The Saad Saga Returns to Federal Court

November 9, 2020

This is a saga that starts in 2006 with alleged business expense misconduct; and then, from 2007 through 2020 moves  -- or should we say slogs -- through an investigation, Complaint, hearings, appeals, remands, and appeals. In a bit of mathematical magic, we seem to have traveled twice around a circle only to find ourselves at the end of the beginning of the beginning of the end -- the amazing Mobius Strip of Wall Street Regulation.

Case In Point

In September 2007, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. ("FINRA") filed a Complaint charging that, in July 2006, John M.E. Saad, a regional director in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company and also registered with Penn Mutual's FINRA member broker-dealer affiliate Hornor, Townsend & Kent, Inc. ("HTK") had violated FINRA rules by submitting false expense reports for reimbursement for nonexistent business travel and for a fraudulently purchased cellular telephone.

Not Walking In Memphis

The FINRA Complaint alleged that in July 2006, Saad had scheduled a business trip from his home base in Atlanta, Georgia to Memphis, Tennessee; however, the trip was cancelled. Instead of staying home, Saad allegedly checked into an Atlanta hotel for two days. Thereafter, he submitted a false expense report claiming expenses for air travel to Memphis and a two-day hotel stay in that city. In furtherance of this fraud, Saad forged an airline travel receipt and a Memphis hotel receipt and attached those receipts to his expense report.

Dropped Signal?

Additionally, FINRA charged Saad with having submitted another false expense claim for the replacement of his business cellular telephone when, in fact, he had not replaced his own telephone but rather had purchased a telephone for an insurance agent who was employed at another firm. Apparently, Saad purchased the cell phone for a woman who was starting in the insurance business at AFLAC because he believed he had an opportunity to assist a potential independent agent and gain an introduction to sell Penn Mutual products to one of the top AFLAC offices. Hey, don't ask -- I'm just reporting what was alleged.

NASD Investigates

During the ensuing NASD investigation, it was alleged that Saad repeatedly attempted to mislead NASD by providing investigators with false information. Yeah -- this case is so old that in predates FINRA's July 2007 existence and crosses over the line from NASD's demise to FINRA's birth.

2008: FINRA OHO Hearings

At his FINRA Office of Hearing Officers ("OHO") disciplinary hearing, Saad explained that toward the end of 2005, his sales had declined and he virtually halted business travel, which was considered a significant aspect of his professional responsibilities. In June 2006, his Penn Mutual superiors issued a production warning to him and admonished him to increase his sales of Penn Mutual products. Concurrently, Saad and his wife were caring for one-year old twins, one of whom had undergone surgery and was frequently hospitalized for a significant stomach disorder. 
FINRA Department of Enforcement, Complainant, v. John M. E. Saad, Respondent
(FINRA OHO Decision, No. 2006006705601 / August 19, 2008)

On August 19, 2008, a OHO Hearing Panel found that Saad had violated NASD Conduct Rule 2110. As set forth in the OHO Decision:

The 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.

Page 2 of the OHO Decision

Having found Saad guilty as charged, the OHO Hearing Panel sanctioned him with a permanent Bar against his association with a member firm in any capacity. In imposing the Bar, the Panel explained that:

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. . .

Page 10 of the OHO Decision

2009: FINRA NAC Appeal

Among the issues that Saad raised on appeal from the OHO to FINRA's National Adjudicatory Counsel ("NAC") was his argument that:

[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 5 of the NAC Decision

On October 6, 2009, the NAC affirmed OHO's sanction of a Bar; and found that there were no mitigating factors but, to the contrary, there were a number of aggravating factors, including "the intentional and ongoing nature of Saad's misconduct, Saad's efforts to deceive HTK and Penn Mutual, [and] Saad's initial instinct to conceal the extent of his actions from state and FINRA examiners."
FINRA Department of Enforcement, Complainant, v. John M. E. Saad, Respondent 
(FINRA NAC Decision, No. 2006006705601 / October 6, 2009).

2010: SEC Sustains

On May 26, 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") sustained FINRA's findings and sanctions.  In the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (SEC Opinion, '34 Act Rel. No. 62178; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678 / May 26, 2010).
In sustaining FINRA's actions, the SEC rejected, among other arguments on appeal, Saad's contention that:

"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

Page 13 of the SEC Opinion

In considering Saad's assertion that FINRA should have given greater weight to what he ascribes as "mitigating factors," the SEC found that:

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

Page 14 of the SEC Decision

2013: Federal Court of Appeals

In his petition for review to the United States Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit ("DCCir"), Saad conceded his culpability and only argued that the SEC had abused its discretion in upholding the lifetime Bar.  In John M.E. Saad, Petitioner, v. Securities and Exchange Commission, Respondent (Opinion, DCCir No. 10-1195, June 11, 2013).
/SaadSEC.pdf  (the "2013 DCCir Opinion")

