The SEC often encourages self-reporting, cooperation, and remediation in speeches and policy statements. In a settled enforcement action announced today, the Commission made clear just how valuable those efforts can be, allowing a company to settle accounting controls and disclosure violations with no financial penalty whatsoever.
According to the SEC’s announcement, from 2012 to early 2016, the former CEO and CFO of Provectus Biopharmaceuticals, Inc. obtained millions of dollars from the company by using insufficient or non-existent expense documentation, causing the company to materially understate their compensation in annual reports and proxy statements. While the SEC order directs Provectus to cease and desist from committing any further accounting controls and disclosure violations, it notably imposes no financial penalty on the company. The SEC’s order states that it took into consideration Provectus’ prompt remedial acts and cooperation with the Commission, including (i) the retention of independent counsel and a forensic accounting firm to conduct an internal investigation; (ii) the replacement of the CFO and CEO accused of wrongdoing; (iii) the decision to hold the former executives accountable through legal process; (iv) the creation of new finance positions; (v) the hiring new auditing and bookkeeping firms; and (vi) the revamping of internal control measures related to expense reimbursement. The SEC also credits the company for voluntarily sharing the findings of its internal investigation with the Commission, saving the Enforcement staff both time and resources.
The Provectus settlement is a good reminder for companies that prompt, thorough, and independent inquiry into potential wrongdoing, swift remedial action, and transparency with the Commission can substantially mitigate their SEC enforcement exposure in the end.