The Securities and Exchange Commission has announced that Stephen L. Cohen, associate director of the SEC’s enforcement division, plans to leave the agency later this month.
“Throughout his career at the SEC, Steve has made substantial and long-lasting contributions to the Commission’s mission,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, in a statement. “He has supervised significant cases involving a wide variety of misconduct and has been closely involved in the implementation of various enhancements to the enforcement program. His keen intellect and enthusiasm will be missed.”
Under Cohen’s leadership, the SEC has brought enforcement actions including a high-profile case against E-Trade Financial Corp. and several Ponzi schemes.
In October 2014, the SEC charged current and former brokerage subsidiaries of E-Trade with improperly selling penny stocks through unregistered offerings. According to the SEC, E-Trade failed in its gatekeeper role and improperly engaged in unregistered sales of microcap stocks on behalf of its customers. The regulator won a $2.5 million settlement.
In August 2012, Cohen helped the SEC shut down a $600 million online pyramid and Ponzi scheme. Fraud charges and an emergency asset freeze were brought against the operator of the scheme and his company for illegally raising money from more than 1 million internet customers nationwide and overseas through the website ZeekRewards.com. The CEO agreed to a $4 million fine.
Cohen also helped the SEC bring its first charges in an EB-5 visa offering fraud against Anshoo R. Sethi and two companies Sethi created to sell more than $147 million in securities to purportedly finance the construction of a hotel and conference center near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
Another notable enforcement action during Cohen’s tenure included fraud charges against Computer Sciences Corp. and former executives. According to the SEC, CSC and its execs manipulated financial results and concealed significant problems with the company’s largest and most high-profile contract, which resulted in a $190 million penalty against CSC and approximately $5 million in monetary sanctions against the executives.
Cohen joined the SEC in 2004 as an assistant chief litigation counsel in the enforcement division from the Washington, D.C., office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
From 2009 to 2011, Cohen served as a senior advisor to former SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro and advised her on legal, policy and administrative matters focusing mostly on enforcement and compliance issues, legislative matters, Congressional hearings, and coordination with other government agencies.
Cohen also led the agency’s efforts related to Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower provisions and the subsequent rulemaking and oversaw the creation of the SEC’s tips, complaints and referrals system.
In 2011, he was appointed as associate director of the enforcement division. As associate director, Cohen has overseen a staff of nearly 60 attorneys and other professionals responsible for investigating potential violations of the federal securities laws by a wide range of market participants. He has also worked closely with and provided assistance to numerous international regulators and domestic law enforcement partners.
Cohen played a leading role in launching the enforcement division’s Enforcement Advisory Committee and in implementing of a new hiring process now widely adopted across the agency.
“Every day for nearly 12 years I have been awed and inspired by the intelligence, skill and commitment of my colleagues throughout the agency,” Cohen said in a statement. “The talented professionals at the Commission routinely overcome daunting challenges to protect investors, and it has been an absolute privilege to work alongside and learn from such exceptional public servants.”
Before he joined the SEC, Cohen was a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice as part of the attorney general’s honors program. He also clerked for Judge Ursula Ungaro in the U.S. District Court in Miami.
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