Justices to consider key SEC tool in securities fraud

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The Supreme Court will consider taking away an important tool that federal securities regulators used last year to recoup $2.5 billion in ill-gotten gains in fraud cases.

The justices said Friday they will hear an appeal contending that the Securities and Exchange Commission lacks the power to seek repayment, or disgorgement, of profits from people who have been found to violate securities law.

The appeal comes from a husband and wife who were ordered to cough up $27 million after a federal court found they engaged in a fraudulent scheme to lure Chinese investors to back a cancer center in southern California.

The couple, Charles Liu and Xin “Lisa” Wang, are relying on a unanimous Supreme Court decision in 2017 that already limited the SEC’s ability to go after profits where alleged fraud has been going on for years before authorities file charges.

The 2017 case left open whether courts have the authority to order disgorgement of profits. The SEC meanwhile has continued to aggressively pursue defendants’ profits in fraud cases. In January, the SEC persuaded a federal judge in Florida to order defendants in an alleged Ponzi scheme to repay $892 million in profits.

Arguments will take place in late winter or early spring.

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