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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A Miami biotech billionaire known for his philanthropy, whose name is on the city’s science museum and other artistic and cultural centers, has been charged in a multimillion-dollar pump and dump stock scheme.
The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Friday that OPKO Health founder and CEO Dr. Phillip Frost and nine others participated in long-running fraudulent schemes that generated more than $27 million from unlawful stock sales and caused significant harm to retail investors who were left holding virtually worthless stock.
An SEC news release accused Frost of being part of “a group of prolific South Florida-based microcap fraudsters.”
An SEC complaint says the accused manipulated the share price of the stock of three companies from 2013 to 2018. The complaint says Frost participated in two of the schemes.
The feds say Frost and others “…drove the price of the stock higher by secretly paying for a misleading promotional campaign.” They then engaged in “…manipulative trading…” and the group unlawfully sold their stock for approximately “…$9.2 million dollars.”
The SEC says an article from September 26, 2013, on a website called “Seeking Alpha” is the misleading promotional article that amped up coverage of the stock in the scheme. The author of the article touted Dr. Frost’s involvement saying, “all of my Dr. Frost investments have provided large returns.” The SEC complaint says the author was instructed to “…to write a favorable article about Company A emphasizing Frost’s involvement (because Frost was known as a billionaire and successful biotech investor).”
Richard Serafini is a former enforcement attorney with the SEC and a former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor. He said the SEC sees the pump and dump cases all the time but not with billionaires like Frost involved.
“The only thing that’s really unusual is that it involves a billionaire,” Serafini said.
Serafini said Frost’s reputation and acumen — as promoted in the article — appears to be key in the scheme.
“(The SEC) thought and they allege that that was the important misstatement, the material misstatement that went out to the public that caused the pump and dump,” Serafini said.
The securities fraud charges are a blow to the reputation of a man’s whose philanthropy with his millions has led to his name adorning the University of Miami School of Music, the Art Museum at Florida International University and the Frost Science Museum, where he spoke to CBS 4 News at the ribbon cutting last year about the importance of science and opening new minds to the world around them.
“We also hope that among the millions of people who wander through here over the years there are going to be a few geniuses, whose genius is sparked by the visit,” Frost said in May 2017.
Frost lives on Star Island and he and his wife are reportedly the most philanthropic family in Florida. But the SEC says Frost and others duped and ripped off unwitting investors in this pump and dump stock scheme. Legal experts say Frost and the others will be asked to pay a penalty and restitution.
CBS 4 News reached out to Frost and an attorney who has represented him in the past but we could not reach them.
CBS 4 News also called the institutions that bear Frost’s name and some community leaders for their take on these charges and how it could affect the community. The only response we received was from the Frost Science Museum. They said in an email that they have no information and no comment on the allegations and that they are grateful for the generous support of the Frost’s as are many in the South Florida community.
An OPKO spokeswoman says they didn’t immediately have a comment on the complaint.
The SEC complaint said the group was led by microcap investor Barry Honig, from 2013 to 2018.
“As alleged, Honig and his associates 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 in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.
The SEC’s complaint charges Honig, John Stetson, Michael Brauser, John R. O’Rourke III, Mark Groussman, Frost, Elliot Maza, Robert Ladd, Brian Keller, John H. Ford, Alpha Capital Anstalt, ATG Capital LLC, GRQ Consultants Inc., HS Contrarian Investments LLC, Grander Holdings Inc., Melechdavid Inc., OPKO Health Inc., Frost Gamma Investments Trust, Southern Biotech Inc., and Stetson Capital Investments Inc. with violating antifraud, beneficial ownership disclosure, and registration provisions of the federal securities laws and seeks monetary and equitable relief, authorities said.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)