SEC Seeks Power to Impose Tougher Financial Penalties

The chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission is asking Congress for authority to impose tougher financial penalties on companies and individuals who commit fraud.

Chairman Mary Schapiro sent a letter to Senators last week, asking Congress to allow changes to the current financial penalty system at the Securities and Exchange Commission. In her letter, she expressed frustration at the current laws that limit fines based on 2 methods. In one method, the penalty is limited to the equivalent of the defendant’s profits through fraud. In the other method, the Securities and Exchange Commission can levy penalties of up to $150,000 per violation and up to $700,000 per entity.

Under the changes Schapiro wants, the first method would allow the Securities and Exchange Commission to impose penalties that are at least 3 times as much as the money that has been obtained through fraud. In the 2nd method, the agency would be allowed to levy penalties of up to $1 million per violation, and up to $10 million per entity.

Those are staggering increases that the agency chairman is asking for. Those requests came on the same day that a federal judge in New York disparaged the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed $285 million settlement with Citigroup, calling it ‘pocket change’ for Citigroup, and alleging that investors were being shortchanged. The company agreed to settle charges that it had failed to inform investors about its role in choosing investments in a $1 billion mortgage bond deal, which, at the same time, it was betting would fail. The federal judge ordered that matter to go to trial next year.

If Schapiro gets the powers that she’s asking for agency, the maximum penalty in the Citigroup case would spike from $150 million to $1.44 billion.

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