授权活动的第一个明确的指控。业内人士应该注意到,按照证券交易法29(b)条,违反证券交易法任一条款规定的任何合同,都是无效的,因为只要任何人违反有关交易法规定,投资者都可以拥有解除合同的权利。

C. 在上面的事实总结部分,我们分析了SEC在决定一个人是否从事broker(经纪人)活动的重要因素。虽然从业者可能,仅仅专注于他们的分析在,是否完全基于交易佣金的存在,但是,重要的是要记住,其他因素同样是相关的。在这个案例中,除了取决于投资者投资区域中心项目和USCIS批准 I-526申请而支付的费用外,还有长期的代理活动,通过信息和设计的问卷,帮助公司代表形成适合下投资决定的机会,根据过程中投资者提供的背景信息和对区域中心项目认购文件的问题回答,提供符合投资者情况的区域中心描述。该公司及其代表参与了分销环节的重要关键点。

原文作者:Cohen & Grigsby律所的Paul DeRosa和Christie Tillapaugh律师,原文来源:www.jdsupra.com。

原文

Unregistered Broker Activity in EB-5 Capital Fund Raising SEC Imposes Cease-And-Desist Order
6/25/2015 by Paul DeRosa, Christie Tillapaugh | Cohen & Grigsby, P.C

In an important development affecting the EB-5 financial community the SEC has imposed a cease-and-desist order with respect to fund raising activities conducted by two unregistered brokers and related persons in connection with their solicitation of investors for projects sponsored under the EB-5 visa program.[1] The administrative proceeding is a cautionary reminder to regional centers that they should avoid paying fees to finders and other industry participants that are not registered with the SEC as brokers or associated persons of brokers registered with the SEC. The Order contains valuable lessons for practitioners outside the EB-5 context by providing a summary of the type of activities that require a person to register with the SEC as a broker under Section 15(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

Facts

Stephen Parnell and Andrew Bartlett formed Ireeco, LLC in 2006 and Ireeco Limited in 2012 (together, “Ireeco” or the “company”). Ireeco solicited foreign investors who wished to invest in the EB-5 visa program through regional centers. The company employed four to five people in the United States and maintained a website (www.whicheb5.com) marketing its services to foreign individuals. The services were to assist potential investors in determining whether the EB-5 visa program was appropriate for them and then provide them with the information they would need in choosing the right regional center for their investment. The company’s website contained information about Parnell and Bartlett's background and experience. On the website the company claimed that it had provided services to over 3,300 potential immigrant investors and touted its success in helping customers obtain their unconditional green card at the end of the petition process. The website cautioned potential investors that regional centers wanted investors to invest in their projects but accentuated the positive aspects “without making you aware of any potential negatives.”

Unregistered Broker Activity

The Order summarized the company’s activities as follows:

1. Through the website the company offered to assist foreign investors in their selection of an EB-5 project. Potential investors would request information through the website and would be contacted by a representative of the company to ascertain their interest in the program and level of knowledge. The Order noted that, in at least ten instances, the potential investors were residing in the United States on a temporary visa when they were solicited.

2. After the initial call the company’s representatives would reach out to discuss the next step in the EB-5 investment process. The company would e-mail the potential investor with information about the EB-5 program and marketing information touting Parnell's and Bartlett's experience and expertise in EB-5 investments. The company would send follow-up e-mails automatically three months after the first inquiry, and then again after 18 months.

3. In follow-up calls with potential investors who had indicated an interest, the company’s representatives would talk to prospects to ascertain their background and visa status, their business experience and interest in a particular geographical area or a specific type of EB-5 project. Based on the information obtained, the company determined if the prospect qualified for the EB-5 project and what his or her investment preferences were.

4. The company would provide prospects with one or more EB-5 regional center projects as possible choices and background information about those centers. The company performed "due diligence" on each of the regional centers it selected for its clients.

5. Once a prospect identified which regional center was of most interest, the company “registered” the client with the applicable regional center by providing the name, contact information and visa status. The investors would deal directly with the regional center which would provide their offering documents to the prospective investors. Investors would contact the company from time to time if they had questions about the investments or offering materials.

6. The regional centers would compensate the company under “referral partner agreements” for each prospect who invested funds in an EB-5 offering. The fee was earned once the investor's I-526 petition (conditional green card) was approved by USCIS. The Order characterized the fee as a commission based on a fixed portion of the “administrative fee” the investor paid to the regional center and averaged around $35,000 per investor.

7. The company was paid fees for actively soliciting over 158 foreign investors who invested a total of $79 million in the regional centers. Most of the investors were referred to a limited number of regional centers.

Based on these activities the SEC determined that the company had willfully violated Section 15(a)(1) of the Exchange Act by engaging in the business of effecting transactions in, or inducing or attempting to induce the purchase or sale of, securities for the accounts of others without registering as a broker-dealer with the SEC or without associating with a broker-dealer registered with the SEC. Pursuant to the Order the company agreed to additional proceedings to determine whether it is appropriate to order disgorgement and/or civil penalties.

Takeaways

The EB-5 industry has been the subject of increased scrutiny from regulators in recent years as a result of a number of scandals involving misrepresentations made in connection with purported EB-5 projects.[2] This Order is perhaps evidence of the clampdown by the SEC on unlawful offering practices that has been rumored for some time.[3] The proceeding may be the first in a number of actions designed to ensure that investors in EB-5 offerings in the future receive the protections afforded by the United States securities laws, including administration of the investment process by licensed persons subject to SEC and FINRA oversight.
Regional centers and other sponsors of EB-5 projects have been cautioned previously through industry journals and conferences on the risks of using unlicensed persons in their fundraising efforts. However, to the author’s knowledge, this is the first settlement order by the SEC involving an intermediary that has engaged in unlicensed activities. Industry participants should be reminded that Section 29(b) of the Exchange Act provides that any contract made in violation of any provision of the Exchange Act is void as to the rights of any person in violation of the relevant Exchange Act provision and may create rescission rights in favor of investors.
The factual summary in the Order highlights factors analyzed by the SEC in determining whether a person is engaged in broker activity. While practitioners may focus their analysis exclusively on the presence of transaction-based compensation, it is important to remember that other factors are relevant as well.[4] In this case, in addition to the payment of fees that were contingent on the admission of the investor to the regional center program and USCIS approval of the I-526 petition, there was a pattern of solicitation conducted over an extended period, the provision of information and questions designed to assist the company’s representative in forming a suitability determination for the investment opportunity, the presentation of regional centers that matched the investor’s profile based on the background information provided and answering questions about the regional center’s offering documents throughout the process. The company and its representatives participated at key points in the chain of distribution.

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