Two Texas men have settled U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that they created a huge e-mail spam campaign to drive up demand for low-value stocks they owned, with one of the men agreeing to pay US$3.8 million to settle the charges.
Under the settlement, Darrel T. Uselton and his uncle Jack E. Uselton will no longer be able to trade penny stocks, and Darrel Uselton will pay more than $2.8 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest and a $1 million financial penalty, the SEC said. The settlement was entered Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston.
The SEC filed securities fraud charges against the two men in July 2007. The Useltons made more than $4 million in the scheme, the SEC said.
"Spam scams come in all forms," SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said in a statement. "If an e-mail campaign seeks to corrupt the securities market and defraud investors, we'll pursue it."
The SEC investigation was prompted by a spam e-mail an attorney at the commission received in August 2005. The subject line of the e-mail was: "Experts are jumping all over this stock ..." One spam message said the sender had "uncovered a diamond here" and encouraged recipients to purchase the stock of the promoted company.
The SEC found that the Useltons were the driving force behind the spam. Between May 2005 and December 2006, the Useltons obtained cheap stock from at least 13 penny stock companies, then drove up the price of those stocks through manipulative trading, spam e-mails, direct mailers and Internet-based promotions, the SEC said.
The Useltons used networks of compromised computers, called botnets, to send the spam, the SEC alleged.
By matching spam e-mails to the Useltons' brokerage records and transfer agent records, the SEC determined that each of the market manipulations followed a similar pattern, the SEC said. The two men and the companies they controlled received unrestricted shares from the penny stock companies for little or no money in return for purported financing or promotional activities.