The gist of Saad's appeal relied upon PAZ Sec., Inc. v. SEC (Opinion, DCCir, July 20, 2007), which he cited as holding that when the SEC reviews a FINRA disciplinary sanction, the SEC must:
  • determine whether, with "due regard for the public interest and the protection of investors," that sanction "is excessive or oppressive;"
  • carefully consider whether there are any aggravating or mitigating factors that are relevant to the agency's determination of an appropriate sanction, which becomes a particularly important issue when the respondent faces a lifetime bar.
Saad argued that the SEC had abused its discretion in failing to adequately address all of the potentially mitigating factors in his case and, pointedly, he pointed to:
  1. the extreme personal and professional stress that he was under at the time of his transgressions; and
  2. the fact that his misconduct resulted in his termination before FINRA initiated disciplinary proceedings, which is a specific mitigating factor in FINRA's Sanction Guidelines.
SEC Abused Its Discretion

DCCir found that the SEC had abused its discretion in failing to address several potentially mitigating factors. The Court stated that when the SEC evaluates whether a sanction imposed by FINRA is excessive or oppressive, the federal regulator must do more than say, in effect, petitioners are bad and must be punished. The SEC is obligated to provide some explanation addressing the nature of the violation and the mitigating factors presented in the record. Pointedly, the SEC "must be particularly careful to address potentially mitigating factors before it affirms an order . . . barring an individual from associating with a[] . . . member firm - the securities industry equivalent of capital punishment."

Remedial Sanction Versus Penalty

Further, DCCir took the opportunity to note the distinction between the imposition of a penalty and that of a remedial sanction when it reminded the SEC that the regulator may approve "expulsion not as a penalty but as a means of protecting investors . . . . The purpose of the order [must be] remedial, not penal." Id. at 1065. If the Commission upholds a sanction as remedial, it must explain its reasoning in so doing . . . " In granting Saad's petition and remanding the case to the SEC for further consideration, the Court admonished that:

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. . .

Pages 15 -17 of the 2013 DCCir Opinion

From FINRA to the SEC To the Circuit Court To the SEC To FINRA

DCCir remanded the proceeding to the SEC for further consideration. Pointedly, the Court found that although FINRA and the SEC had acknowledged the existence of Saad's claim in mitigation that his employer had fired him before FINRA had detected any misconduct, neither the SEC or FINRA addressed said claim. Further the Court admonished the SEC for not addressing Saad's claim that he was under severe stress because of the hospitalization of his child and his job environment.

2013: SEC Remand To FINRA

In response to the remand from the DCCir , the SEC remanded to FINRA only the issue of the self-regulatory organization's imposition of a Bar and sought an explanation as to the appropriateness of that sanction based upon FINRA's "Sanction Guidelines" and Saad's claim of mitigation. In the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (Order Remanding to FINRA, Securities And Exchange Commission, '34 Act Rel. No. 70632; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678 / October 8, 2013). Pointedly, the SEC cited five questions to FINRA:

(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?

Page 2 of the SEC Order of Remand

2015: FINRA Mulligan

As should have been expected (at least I expected it), the March 16, 2015, NAC Decision in response to the SEC's remand pretty much re-states the self regulator's earlier positions, findings, and rationale. FINRA Department of Enforcement, Complainant, v. John M. E. Saad, Respondent (NAC Decision No. 2006006705601, On Remand From SEC / March 16, 2015) (the "2015 NAC Remand Decision")
Quoted below are extracts of what I deemed FINRA's pertinent responses to the SEC's questions (the number beginning each extract corresponds to the same enumerated SEC question):

SEC (1): [This] part of Principal Consideration Number 14 is relevant only to the sanctions imposed on an individual respondent, and not a member firm . . .

Page 7 of the 2015 NAC Remand Decision

SEC (2): [I]ndeed, there are good reasons for not crediting a firm's decision to terminate a respondent with mitigation. First, being fired for engaging in misconduct is usually an inherent result of the misconduct itself. See Brokaw, 2013 SEC LEXIS 3583, at *71 (stating that loss of employment and other "hardships" were not mitigating because "they are all a direct result of his deliberate misconduct"); Jason A. Craig, Exchange Act Release No. 59137, 2008 SEC LEXIS 2844, at *27 (Dec. 22, 2008) (rejecting argument that "loss of work" was mitigating because any "economic disadvantages" suffered were "a result of his misconduct"). Moreover, a firm's termination of an individual does not disqualify an individual from working elsewhere, as demonstrated by Saad's ability to quickly join another company that did not require him to have a securities registration. Therefore, the fact that HTK terminated Saad before FINRA detected the misconduct is not mitigating.

Page 9 of the 2015 NAC Remand Decision

SEC (3): [W]e are sympathetic to the personal and job-related stress that Saad faced in 2006, and understand how his concerns over losing his job may have motivated him to hide his lack of business-related travel through the submission of a falsified expense report. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that his stress interfered with his ability to comply with FINRA rules or his understanding of what those rules required in terms of ethical conduct. Saad's conduct did not involve a momentary, stress-caused lapse in, or interference with, his judgment. Instead, t involved several separate decisions that were, as we said in our first decision, "premeditated, intentional and ongoing." 
. . .
[I]n short, this was not a situation where a stressful situation or period caused a person to be momentarily distracted from his compliance obligations or unable to fulfill or understand the substance of those obligations. Rather, Saad, in response to a stressful personal situation,voluntarily chose and then methodically continued an unethical course of conduct and, thus, did not react to his stress in a manner appropriate for a person registered with FINRA. Saad's willingness to provide false documents to, and misappropriate funds from, his employer gives no assurance that Saad would choose to act in an ethical manner were he to again face a stressful situation related to his job or family, which could recur at any time. Saad's personal stress thus warrants no mitigation under the Guidelines.

