SEC charges audit firm with fraud relating to auditing of penny stock companies


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A California-based audit firm is being charged with conducting flawed audits and reviews of financial statements, which are critical sources of information for investors, SEC announced earlier today.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Anton & Chia LLP and its accountants ignored numerous indications of fraudulent financial reporting by three of the firm’s audit clients – microcap companies Accelera Innovations Inc., Premier Holding Corp., and CannaVEST Corp. For example, Accelera’s public filings allegedly included revenue, assets, and liabilities from an entirely different company. The Enforcement Division alleges that instead of standing in the way of Accelera’s fraud, Anton & Chia facilitated it.

Accelera Innovations Inc., Premier Holding Corp., and CannaVEST Corp. have been charged with fraud by the SEC. The Enforcement Division is alleging that certain conduct by Anton & Chia in connection with the audits was fraudulent, charging the firm with violations of Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act.

Anton & Chia’s co-owners Gregory A. Wahl and Georgia Chung as well as former partner Michael Deutchman and former audit manager Tommy Shek are being charged along with the firm for their roles in the audits and/or interim reviews. The case will be scheduled for a public hearing before an administrative law judge, who will prepare an initial decision stating what, if any, remedial actions are appropriate.

Auditors are crucial gatekeepers whose careful oversight of financial statements helps ensure that public companies provide accurate information to investors,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, added:

As alleged in the order, Anton & Chia and its accountants left investors with false assurances that financial information for three microcap companies had been properly audited or reviewed. They had the opportunity to stop multiple frauds in their tracks but failed to do so.

Anton & Chia partner Richard J. Koch and former partner Rahuldev Gandhi settled SEC charges for their roles in the audits and interim reviews. They each agreed to pay $15,000 penalties and be suspended from appearing and practicing before the SEC as an accountant, which includes not participating in the financial reporting or audits of public companies. Gandhi is permitted to apply for possible reinstatement after three years and Koch can apply for possible reinstatement after two years.

The charges announced today are the product of multiple SEC investigations. The investigations were conducted by Ariella O. Guardi, Christopher H. White, Pesach Glaser, Leslie Kazon, Bennett Ellenbogen, James Addison, Jennifer T. Calabrese, and Christopher Conte, and were supervised by Charles J. Kerstetter, Michael Paley, Rhoda Chang, and Victoria A. Levin.

The Enforcement Division’s litigation will be conducted by Alyssa A. Qualls, Steven C. Seeger, David J. VanHavermaat, Leslie Kazon, Ariella O. Guardi, and John E. Birkenheier.

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SEC charges audit firm with fraud relating to auditing of penny stock companies

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