BOSTON - A Cleveland man was sentenced in federal court today for using kickbacks in order to trigger investments in a thinly-traded stock.
Muhammad (M.J.) Shaheed, 45, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock to 21 months in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release and forfeiture of $30,000. In February 2013, Shaheed pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud arising out his participation in an undercover FBI operation. Shaheed admitted to paying secret kickbacks to an investment fund representative in exchange for having the investment fund buy stock in a publicly-traded company, Augrid Global Holdings Corporation, of which Shaheed was Chief Executive Officer. The kickbacks were concealed through the use of sham consulting agreements and other fraudulent documents. What Shaheed did not know was that the purported investment fund representative was actually an undercover agent.
The conviction and sentence followed a year-long investigation focusing on preventing fraud in the micro-cap stock markets. Microcap companies are small publicly traded companies whose stock often trades at pennies a share. Fraud in the microcap markets is of increasing concern to regulators as such markets have proven to be fertile grounds for fraud and abuse. This is, in part, because accurate information about microcap stocks may be difficult for the average investor to find, since many microcap companies do not file financial reports with the SEC.
Shaheed is one of 15 defendants charged criminally with having participated in the undercover operation. Nine of those charged have now pleaded guilty and two were convicted after a jury trial.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, which conducted a parallel civil investigation alongside the FBI undercover operation, cooperated with criminal authorities throughout the course of the investigation and prosecution.
U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah E. Walters and Vassili Thomadakis of Ortiz’s Economic Crimes Unit.
This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information about the task force visit: www.stopfraud.gov.