SEC chair highlights crypto enforcement cases to legal experts

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United States Securities and Exchange Commission chair Gary Gensler cited major enforcement actions against crypto firms as part of the “economic realities” of securities regulation.

In written remarks for the Practising Law Institute’s Annual Institute on Securities Regulation on Nov. 2, Gensler used examples of SEC enforcement against crypto lending firm BlockFi and a former Coinbase employee in justifying the agency’s actions on violations of U.S. securities laws. Under Gensler, the SEC would take a “treat like cases alike” approach to enforcement actions regardless of the form of securities, funds, or investors.

“When BlockFi failed to register the offers and sales of a crypto lending product, and made materially false and misleading statements about those securities, we charged them,” said Gensler. “When a former Coinbase manager and others allegedly misappropriated confidential information to purchase crypto asset securities, we charged them.”

According to the SEC chair, the commission’s enforcement staff consisted of “public servants” and “cops on the beat” who were “uniting public zeal with unusual capacity.” The SEC filed more than 700 enforcement actions against firms as of Sept. 30, resulting in roughly $4 billion in civil penalties from $6.4 billion obtained from judgments and orders.

“Fraud is fraud, regardless of the types of investors you have defrauded and the types of securities used in the fraud.”

However, Gensler reiterated his “come in and talk to us” message for firms offering financial products, giving them a chance to “cooperate with [the SEC’s] investigation, and remediate [their] misconduct.” The SEC chair suggested that enforcement against crypto firms will likely still be on the commission’s scope in 2023 in its budget request from May.

Related: Investors are loving SEC’s crypto industry crackdown: Survey

Many in and out of the crypto space have criticized the SEC for taking a “regulation by enforcement” approach in its cases against crypto firms — for example, labeling nine tokens as “crypto asset securities” in a July complaint against a former Coinbase product manager.

The outcome of the 2022 midterm elections in the U.S. — either in a lame-duck session of Congress or starting in January 2023 — could influence whether proposed bills on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s and SEC’s roles overseeing crypto come to pass.