Last year, we predicted that the SEC would increase its use of administrative proceedings to enforce strict liability violations such as books and records and internal controls. See Mary P. Hansen & William L. Carr,The Future of SEC Enforcement Actions: Negligence Based Charges Brought in Administrative Proceedings, The Investment Lawyer, Vol. 21, No. 9 (September 2014). In a recent action, announced on April 1, 2015, the SEC did just that.

According to the SEC, Timothy Edwin Scronce, the majority owner and CEO of privately held TelWorx Communications, LLC (“TelWorx”), falsified TelWorx’s books to inflate its revenues leading up to and after the acquisition of TelWorx by a public company, PCTEL, Inc. (“PCTEL”). Exchange Act Rel. No. 74626 (Apr. 1, 2015). In particular, prior to the acquisition, Scronce directed TelWorx’s Controller, Michael Hedrick, to inflate the value of certain inventory and to invoice certain orders before they had shipped and then reverse the invoices so they could be invoiced again during the subsequent quarter. After the acquisition, Scronce instructed Hedrick to create dummy invoices for orders that Scronce himself intended to make to further conceal his conduct. In addition, once Scronce learned that a large order that had been postponed would not be placed in time to help meet the quarterly results, he instructed the Vice President of Sales and Tech Services, Marc J. Mize, to solicit a straw vendor that would purchase the product on an intermediate basis with the intent to prematurely recognize the income from this sale. The timing on this transaction ultimately would not obtain the benefit Scronce intended, and he instructed Mize and another employee to reverse the invoice and to enter a revised, false purchase order into the system. All of these actions caused PCTEL to materially overstate its income during the relevant period.

Based on these allegations, the SEC instituted proceedings against Scronce for violation of (1) “Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 thereunder which prohibit fraudulent conduct in connection with the purchase or sale of securities”; (2) “Section 13(b)(5) of the Securities Act which prohibits the knowing falsification of any book, record, or account or circumvention of internal controls”; (3) “Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and Rules 13a-11 and 12b-20 promulgated thereunder, which collectively require issuers of securities registered pursuant to Section 12 of the Exchange Act to file with the Commission accurate current reports on Form 8-K that contain material information necessary to make the required statements made in the reports not misleading”; (4) “Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act, which requires Section 12 registrants to make and keep books, records, and accounts that accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of their assets”; and (5) “Rule 13b2-1 of the Exchange Act, which prohibits the direct or indirect falsification of any book, record or account subject to Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act.” Without admitting or denying the findings, Scronce agreed to disgorgement in the amount of $376,007; prejudgment interest in the amount of $29,212.47; and a civil monetary penalty in the amount of $140,000, and to a ten-year ban on acting as an officer or director of any issuer.

The SEC did not stop there, though. It also charged Hedrick and Mize for violation of (1) “Section 13(b)(5) of the Securities Act which prohibits the knowing falsification of any book, record, or account or circumvention of internal controls”; (2) “Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act, which requires Section 12 registrants to make and keep books, records, and accounts that accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of their assets”; and (3) “Rule 13b2-1 of the Exchange Act, which prohibits the direct or indirect falsification of any book, record or account subject to Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act,” none of which requires the SEC to prove that an individual acted with scienter. In addition, the SEC charged Hedrick with causing Scronce’s violations of Section 10(b) of the Exchange Act and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder and with causing “PCTEL’s violations of Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and rules 13a-11 and 12b-20 promulgated thereunder, which collectively require issuers of securities registered pursuant to Section 12 of the Exchange Act to file with the Commission accurate current reports on Form 8-K that contain material information necessary to make the required statements made in the reports not misleading.”

Hedrick and Mize, like Scronce, agreed to resolve the charges without admitting or denying the findings. Each of them agreed to pay civil monetary penalties in the amount of $25,000. Notably, these sanctions do not reflect that Hedrick was charged with causing Scronce’s and PCTEL’s fraud violations, while Mize was only charged with strict liability violations.

We expect the SEC to continue using books and records and internal control charges to pursue companies and senior executives who play a role in fraudulent schemes, even where an individual did not act intentionally or even recklessly.