Pages 14 and 15 of the 2015 NAC Remand Decision

SEC (4): Saad has argued that he has a clean disciplinary history.19 While the existence of a disciplinary history is an aggravating factor when determining appropriate sanctions, its absence is not mitigating. . .
. . .
Similarly, Saad has argued that there have been no additional complaints filed against him and, likewise, that "[t]ime and actual reality have shown that there is no serious risk of recidivism." The absence of customer complaints, however, is not mitigating. . .  
. . .
As for his claims of remorse, Saad points to no place in the record where he expressed remorse. Moreover, his claims of remorse and of having accepted responsibility are at odds with his numerous efforts to  minimize his transgressions and-despite his claims otherwise-blame others. . .
. . .
Finally, Saad's contention that he provided substantial assistance to FINRA in its examination of this matter is belied by the record. Saad attempted to mislead FINRA and state investigators and also conceal the extent of his misconduct from them. In sum, the record contains no mitigating factors. , ,

Pages 16, 17, 18, and 19 of the 2015 NAC Remand Decision

SEC (5): [I]n sum, we have looked at the record anew and considered all of the parties' sanctions related arguments, including those concerning potential mitigating and aggravating factors. We find that Saad's conduct was egregious and find no acceptable mitigation. His choices reflect a troubling willingness to engage in unethical misconduct involving dishonesty and the misappropriation of firm assets through the use of false expense reports. Saad's remaining in the industry, which relies so heavily on personal integrity in matters both great and small, poses serious risks to the investing public. A bar is not only within the range of sanctions recommended in the Guidelines, it is an appropriate remedial sanction that will protect the public from future harm at his hands and deter others in the industry from engaging in similar misconduct. Therefore, after further consideration of the sanctions, we reaffirm our decision to bar Saad in all capacities for his misconduct.

Page 20 of the 2015 NAC Remand Decision

The Mobius Strip of Regulation

If Saad chooses, he will be able to appeal FINRA's 2015 affirmation of its 2008 OHO Decision and 2009 NAC Decision. The result of such an appeal would bring Saad back before the SEC and, thereafter, he find himself back before DCCir. Why, we could be discussing Saad's ensuing appeals for another decade or longer! 

In any event, though, ain't it grand? Ain't it amazing? Some 14 years after Saad alleged misconduct (as of 2020), we have made a full circumnavigation (or, perhaps, circumvention?) of the Wall Street regulatory circle from FINRA to the SEC to DCCir to the SEC and back to FINRA. Notwithstanding all the going to and fro, we literally find ourselves back where we started -- at FINRA and with not much to show for the trip. We end where we started; or we now start where we had ended. All of which reminds me of a Mobius Strip. What it doesn't remind me of is effective regulation. Just sayin'.

2015: SEC Sustains FINRA Bar

Following the NAC's reaffirmation of its Bar, we naturally find ourselves back at the SEC, and, pursuant to this latest appeal, on October 8, 2015, the federal regulator sustained FINRA's BarIn the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (SEC Order Remanding to FINRA, Securities and Exchange Commission, '34 Act Rel. No. 76118; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678 / October 8, 2015) (the "2015 SEC Remand Order")
In offering its rationale, the SEC explains that (Ed: footnotes omitted]:

It is aggravating that Saad attempted to conceal his misconduct from Penn Mutual and regulators, and that he profited from his actions and Penn Mutual suffered loss. The Guideline's Principal Consideration 10 considers "[w]hether the respondent attempted to conceal his . . . misconduct or . . . mislead . . . regulatory authorities or" his firm. Saad admittedly concealed his actions from his employer for months and concealed his actions from regulators through repeated omissions and affirmative misrepresentations, including statements to regulators that the Memphis expenses were for a future trip and that the phone charges were to replace Saad's own broken phone. The Guideline's Principal Considerations 11 and 17 include whether the misconduct resulted in "injury" to the respondent's firm and/or "monetary or other gain" to the respondent. Given that Saad was reimbursed for the false expense reports, both of these considerations apply and support the bar.

Nevertheless, Saad argues that the bar is "an impermissible penalty," dismissing his actions as "a series of blunders in desperate times" accompanied by a "foolish[] (aided by poor legal advice) attempt[] to cover up that mistake." Saad further challenges FINRA's "refusal to accept 'termination of employment' as a mitigating factor." In support, he cites the Guideline's statement that adjudicators are to consider "[w]hether the member firm with which an individual respondent is/was associated disciplined respondent for the same misconduct at issue prior to regulatory detection."

We repeatedly have held that the "collateral consequences" of misconduct, including loss of employment, reputation, and income, are not mitigating. That said, the Guidelines direct that employment termination, which we have held is a form of disciplinary action, should be considered mitigating if it was related to the misconduct at issue and it occurred before regulatory detection. But, as we have held in a similar situation, "the mitigating effect from [respondent's] termination is no guarantee of changed behavior . . ." and may not be enough to overcome our concern that he or she "poses a continuing danger to investors and other securities industry participants (including would-be employers) . . . ."

