Apple iPhone users have Siri to do their bidding. They
only need ask and Siri will do from determining the current temperature to
locating a restaurant that is close at hand. Siri does not however play the
stock market - at least not in the current version of the i-Phone.
Marl does. Or at least that is what thousands of investors
believed when they subscribed to a newsletter prepared by twin brothers Thomas
and Alexander Hunter. Beginning in 2007 when the UK residents were age 16, Marl
was touted on their website, doublingstocks.com, as a "stock picking robot." It
was supposed to be the brainchild of Michael Cohen and Carl Williamson. Mr.
Cohen, potential subscribers were told, had developed the famous "Global Alpha"
computer stock trading model as a contractor for Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. It
is responsible in most years for $4,000,000,000+ in annual trading profits.
Marl had wondrous capabilities, according to the web
site, which included:
Conducting technical analysis on penny stocks;
Predicting future stock price direction based on past
Looking for companies with bullish trading patterns;
Conducting 1,986,832 math calculations per second;
Utilized an "evolutionary framework;"
and Monitoring hundreds of penny stocks simultaneously.
Investors who followed Marl could earn returns of 34% per
week, according to the website. A list of Marl's stock picks, available at
doublingstocks.com, claimed past price increases of 200 to 400%. To seize this
opportunity investors only had to subscribe to the website's news letter which
contained Marl's picks.
Investors were impressed. Over 47,000 investors, mostly
from the United States, signed up. From late April 2007 through early July 2009
subscription fees earned the teenage brothers over $1.2 million. More money was
earned from selling a home version of the software.
What newsletter subscribers were not told it that the
brothers had another website that was actually the source of the stock picks,
not Marl. On equitypromoter.com the defendants offered their services as stock
promoters, claiming that they could "rocket" a stock's price through their
newsletters. Stock promoters paid the brothers about $1.8 million to promote
specific stocks in their newsletters, a fact not mentioned in the materials
sent to investors.
The newsletters were typically distributed at the opening
of trading. The price and volume of the selected stock usually soared for a
short period and then crashed. Thirteen different issues identified in the
complaint that were touted from late 2007 to 2009 had price run-ups of 10% to
as much as 300%.
Eventually UK authorities discovered the scheme and froze
the bank account used by the defendants. Undeterred, the brothers formed a
Panamanian company controlled through two attorneys, opened a bank account in
that country, and directed subscribers to send payment there.
The Commission's complaint alleges violations of
Securities Act Section 17(a) and Exchange Act Section 10(b). The case is in
SEC v. Hunter, Civil Action No. 12-CV-3123 (S.D.N.Y.
Filed April 20, 2012).
For more cutting edge commentary on
developing securities issues, visit SEC Actions, a
blog by Thomas Gorman.
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