NEW YORK – Eight Wall Street stockbrokers have been indicted for allegedly defrauding hundreds of customers of at least $13 million over five years, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The indictment alleges that the defendants fraudulently induced customers to buy shares of Stratus Services Group — described by Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, as "a thinly traded, microcap stock" — in order to artificially raise, maintain, and manipulate Stratus' market price.
Christopher Janish, 36, of Parsippany, New Jersey, is accused of heading the brokerage end of the scheme. Charges against him include enterprise corruption, which is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Janish is the nephew of the chief executive officer of Stratus, a New Jersey-based company that supplies temporary office staffing services.
According to Morgenthau, the criminal enterprise began in April 2000 at Hornblower & Weeks, one of the brokerage firms that acted as underwriter for the initial public offering of the stock.
Hornblower has since gone out of business and in July 2002, the group moved to Delta Asset Management Company, LLC, and then to Essex & York, Inc., which the defendants controlled, two years later.
"To keep stock prices high, the defendants enforced a no-net-sale rule. If a customer wanted to sell a stock, a defendant would initially use high-pressure tactics to dissuade the customer from selling or would simply disregard the customer's directions," Morgenthau said.
"And if that failed, the broker would prevent a net sale from taking place by the use of undisclosed cross trades."
The defendants took in nearly $30 million by selling Stratus shares, but unsuspecting customers saw the price of the stock fall from $6 per share at the time of the IPO to two or three cents per share as recently as this week, the prosecutor said.
Several people lost more than $200,000 each, he said.
For pushing Stratus stock, in what Morgenthau called "a pump and dump operation," the defendants got undisclosed bonus payments that sometimes exceeded $10,000 in a month. One broker received more than $500,000 during a two-year period, he said.
Also indicted were four corporate entities — Orange West, LLC, a corporation Janish created to funnel bonuses to brokers; Pinnacle Investment Partners, LP, an investment fund he ran; PIP Management Inc., a holding corporation for Pinnacle; and Essex & York, Inc.
Four of the indicted stockbrokers were arraigned on Wednesday: Janish; Joseph Barile, 36, of Long Branch, New Jersey; Arthur Caruso, 33, of Secaucus, New Jersey and Marat Beksultanov, 33 of Brooklyn, New York.
The other four were not named because they had not yet been taken into custody.
Janish, Barile and the four firms are charged with enterprise corruption, grand larceny, scheming to defraud, perjury and securities fraud.
Caruso and Beksultanov were indicted on charges of grand larceny, fraud, perjury and securities fraud.