It is undisputed that Saad repeatedly used dishonest means to overcome personal and professional disappointments and obstacles, and to mislead his employer and regulators. Not only did he submit false expense requests; he also took considerable effort in forging documents to support those requests, and diligently persevered in his dishonest scheme despite partial exposure by his administrator. Then, when confronted by authorities with reason to doubt his claims, he again chose dishonesty in a failed attempt to avoid the consequences of his actions. Indeed, Saad's continued deception during the investigation of this matter, which occurred months after his termination, shows that his termination was insufficient to dissuade him from further misconduct. As a result, we cannot conclude that termination, while mitigating under certain circumstances, overcomes the threat he would pose to investors and other securities industry participants were he to return to the industry.

Nor are we persuaded by Saad's argument that "[h]is conduct spr[a]ng from pressure and stress not innate dishonesty" and that "[h]e did not intend to harm anyone."23 Although we credit Saad's assertion that he was under both professional and personal stress at the time of his relevant conduct, we find that his stress is not a mitigating factor under these circumstances. His course of conduct was not the type that one might associate with stress, such as an unthinking reaction during a stressful moment that is later redressed; instead, his deceptive conduct demonstrated a high degree of intentionality over a long period of time.

When his trip to Memphis was cancelled, Saad did not disclose this professional setback to his Firm. Even if this failure standing alone might have been viewed as an unthinking reaction to stress, his next steps were intended to deceive his Firm and required planning and research. He led his Firm to believe that the Memphis trip had occurred as planned by disappearing for two days at an Atlanta hotel, methodically forging hotel and airfare receipts that bore logos that he had copied from the internet, incurring expenses in Atlanta during those two days to make it appear as if he had incurred them on a business trip to Memphis, and then submitting a falsified expense report that attached the receipts. Although Saad could have admitted the truth when questioned about his conduct-including when his office administrator challenged one of his receipts-he repeatedly chose deception. Separate and apart from the Memphis trip, Saad, used dishonest means and a false justification to circumvent Firm reimbursement policy to purchase a cell phone for a recruiting prospect. Saad compounded his deception by misleading FINRA investigators.

The extent of Saad's planning, and his detailed execution of that plan, belies Saad's
assertion that his conduct was simply "a series of blunders." And Saad's repeated deception of his employer and attempt to mislead FINRA investigators are contrary to his assertions that his conduct was a result of "stress not innate dishonesty." We find that Saad's stress is not a mitigating factor under these circumstances.

Saad makes certain other claims in support of his appeal, none of which we find justifies modification of the sanction. He suggests that he does not pose a risk to investors because there was "no evidence" that he "misappropriated one dollar of customer money" and because "[h]e was mostly in the recruitment side of the business where his job was to recruit other brokers." But we previously have upheld bars where the underlying dishonesty did not relate directly to customers.

Finally, Saad argues that FINRA erred in not considering that, other than this matter, he has a clean disciplinary record. Moreover, according to Saad, "even if FINRA had facts to support a finding of investor 'risk' in 2006, that finding would, at a minimum, be diluted over the past 9 years, particularly as Mr. Saad has been complaint free in that time period." But we have repeatedly held that a clean disciplinary record is not mitigating. 25 And, as FINRA noted, Saad's lack of additional problems in the period subsequent to the misconduct at issue here can be at least partially credited to his employment termination and FINRA bar.

Pages 7-9 of the 2015 SEC Remand Order

June 2017: Kokesh Supreme Court Opinion

In Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission (Opinion, SCt, No. 16-529 ; 581 U. S. ____ (2017) / June 5, 2017), a unanimous Supreme Court found an SEC disgorgement to be a penalty and, as such, was subject to the five-year limitation in  U.S.C. § 2462. In part, Kokesh argued on appeal that the SEC had imposed a "penalty" against him in the form of disgorgement, and that in contradistinction to a "sanction," a penalty must be imposed upon a crime or illegal act -- which is not within the purview of a civil administrative forum. READ: "BREAKING NEWS: SEC Loses Supreme Court Kokesh Disgorgement Case" ( Blog, June 5, 2017). 

Kokesh Source Materials:

October 2017: DCCir Opinion

Notwithstanding that in 2015, DCCir had remanded Saad's case back to the SEC to address his claims of mitigating evidence, Saad petitioned the Court arguing that the SEC had failed to fairly consider the mitigating factors he had already presented. John M.E. Saad, Petitioner, v. Securities and Exchange Commission, Respondent (Opinion, DCCir, No. 15-430, October 13, 2017) (the "2017 DCCir Opinion"). Note that some of the issues Saad raises on appeal were considered by the Supreme Court in Kokesh; unfortunately, Kokesh was decided after all the prior appeals in Saad. As succinctly set forth in the 2017 DCCir Opinion's Syllabus: 

John M.E. Saad, a broker-dealer, unlawfully misappropriated his employer's funds on two separate occasions, and then spent the next seven months misleading investigators in an effort to cover up his wrongdoing. After a lengthy review process, the Securities and Exchange Commission sustained a decision of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") permanently barring Saad from membership and from working with any of its affiliated members. Saad challenges the Commission's decision as insufficiently attentive to mitigating factors and argues that the permanent bar is impermissibly punitive rather than remedial. We hold that the Commission reasonably grounded its decision in the record, which extensively evidenced Saad's acts of misappropriation, his prolonged efforts to cover his tracks through falsehoods, and his repeated and deliberate obstruction of investigators. With respect to the permanent bar on Saad's registration with FINRA and affiliation with its members, the court remands for the Commission to determine in the first instance whether Kokesh v. SEC, 137 S. Ct. 1635 (2017), has any bearing on Saad's case. Accordingly, Saad's petition for review is denied in part and remanded to the Commission in part.

