Miami billionaire Phillip Frost is one of 10 people the Securities and Exchange Commission charged on Friday, accused of participating in a fraud plot that generated more than $27 million in what the SEC is calling a series of "classic pump-and-dump schemes."
The SEC alleges that from 2013 to 2018, Frost — who founded pharmaceutical company OPKO Health and is a primary benefactor of the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami — and nine other investors manipulated three companies' stock share prices for their own gain. The SEC did not share the names of the three companies.
The investors would promote the companies without disclosing that they owned a stake, wait for their stock prices to rise and then sell their shares. Retail investors, meanwhile, "were left holding virtually worthless stock," according to the SEC statement.
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"[The group charged] engaged in brazen market manipulation that advanced their financial interests while fleecing innocent investors and undermining the integrity of our securities markets,” said Sanjay Wadhwa, senior associate director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “They failed to appreciate, however, the SEC’s resolve to relentlessly pursue and punish participants in microcap fraud schemes.”
OPKO Health and Frost are both named in the suit, though the SEC only believes Frost participated in two of the three schemes and earned approximately $1.1 million. The longtime health care investor is believed to have a net worth of $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.
Frost's pharmaceutical company said in a statement that the SEC did not notify them of their plan to file suit and claimed the complaint contained "serious factual inaccuracies."
"Had the SEC followed its own standard procedures, OPKO and Dr. Frost would gladly have provided information that would have answered a number of the SEC’s apparent questions, and filing of this lawsuit against them could have been avoided," the company said. "OPKO and Dr. Frost have always prided themselves on adhering to the highest standards of financial disclosure, and they are confident that once a proper investigation is completed and the facts of the case have been fully disclosed, the matter will be resolved favorably for them.”
The scheme was allegedly led by South Florida businessman Barry Honig, one of the largest shareholders in Riot Blockchain Inc., a cryptocurrency company that saw its stock dovetail by 24.3 percent after the news broke. Riot Blockchain, in which Honig is heavily invested, was subpoenaed in April as part of a formal SEC investigation, CNBC reported earlier this year.
"Honig was the primary strategist, calling upon other Defendants to buy or sell stock, arrange for the issuance of shares, negotiate transactions, or engage in promotional activity," the SEC complaint said.
Honig, who allegedly made more than $3.4 million via the scheme, could not be reached for comment.