More than two years ago, I mentioned a tiny company called MitoPharm (MTPM) which came to my attention from a massive email campaign which was pumping the stock on the OTC BB. As well, the promoters had targeted my Google Adsense channel so this blog was showing their ads and promoting their scheme. I wrote at the time that I wished I could short MitoPharm because it was obvious what was coming after the pump.
Rather than fall, the price actually went higher after I wrote about it. Apparently the promoters were really pushing this thing before cashing out. Some mistook this to mean that I was wrong and that this was actually a legitimate company with a real, effective product. The product by the way, was a supposed ‘anti-aging’ supplement.
It took a bit longer but the inevitable happened. As MitoPharm’s stock price cratered, incredulous investors who had bought the company’s promotional material hook, line and sinker found the blog postings on google and came to leave angry, shocked and surprised comments. Some even clung to the hope and wish that everything would eventually be ok if they just held on.
But as you can see from MitoPharm’s chart, hope has no place in the stock market (keep in mind that due to splits the price axis is distorted):
I just heard from a reader that the SEC has filed charges against a group of people for publicizing misleading information about the company and its (non-existent) products. MitoPharm, David M. Otto, Todd Van Siclen, Pak Peter Cheung (CEO), and Houston-based stock promoter Charles Bingham and his company Wall Street PR Inc. are all named in the $1 million suit.
Right now the Pink Sheets information page for MitoPharm categorizes the company as “Caveat Emptor” which is the worst label they could give them. Technically the shares are valued at $0.0001 but for all intents and purposes, this company is done. Stick a fork in it. There hasn’t been a disclosure from the company in a long time and their website seems to be offline as well. You can read the whole sad story in the SEC litigation (pdf).
The charges are allegations made by the SEC and not proven, of course. I suspect this will be settled out of court, unless the SEC wants to make an example out of MitoPharm’s “pump and dump” scheme to deter others. But then again, they’re risking an acquittal at trial, if it goes that far. Either way, this will take a while to shake out.
According to Marc J. Fagel, Director of the SEC’s San Francisco Regional Office:
“Attorneys are supposed to function as gatekeepers in the securities industry. Otto and his firm used phony documents to corner the market in a start-up company’s stock, and then profited at the expense of unsuspecting investors when the stock-promoting campaign caused the share price to briefly skyrocket before plummeting back down to earth.”
From the SEC press release regarding the case:
The scheme began in late 2006 when Otto, who was hired by Cheung, arranged to purchase a publicly traded shell company as a merger partner for MitoPharm. Otto and Van Siclen drafted opinion letters to MitoPharm’s transfer agent filled with false statements in order to secure supposedly ‘freely tradable’ stock certificates for individuals and entities secretly controlled by Otto.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that Cheung hired Bingham on Otto’s recommendation, and they embarked on an aggressive public relations campaign that centered on the misleading promotion of two key products - ‘Restorade’ and ‘Stamina Solutions’ - that did not exist. They developed promotional materials that falsely stated that both Restorade and Stamina Solution were ‘[a]vailable as functional beverage or as a soft gel capsule.’
According to the SEC’s complaint, Cheung had a graphics artist create renderings of what the containers for MitoPharm’s products could look like in order to accompany the written text of MitoPharm’s Web site and other promotional materials. Written materials and Web profiles created by Bingham and others were disseminated to investors with the fake images and present-tense descriptions of the products.
The SEC further alleges that as the promotional campaign caused the stock price to rise above $2.30, Otto sold his shares for more than $1 million and Bingham netted an additional $300,000. The massive selling of the stock caused the price to fall to a nickel per share by November 2007.
The SEC’s complaint alleges that the defendants violated the antifraud and other provisions of the federal securities laws. The SEC seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement and financial penalties from the defendants as well as penny stock bars for Otto, Van Siclen, and Cheung, and an officer-and-director bar against Cheung.
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