Page 2 of the OHO DecisionThe Hearing Panel finds that Enforcement met its burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that Respondent violated NASD Conduct Rule 2110 when he submitted a false expense report and false receipts, and accepted reimbursement for $1,144.63 in expenses to which he was not entitled.
The Hearing Panel recognized that Respondent was under a great deal of pressure to produce and was under additional pressure due to the illness of his one-year old son. However, at the time that Respondent engaged in this misconduct, he was a registered principal, as well as a registered representative and must have known that he was engaging in misconduct. The Hearing Panel finds that Respondent deliberately decided to deceive his employer in two separate reimbursement transactions, once with the false travel expenses and again with the cell phone. . .
[E]nforcement unfairly implied that he was guilty of spousal infidelity and that this prejudiced the Hearing Panel. He contends that, by entering into the record Saad's July 9, 2006 receipt showing Saad's purchase of four beverages in an Atlanta hotel lounge and asking Saad why he spent two nights (July 9 and 10) in a hotel room just miles away from his home, Enforcement intimated that Saad had been unfaithful in his marriage, possibly with Person A, the woman for whom he purchased a cell phone that same week. Saad further criticizes Enforcement for failing to contact Person A to ask her about her relationship with Saad. Saad argues that, in all, Enforcement's suggestions prejudiced him before the Hearing Panel. We reject Saad's argument of prejudice.Under FINRA's procedural rules, the Hearing Officer was to admit into the record relevant evidence and exclude evidence that was irrelevant, immaterial, unduly repetitious or unduly prejudicial. See NASD Rule 9263. The Hearing Officer properly admitted the evidence at issue, which was both relevant and material. The July 9, 2006 lounge receipt was relevant to whether Saad was in fact in Atlanta or Tennessee on July 9, and [*14] the fact of Saad's initial efforts to submit this receipt to Penn Mutual for reimbursement demonstrates Saad's willingness to use false receipts to obtain reimbursement to which he was not entitled. We find nothing inappropriate in the nature of Enforcement counsel's questions regarding the receipt and Saad's Atlanta hotel stay. Saad himself suggested that his Atlanta hotel stay was a "legitimate" business expense because he worked out of the hotel room. Enforcement counsel's questions were factual and did not include suggestions of any type regarding Saad's relationship with Person A or Saad's marriage. Furthermore, Saad cites no evidence to support his theory that the Hearing Panel was somehow prejudiced by the inclusion in the record of this evidence. We reject Saad's argument of prejudice. See John D. Audifferen, Exchange Act Rel. No. 58230, 2008 SEC LEXIS 1740, at *42 (July 25, 2008) (rejecting argument that evidence of respondent's personal relationship with customer was prejudicial).
Page 13 of the SEC Opinion"the record supports that indisputable mitigating factors exist pursuant to the Guidelines which neither FINRA nor the NAC chose to address." In particular, Saad argues that his misconduct was an "aberrant" lapse in judgment and that, "[w]hile he is not looking for a reward for doing what he should have been doing, it is important to note that he engaged in this conduct during an extremely short period of his career while he was under severe stress with a hospitalized infant and a stressful job environment." He claims FINRA also failed to consider that HTK had fired him before FINRA detected his misconduct and that his misconduct did not involve customers or large amounts of money.28
Saad engaged in highly troubling conduct that raises serious doubts about his fitness to work in the securities industry, "a business that is rife with opportunities for abuse."31 Saad lied to his employer about going on a recruiting trip, and he fabricated receipts, submitted a falsified expense report, and accepted unjustified reimbursement as a result of that lie. Saad also sought reimbursement for a cell phone he misled his employer into believing he purchased for himself through a falsified receipt and expense report, and Saad attempted, at least initially, to recoup money he spent at an Atlanta-area hotel lounge at the same time he claimed he was in Memphis. After his employer caught and fired him, Saad further misled investigators by telling them he sought reimbursement for a trip that "had yet to occur" and by denying that he had purchased the cell phone for someone other than himself.32 As FINRA summarized, "Saad's actions reveal a willingness to construct false documents and then lie about them that suggests that his continued participation in the securities industry poses an unwarranted risk to the investing public."33
