SEC enforcement actions cost crypto firms and individuals $1.7B in penalties

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission was one of the top regulatory enforcers for cryptocurrency projects in the last seven years, resulting in $1.77 billion in penalties.

According to a report released yesterday by Cornerstone Research, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, brought 75 enforcement actions against crypto firms and individuals from July 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2020, mainly involving allegations of fraud or unregistered securities offerings. Many of the actions were litigated in U.S. district courts including the Southern District of New York, while others were resolved within the commission as administrative proceedings. Both often resulted in financial penalties.

“In the last seven years or so, the SEC has established itself as one of the main regulators policing the cryptocurrency space,” said Simona Mola, the report’s author. “As of early March this year, the SEC has settled over 70% of the enforcement actions for more than $1.77 billion in total monetary penalties.”

Of the 75 enforcement actions, the SEC settled 43 cases through litigation and 32 with administrative proceedings. In addition, the regulatory body issued 19 trading suspension orders during the same seven-year period, 11 of which the SEC issued from the second quarter of 2017 to Q1 2018 — during the initial coin offering, or ICO, boom.

Aside from suspension orders, the report states that more than half of the enforcement actions — 39 cases — on alleged unregistered securities offerings were focused on ICOs. Since the 1940s, the SEC has used the Howey test to determine whether certain assets qualify as “investment contracts” and are considered securities. Many consider the SEC’s 2017 DAO Report — in which it said that digital assets could meet this standard— as one of the most significant moments for crypto regulations in the United States.

Cornerstone Research vice president Abe Chernin hinted that the changing landscape in the crypto space as well as the Biden administration may lead to fewer cases of alleged fraud and instead provide clarity in a regulatory framework for crypto. In April, lawmakers confirmed Gary Gensler as the new SEC chair, and Janet Yellen has already assumed the role of Treasury Secretary.

Chernin added:

“ICOs have been a frequent target of SEC enforcement actions, but this may be changing as issuers explore other potential funding sources […] While the SEC will continue to focus on fraud, there is an increasing expectation that the new administration develop a clearer regulatory approach and pursue greater interagency coordination to foster innovation in cryptocurrency markets.”

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