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Jun 12 2012

Hardly Even Pretending

SEC: Taking on Big Firms is ‘Tempting,’ But We Prefer Whaling on Little Guys

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

May 30, 11:23 AM ET

Want an example of the S.E.C.’s idea of “shot selection”? Every year, a parade of itty-bitty failed public companies lets their paperwork lapse. Dead little companies sitting in the bureaucratic atmosphere doing nothing at all are a major threat to national security, of course, so the S.E.C. flies in to the rescue and feverishly revokes their registrations.

These actions are called “12(j) registration revocations,” and the beauty of them, from the S.E.C.’s point of view, is that it can list each one of those revocations as a separate enforcement action, when it goes before Congress at the end of every year to brag about all the good work it’s done.

Therefore toward the end of every calendar year, you’ll see a rush of these 12(j) revocations. In 2011, about one out of every six S.E.C. enforcement actions – 121 out of 735 (.pdf) – involved these delinquent filings. In the stats they submit to Congress, they list these cases right next to things like market manipulation, insider trading, and financial fraud. “The S.E.C. Enforcement staff takes 10 minutes and shoots a zombie company in the head and then has the guts to call it enforcement,” is how one attorney put it to me.

Just days after 60 Minutes ran its piece last year about the epidemic of unprosecuted fraud on Wall Street, the S.E.C. charged into action. Take a look at the dates on these two (.pdf) documents (.pdf). While Chase’s “London Whale” was preparing to play billion-dollar faro with federally-insured money and MF Global was still struggling to find its “misplaced” $1.6 billion in customer money, the S.E.C. was gallantly taking on the likes of A.J. Ross Logistics, Inc., Status Game Corp., and Fightersoft Multimedia Corporation. And bragging to Congress about its conquests. It’s as clear a case of juking the stats as you’ll ever see.

Your tax dollars at work.

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