The Securities and Exchange Commission Monday charged the former chief financial officer of optionsXpress and three other officials of the online options and futures brokerage of engaging in “an abusive naked short selling scheme’’ involving billions of dollars of sham trades.
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Charged in the case were one-time CFO Thomas E. Stern of Chicago as well as head of trading and customer service Peter J. Bottini and compliance officers Phillip J. Hoeh and Kevin E. Strine.
Also charged in the case was customer Jonathan I. Feldman. In the SEC's order against Stern, Feldman and optionsXpress, the SEC cited violations of Regulation SHO, which prohibits naked short selling.
OptionsXpress and Feldman engaged in “reset transactions” that gave the illusion that the brokerage had purchased the securities that it needed to deliver in the trades involved, but which the federal regulator said it had not.
Attempts to locate Stern and Feldman or their lawyers were not successful.
Bottini, Hoeh and Strine settled the charges against them, in a separate administrative proceeding with the SEC.
OptionsXpress engaged in “continuous failures to deliver,’’ during a period that lasted from October 2008 to March 2010, according to the SEC.
That pre-dated the acquisition of optionsXpress by The Charles Schwab Corporation by roughly a year and a half. Charles Schwab completed its $1.0 billion acquisition of the options and futures brokerage in September 2011.
"We believe the evidence at trial will demonstrate that, 1, optionsXpress covered all assignments consistent with Reg SHO; 2, there was no downward pressure on prices; 3, no one was defrauded; and, 4, the trades were not shams,’’ said Stephen Senderowitz, a partner at the Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn, on behalf of optionsXpress, now a Schwab subsidiary
All the traded were arm’s length market transactions. “They had economic risk, they had economic purposes. They were not novel or exotic,’’ Senderowitz said.
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleged that the sham transactions impacted the market for issuers of securities.