Among the various issues addressed in its review, the 2017 DCCir Opinion examined the degree and extent of the SEC's consideration of Saad's mitigating factors: 

Second, the Commission credited Saad's claims of personal and professional stress. The Commission nevertheless found them to lack mitigating force in this case because Saad's conduct was not a momentary or impulsive action driven by stress, but instead involved "deceptive conduct demonstrat[ing] a high degree of intentionality over a long period of time." J.A. 113. The Commission found it particularly significant that (i) Saad had not discussed the professional setbacks he was undergoing with his firm or otherwise sought assistance; (ii) his deception required planning and research; and (iii) he "methodically forg[ed] hotel and airfare receipts that bore logos that he had copied from the internet." J.A. 113. In addition, the Commission stressed that Saad did not own up to his missteps when the firm administrator confronted him about the fabricated expense report, but instead tried to destroy the evidence and repeatedly misled investigators for at least seven more months. J.A. 114. On top of that, Saad engaged in a second act of misappropriation by using firm funds to purchase a cellphone for a person who worked at another firm. J.A. 114. The Commission reasonably concluded that a pattern of such prolonged and repeated misbehavior could not be attributed to stress. J.A. 114.

Page 11 of the 2017 DCCir Opinion

As is often argued in Wall Street regulatory cases, a given respondent may have had a clean record prior to the disciplinary action at hand. Accordingly, such Respondents often assert that the absence of a disciplinary history is a mitigating factor and they are entitled to more of a warning than a fine or suspension/bar. It falls under the one-free-bite theory. In addressing this "clean record" argument, the 2017 DC Opinion states:

The Commission further noted that it has "repeatedly held that a clean disciplinary record is not mitigating." J.A. 114; see also J.A. 114 n.25 (citing a disciplinary proceeding holding that the lack of a disciplinary history is not mitigating); J.A. 91 n.1 (FINRA Sanction Guidelines manual, citing Rooms v. SEC, 444 F.3d 1208, 1214-1215 (10th Cir. 2006), for the proposition that disciplinary history can serve only as an aggravating factor and its absence cannot be mitigating). There is nothing unreasonable about the Commission concluding that individuals in a profession that depends critically on public trust and honesty are already expected to have a clean record, so it is not something for which they get extra credit. See Rooms, 444 F.3d at 1214 (noting that the violator "was required to comply with NASD's high standards of conduct at all times"); see also World Trade Fin. Corp., Exchange Act Release No. 66114, 2012 WL 32121, at *16 (Jan. 6, 2012) ("[F]irms and their associated persons should not be rewarded for acting in accordance with their duties.").

Page 12 of the 2017 DCCir Opinion

Although most of the 2017 DCCir Opinion sustains the SEC's rulings and, accordingly, FINRA's as wall, we are not left with a full and final resolution of Saad's appeal. To the contrary, the treadmill only starts up again. As noted in the 2017 DCCir Opinion:

Saad also challenges the Commission's affirmance of FINRA's lifetime bar on his affiliation with FINRA and its members as impermissibly punitive. We remand that question to the Commission to address, in the first instance, the relevance-if any-of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Kokesh v. SEC, 137 S. Ct. 1635 (2017). Accordingly, Saad's petition for review is denied in part and remanded to the Commission in part.

Page 13 of the 2017 DCCir Opinion

Judge (now Supreme Court Justice) Kavanaugh's Concurrence

In the 2017 DCCir Opinion we witness some judicial fatigue setting in with the up-and-down-back-and-forth appellate nature of Saad's case. As that fatigue emerges, we also see the development of a significant split on the bench attendant to Kokesh and that likely suggests similar splits on other Circuits as this issue may appear before other appellate courts. In Judge Kavanaugh's Concurring Opinion to the 2017 DCCir Opinion, he supports the Court's remand to the SEC and offers this Kokesh analysis:

In Kokesh, the Supreme Court ruled that disgorgement paid to the Government is a "penalty" subject to the five-year statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2462. 137 S. Ct. at 1643- 45, slip op. at 7-11. The Court reasoned that the disgorged money often does not go to victims and, moreover, is not limited to the amount of harm to victims - both of which would be required if the sanction were truly remedial rather than punitive. See id. at 1644-45, slip op. at 9-11. The Court stated: "Sanctions imposed for the purpose of deterring infractions of public laws are inherently punitive because deterrence is not a legitimate nonpunitive governmental objective." Id. at 1643, slip op. at 8 (internal quotations omitted). And the Court added: "A civil sanction that cannot fairly be said solely to serve a remedial purpose, but rather can only be explained as also serving either retributive or deterrent purposes, is punishment, as we have come to understand the term." Id. at 1645, slip op. at 11 (internal quotations omitted). Notably, the Supreme Court's decision in Kokesh overturned a line of cases from this Court that had concluded that disgorgement was remedial and not punitive. See, e.g., Zacharias v. SEC, 569 F.3d 458, 471-72 (D.C. Cir. 2009).

