The U.S. Government’s fiscal year-end filing rush has resulted in a wave of new spoofing enforcement.  In August, the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) Criminal Division charged four individuals with spoofing in precious metals futures markets.  In September, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) brought overlapping charges against three of those individuals, and separately charged two trading firms and their employees.  Finally, in an independent development, the United Kingdom’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (“Ofgem”) announced its first-ever spoofing charges against an energy trading firm in September.

The new cases show that the DOJ’s Criminal Fraud Section and the CFTC are continuing to coordinate their enforcement activities.  On the same day, September 16, 2019, the DOJ unsealed the August indictment and the CFTC announced civil charges for the same conduct.  The agencies first unveiled their heightened coordination in this area in January 2018, when they initiated parallel spoofing takedowns that have since resulted in several guilty pleas, settlements, an acquittal (Flotron), and a hung jury (Thakkar).

In their recent filings, the agencies reveal new charging strategies.  The DOJ’s unsealed indictment includes the first-ever RICO charge for spoofing.  Both agencies are also charging attempted manipulation under the Commodity Exchange Act (“CEA”) in certain cases.  While attempted manipulation previously has been applied to spoofing, the DOJ and CFTC omitted the charge in their parallel actions in January 2018.

The new strategies may be belated responses to the DOJ’s April 2018 trial defeat in Flotron, in which the jury acquitted a trader of a single count of conspiracy to commit spoofing.  A broader menu of charges allows the DOJ to introduce a wider array of evidence at trial, and gives the jury more options to convict.

Spoofing enforcement has taken a new turn overseas as well.  On September 5, Ofgem announced its finding that Engie Global Markets (“EGM”) engaged in spoofing to manipulate wholesale gas prices between June and August 2016.  Ofgem’s press release defined spoofing as “manipulating prices by placing bids or offers to trade with no intention of executing those bids or offers in order to buy or sell at a higher or lower price and increase trading profits.”

Ofgem found that EGM’s spoofing conduct violated Article 5 (prohibition on market manipulation) of Regulation (EU) No 1227/2011 on wholesale energy market integrity and transparency.  This appears to be the first time that Ofgem has issued a fine for spoofing.

As the DOJ and CFTC continue to dedicate significant resources to spoofing enforcement, and overseas regulators, such as Ofgem, increasingly enter the mix, it is safe to assume that spoofing will continue to be a key risk area for commodities and derivatives traders and the firms and institutions that employ them.


Continue Reading Spoofing Enforcement Heats Up with Recent Filing Wave and New Legal Charges

On September 17, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) Director Kathleen Kraninger sent letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stating that the CFPB “has determined that the for-cause removal provision of the Consumer Financial Protection Act . . . is unconstitutional.”  The Bureau now affirms that the for-cause removal provision

On September 11, 2018, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (the “Bureau”, and, collectively, the “Agencies”) issued a statement “clarifying the role of supervisory guidance.” The release affirms that the Agencies “do not take enforcement actions based on supervisory guidance” and that such guidance “does not have the force and effect of law.” This statement continues a recent pattern in regulatory policy of downplaying the force of guidance documents, at least as they relate to enforcement actions.

The statement explains that, rather than create binding rules with the force and effect of law, guidance “outlines supervisory expectations or priorities” and/or provides examples of practices the Agencies consider acceptable under applicable legal standards, such as safety and soundness standards. Further, the Agencies state that guidance is often issued in part as a response to requests from supervised institutions to “provide insight to industry” and help “ensure consistency in the supervisory approach.”


Continue Reading Banking Regulators Issue Joint Policy Statement Downplaying the Role of Supervisory Guidance in Enforcement

On August 21, 2017, Keith Noreika, the Acting Comptroller of the Currency, sent a letter to Jeb Hensarling, the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, stating that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) is not, and never was, a part of Operation Chokepoint, and that Operation Chokepoint is not the policy of the OCC. Acting Comptroller Noreika sent the letter in response to a request from Chairman Hensarling that the OCC issue a formal repudiation of Operation Chokepoint.

In rejecting Operation Chokepoint, Acting Comptroller Noreika wrote that “the agency rejects the targeting of any business operating within state and federal law as well as any intimidation of regulated financial institutions into banking or denying banking services to particular businesses.” Acting Comptroller Noreika also stated that the OCC “expects the banks it supervises to maintain banking relationships with any lawful businesses or customers they choose, so long as they effectively manage any risks related to the resulting transactions and comply with applicable laws and regulations.” 
Continue Reading The OCC Rejects Operation Chokepoint in Letter to Chairman Hensarling