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Failed stock manipulation scheme gets ex-Wells Fargo broker barred: SEC

The SEC barred a former Wells Fargo advisor from the industry over allegations that he engaged in an ultimately failed stock manipulation scheme with two other men.

The regulator accused George Thoreson, 60, Richard Cedrone, 54, and Steven Ferris, 65, of engaging in a trading scheme to enable a company called Abakan to meet requirements to be listed on the Nasdaq. The Nevada-based manufacturing company's share price had to close at or above $2 for 90 consecutive trading days.

In what proved to be a botched effort ― the men misunderstood the requirement to be consecutive calendar days, rather than trading days ― Thoreson eventually amassed nearly 630,000 shares in his personal accounts at a total cost of more than $1.3 million, according to the SEC.

None of the three men could be reached for comment.

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Ferris and Cedrone were brokers in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively, per the regulator. They acted as investor relations consultants for Abakan and worked in concert with Thoreson, then a broker at Wells Fargo Advisors, to monitor Abakan's bid-and-ask activity.

Starting in September 2012, the Bellevue, Washington-based advisor did the majority of the trio's trading in Abakan shares, the SEC says.

In emails to Ferris and Cedrone, Thoreson noted when he engaged in trading to keep Abakan's share price above $2, the regulator claims. The three men communicated almost daily and trading records corroborate Thoreson's emails, per the SEC.

The regulator pointed to Thoreson's emails on July 12, 2012, a date the three men believed to be the final day in the 90-day period to be listed on Nasdaq. As of 3:30 p.m., the most recent trade executed in Abakan stock was $1.93. In the following 20 minutes, Thoreson placed four orders within one minute of each other to buy a total 4,800 shares.

"I just brought it back to $2 for the close today, which is July 12 IE: 90 days," Thoreson emailed to Cedrone and Ferris, according to court documents.

Ferris, meanwhile, was also trading in Abakan stock in coordination with Thoreson, whose last trade in Abakan stock took place in September 13, 2013.

Wells Fargo terminated Thoreson the following month over allegations that he was trading in a non-exchange listed security, according to a note in his BrokerCheck record.

A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo declined to comment on Thoreson's previous employment at the firm. After leaving Wells Fargo, Thoreson worked as an independent advisor until March 2017.

The Abakan trading scheme ultimately did not pan out the way the three men intended, according to the SEC, which did not explain how it detected their activities.

Without admitting or denying the SEC's allegations, Cedrone, Ferris, and Thoreson consented to final judgments finding that they violated securities laws. As part of this settlement, Cedrone agreed to pay more than $155,000. Thoreson agreed to pay $75,000 in addition to his separate bar.

Ferris's penalty is yet to be determined, per the SEC.

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