As I see it, the Kokesh analysis matters here. The Supreme Court's reasoning in Kokesh was not limited to the specific statute at issue there. Like disgorgement paid to the Government, expulsion or suspension of a securities broker does not provide anything to the victims to make them whole or to remedy their losses. Therefore, in light of the Supreme Court's analysis in Kokesh, expulsion or suspension of a securities broker is a penalty, not a remedy

Page 2 of Kavanaugh Concurrence

My sole point here is to cast doubt on our pre-Kokesh cases' characterization of an expulsion or suspension as remedial rather than punitive. My point is not to suggest that FINRA lacks power to impose punitive sanctions such as expulsions or suspensions. After all, FINRA Rule 8310 expressly allows FINRA to impose expulsions and suspensions in appropriate cases. See also 15 U.S.C. § 78o-3(b)(7) (authorizing FINRA to impose expulsions or suspensions). And the SEC may still approve an expulsion or suspension if such a FINRA-imposed sanction is an appropriate (that is, not "excessive or oppressive") penalty in particular cases. The question here therefore is whether the lifetime expulsion of Saad - what our prior opinion in this case called the "securities industry equivalent of capital punishment," Saad v. SEC, 718 F.3d 904, 906 (D.C. Cir. 2013) - was a permissible and appropriate penalty under the relevant statutes and regulations.

If FINRA and the SEC can still impose expulsions and suspensions in certain cases, why does the terminological distinction matter? In other words, why should we care that FINRA and the SEC must characterize certain sanctions as punitive rather than remedial? One answer is this: If FINRA and the SEC must justify expulsions or suspensions as punitive (as I believe they must after Kokesh), they will have to explain why such penalties are appropriate under the facts of each case. FINRA and the SEC will no longer be able to simply wave the "remedial card" and thereby evade meaningful judicial review of harsh sanctions they impose on specific defendants. Rather, FINRA and the SEC will have to reasonably explain in each individual case why an expulsion or suspension serves the purposes of punishment and is not excessive or oppressive. Over time, a fairer, more equitable, and less arbitrary system of FINRA and SEC sanctions should ensue . . .

Page 4 - 5 of the Kavanaugh Concurrence

In a separate Dubitante Opinion (essentially a judge goes along with the majority but notes some doubts) filed by Judge Millett, he admonishes that;

I have grave doubts about the propriety of remanding this case to the Commission yet again. This time, the remand seeks the Commission's views on the relevance-if there is any at all-of Kokesh v. SEC, 137 S. Ct. 1635 (2017). But in my view, the Commission amply explained the remedial reasons for sustaining FINRA's permanent bar on Saad's affiliation with it and its members, and there is nothing in Kokesh that helps Saad. That presumably is why Saad himself has not whispered a word to this court about Kokesh having any bearing upon his case. Not one word. Accordingly, adding another round to this already decade-long saga does not seem worth the candle. Nor does further delay seem fair to FINRA's efforts to protect the integrity of the securities industry from securities brokers who exploit and abuse the trust of their employers and the investing public.

Page 1 of Millett Dubitante

By contrast, Saad's offense harmed FINRA's members not just by misappropriating his employer's money, but also by imperiling, through both his fraud and his deceitful cover-up, the trust and confidence of the investing public that is the lifeblood of the securities industry. Saad's seven-month-long obstruction of investigators also squandered FINRA's and its members' resources, forcing them to expend time, personnel, and money unravelling the truth from his falsehoods. Under these circumstances, allowing an industry to protect itself and its clients from Saad's mendacity and purloining by disassociating from him is a remedial measure that protects the industry and its investors. See J.A. 115 ("Because we conclude that a bar is necessary to protect FINRA members, their customers, and other securities industry participants, we find that it is remedial, not punitive."); see also id. ("[Saad's actions] demonstrate that he cannot be entrusted with firm or customer money, and that therefore he would pose a continuing and unacceptable threat to investors and other industry participants if not barred."). Saad's discipline, unlike Kokesh's, does not surrender anything "to the Government." 137 S. Ct. at 1644. The remedy here thus bears no punitive resemblance to the disgorgement order in Kokesh.

Page 6 of Millett Dubitante

In sum, Saad's repeated turpitudinous misconduct, his nearly year-long venture in misleading and lying to his employer and investigating regulators, and the paramount need for the utmost honesty and integrity in the handling of others' property in the securities industry amply justified the Commission's decision to sustain FINRA's imposition of debarment as a remedy in this case. I do not see anything in Kokesh that bears on that decision by a private self-regulatory organization to disaffiliate with someone who repeatedly transgressed industry rules that are necessary to protect the investing public and the integrity of the securities industry. For those reasons, I have deep doubts about the decision to remand this case to the Commission to address a case that is so offpoint that Saad himself has paid it no heed, especially because the remedial sufficiency of the Commission's order is controlled by circuit precedent. I have gone along only because nothing in our simple remand order says that Kokesh should alter the outcome of Saad's case.