After careful review of the record before us, we conclude that the case must be remanded for further consideration by the SEC. Remand is warranted because the decision of the Commission - as well as those of the FINRA Hearing Panel and the NAC - ignores several potentially mitigating factors asserted by Saad and supported by evidence in the record. We have previously cautioned that the SEC "must be particularly careful to address potentially mitigating factors" before affirming a permanent bar. PAZ I, 494 F.3d at 1065. The SEC has failed to do so in this case. In particular, Saad correctly notes that FINRA and the SEC failed to consider that "Mr. Saad's firm, HTK[,] disciplined him by terminating his employment in September of 2006, prior to regulatory detection." Br. of Pet'r at 34; see also Reply Br. at 12-13. Under the FINRA Sanction Guidelines, number fourteen of the "Principal Considerations in Determining Sanctions" is "[w]hether the member firm with which an individual respondent is/was associated disciplined the respondent for the same misconduct at issue prior to regulatory detection." SANCTION GUIDELINES 7. The SEC's decision acknowledges this argument: "[Saad] claims FINRA also failed to consider that HTK had fired him before FINRA detected his misconduct . . . ." Saad, 2010 WL 2111287, at *7. However, the SEC's decision says nothing more regarding this issue, nor do the decisions issued by the Hearing Panel and the NAC. When questioned about this point at oral argument, SEC counsel mistakenly argued that the termination was "irrelevant" because it occurred after the violation. See Oral Arg. at 19:45 - 23:40. The Guidelines say otherwise.Similarly, the SEC's decision noted, but did not address, Saad's argument that "he was under severe stress with a hospitalized infant and a stressful job environment." Saad, 2010 WL 2111287, at *7. The Guidelines do not expressly mention personal stress as a mitigating factor, but they are by their own terms "illustrative, not exhaustive; as appropriate, Adjudicators should consider case-specific factors in addition to those listed." SANCTION GUIDELINES 6.In response to Saad's argument that the SEC ignored these potentially mitigating factors, the Commission weakly responds that it "implicitly denied that they were [mitigating] when it stated that it denied all arguments that were inconsistent with the views expressed in the decision." Br. of SEC at 24. This contention is not an acceptable explanation for the SEC's failure to provide "reasoned decisionmaking" in support of a lifetime bar. See Allentown Mack, 522 U.S. at 374-75.When we explained in PAZ I that the SEC "must be particularly careful to address potentially mitigating factors," we meant that the Commission should carefully and thoughtfully address each potentially mitigating factor supported by the record. The Commission cannot use a blanket statement to disregard potentially mitigating factors - especially those, like an employee's termination, that are specifically enumerated in FINRA's own Sanction Guidelines. Because the SEC failed to address potentially mitigating factors with support in the record, it abused its discretion by "fail[ing] to consider an important aspect of the problem." See State Farm, 463 U.S. at 43. We must remand on that basis.We take no position on the proper outcome of this case. We leave it to the Commission in the first instance to fully address all potentially mitigating factors that might militate against a lifetime bar. . .
Page 2 of the SEC Order of Remand(1) When considering Principal Consideration Number 14 of FINRA's Sanction Guidelines (which concerns the consideration of whether a member firm disciplined an associated respondent prior to regulatory detection), does that guideline apply as to the member firm, the associated person, or both (e.g., does the guideline apply when determining whether (a) the member firm's misconduct was mitigated because the firm disciplined an associated person before regulators detected the misconduct, (b) the associated person's misconduct was mitigated because the firm had already disciplined the associated person, or (c) either the member firm's or the associated person's misconduct was mitigated by such disciplinary action)?(2) In light of FINRA's finding as to question (1) above, is Saad's claim that HTK had terminated his employment before FINRA detected his misconduct mitigating?(3) Is Saad's claim that he was under personal and professional stress at the time of his misconduct mitigating?(4) Are there any other considerations that Saad has raised (whether or not discussed in the D.C. Circuit's decision) that are mitigating?(5) In light of FINRA's findings as to questions (1) through (4) above, what is an appropriate sanction in this case?