Pages 11 - 12 of Millett Dubitante

September 2019: SEC Opinion on Remand from DCCir

On remand from DCCir, that court required the SEC to consider the relevance of the Supreme Court's Kokesh decision. The SEC found that the case had no bearing on its determination to bar Saad, and, pointedly, the SEC did not find said Bar to be impermissibly punitive in nature. Accordingly, the SEC sustained FINRA's disciplinary action. In the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (SEC Opinion, '34 Act Rel. No. 86751; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678r / August 23, 2019) 
In part the SEC offers this rationale [Ed: footnotes omitted]:

[C]ourts have recognized that a sanction does not become punitive simply because the person on whom it is imposed feels punished. Courts have also recognized that all sanctions will have some deterrent effect. Accepting Saad's argument would render essentially all sanctions punitive. This cannot be. 

Kokesh does not render FINRA bars impermissible. The "sole question presented" in Kokesh was whether a particular pecuniary sanction-disgorgement-constituted a fine, penalty, or forfeiture "within the meaning" of Section 2462. The Court held that a "pecuniary sanction operates as a penalty only if it is sought 'for the purpose of punishment, and to deter others from offending in like manner'-as opposed to compensating a victim for his loss."  But it makes no sense to extend this compensation-based test to nonpecuniary sanctions-which by their nature do not compensate victims-lest we render all noncompensatory sanctions penalties. 

No Supreme Court precedent supports this result. Rather, the Supreme Court has recognized that debarments from practicing a profession after misconduct occurs are to be regarded not as "imposi[ng] . . . an additional penalty" but instead as securing the public "against the consequences of ignorance and incapacity as well as deception and fraud." As a result, such debarments are "remedial sanctions."  Similarly, the D.C. Circuit, specifically in the context of FINRA bars, has held that debarments to protect the public are remedial. A FINRA bar may be imposed, not as punishment, but ' 'as a means of protecting investors,'" and ' 'general deterrence . . . may considered as part of the overall remedial inquiry.'" Other circuit courts and the Commission also recognize this framework for sustaining FINRA bars. Kokesh does not purport to overturn this precedent. As to a FINRA bar, we see no basis to extend Kokesh's test for resolving a challenge to pecuniary sanctions under Section 2462.

Pages 3 - 4 of the SEC 2019 Opinion

In the concluding remarks to its Opinion, the SEC doubles down on its public-interest concerns [Ed: footnotes omitted]:

In closing, we observe that reading Kokesh to prevent FINRA from sanctioning stockbrokers who pose a risk to the investing public would be inconsistent with core purposes of the federal securities laws. The Exchange Act states that "transactions in securities . . . are affected with a national public interest" that makes it "necessary to provide for regulation and control of such transactions and of practices and matters related thereto." The Supreme Court has likewise recognized that a principal purpose of the securities laws is "to insure honest securities markets and thereby promote investor confidence."  The securities laws seek to achieve those goals by promoting "a high standard of business ethics in the securities industry." Ensuring that stockbrokers adhere to basic standards of honesty in all facets of their practices and barring brokers whose failures to do so threaten investors is critical to that effort. 

Stockbrokers like Saad play a central role in enabling the participation of investors in the securities markets: because brokers serve as intermediaries between the investing public and the securities markets, oversight of brokers is a central element of the federal securities laws' protection of investors. Misconduct by such persons can expose investors to harm and undermine the operation of the markets. Indeed, "[t]here is no identifiable segment of the securities industry whose ethical conduct is more crucial to the attainment of Congress' goals than the ethical conduct of broker-dealers." 

Consistent with these purposes, FINRA has appropriately barred stockbrokers who have failed to live up to the high standards to which they are justifiably held. Such bars seek not to punish past transgressions, but to prevent such misconduct from occurring in the future. Recidivism is not an idle concern. We frequently see cases involving prior offenders. And these cases frequently involve harm to investors, including retail investors.  Indeed, the fact that the Commission's "orders are intended to be remedial rather than penal" is "a result of the fact that the 'design of the statute is to protect investors' and the general public." We do no read Kokesh as limiting FINRA's or the Commission's efforts to guard against harm to the public by imposing bars justified by the need to protect investors and others dealing with financial professionals.

Pages 19 - 20 of the SEC 2019 Opinion

Justice Dylan's Concurring Dissent

An' here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice

November 2020: DCCir Opinion 

Speaking of going through things twice, here we are, in November 2020, back before the DCCir but, this time, sans Judge Kavanaugh who is now Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. On this second go-round, as before, the question before the DCCir is whether Kokesh has any bearing on Saad. The SEC says "no." John M. E. Saad, Petitioner, v. Securities and Exchange Commission, Respondent (Opinion, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 19-1214 / November 6, 2020) (the "2020 DCCir Opinion") By way of spoiler alert and prompted by an extreme degree of exhaustion with this case, DCCir denied Saad's Petition for Review and the Court noted in part:

To sum up, then, "binding circuit precedent . . . establish[es] that the Commission may approve expulsion not as a penalty but as a means of protecting investors." Saad II, 873 F.3d at 310 (Millett, J., dubitante in part) (internal quotation marks omitted). That is precisely what the Commission did in this case. And because this court has already held that the Commission appropriately concluded that Saad's bar was not "excessive or oppressive" in any other respect, see id. at 302-04, that ends our inquiry. 

at Page 10 of the 2020 DCCir Opinion

In offering its rationale for reining in some of the more expansive applications of Kokesh urged by Saad, DCCir notes, in part, that:

[E]xtending Kokesh to generally prohibit bars as unduly punitive would thus conflict with other portions of the Exchange Act. Given a readily available alternative reading, we should avoid adopting such an internally contradictory interpretation of a statute. See FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 529 U.S. 120, 133 (2000) ("A court must . . . interpret [a] statute as a symmetrical and coherent regulatory scheme and fit, if possible, all parts into a[] harmonious whole." (citations omitted) (internal quotation 10 marks omitted)). Seeking to avoid this tension, Saad argues that his approach would not proscribe all bars, but instead only require FINRA to first consider the magnitude of individual misconduct, rather than " 'simply wave the "remedial card" and thereby evade meaningful judicial review of harsh sanctions.' " Pet'r's Br. 46-47 (quoting Saad II, 873 F.3d at 306 (Kavanaugh, J., concurring)). But the history of this very case demonstrates that no such "remedial card" exists. As we explained in remanding the Commission's initial decision for further explanation, "[i]f the Commission upholds a sanction as remedial, it must explain its reasoning in so doing," meaning, at a minimum, that it "should carefully and thoughtfully address each potentially mitigating factor supported by the record." Saad I, 718 F.3d at 913-14.

at Page 10 of the 2020 DCCir Opinion

Bill Singer's Comment

This nearly 14-year odyssey (as of 2020) involved $1,144.63 in wrongful disbursement. We're talking about a sum that's just shy of about $100 a month for a year. No -- I am not making light of the dollars at issue or the cited misconduct but merely offering perspective. NASD, FINRA, and SEC have likely incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs and expenses in pursuing Saad. Again, I merely offer that six-figure sum for perspective. Sometimes regulation is based upon sanctioning misconduct regardless of the dollars involved -- that's called "principle." On the other hand, we should always be mindful of not engaging in demonizing the likes of Jean Valjean or glorifying the likes of Inspector Javert. Without question, Saad is not Valjean. On the other hand, there are aspects of the Saad saga that uncomfortably suggest a storyline from "Les Misérables." Whether the time, energy, and costs of barring Saad were worth it and/or justified is a decision that I leave for each of my readers. As the saying goes: Sometimes "Principle" comes with "Principal."


John M. E. Saad, Petitioner, v. Securities and Exchange Commission, Respondent (Opinion, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 19-1214 / November 6, 2020)

In the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (SEC Opinion, '34 Act Rel. No. 86751; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678r / August 23, 2019).

In the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (SEC Order Remanding to FINRA, Securities and Exchange Commission, '34 Act Rel. No. 76118; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678 / October 8, 2015)

FINRA Department of Enforcement, Complainant, v. John M. E. Saad, Respondent (NAC Decision No. 2006006705601, On Remand From SEC / March 16, 2015)

In the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (SEC Order Remanding to FINRA, Securities and Exchange Commission, '34 Act Rel. No. 70632; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678 / October 8, 2013)

In the Matter of the Application of John M. E. Saad For Review of Disciplinary Action Taken by FINRA (SEC Opinion, '34 Act Rel. No. 62178; Admin. Proc. File No. 3-13678 / May 26, 2010)

E-brokers report outages as Dow jumps 1,000 points in vaccine rally (CNBC by Maggie Fitzgerald)

How to Preserve the Privacy of Your Genomic Data / A technology called "fully homomorphic encryption" is so secure that even future quantum computers won't be able to crack it (Scientific American by Dario Gil)

Former CFO of Long Island Pharmaceutical Company Pleads Guilty to Insider Trading / Defendant Avoided Losses by Selling Company Stock Prior to Announcement of Negative Financial News (DOJ Release)

SEC Charges Former CFO of Now-Bankrupt Company with Insider Trading (SEC Release)

SEC Charges Three Individuals with Unregistered Brokerage Activity in the Sale of Microcap Securities (SEC Release)

Former Microsoft software engineer sentenced to nine years in prison for stealing more than $10 million in digital value such as gift cards / Used accounts and passwords of other employees - sold value online to pay for exotic car, waterfront home (DOJ Release)

New York Developer Robert Morgan Agrees to Settle Fraud Charges for Ponzi-Like Real Estate Investment Scheme (SEC Release)

Notice to Potential Victims Regarding Microcap Securities Fraud Scheme / Individuals who believe they may be potential victims are encouraged to notify the U.S. Attorney's Office (DOJ Release)

FINRA Bars Rep for Unsuitable Investment Strategy
In the Matter of Richard Michael Wesselt, Respondent (FINRA AWC)

FINRA Bars Rep for Insurance Premium Conversion
In the Matter of Lucas Mandon King, Respondent (FINRA AWC)

FINRA Imposes Censure and Fine on Member Firm for Failed Supervision
In the Matter of Coastal Equities, Inc., Respondent (FINRA AWC)