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$2.5 million civil penalty levied against investment advisor

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced that on February 2, 2012, United States District Judge William C. Caldwell of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania entered an order imposing a $2,500,000 civil penalty jointly and severally against defendants Robert Glenn Bard and Vision Specialist Group, LLC. In an earlier order on November 10, 2011, the Court found that defendants made false statements to thirty-three of their investment advisory clients on 146 separate occasions about what type of securities and holdings they had, where the assets were, and the value of the assets, and that they charged at least one client excessive fees. In assessing the penalty, the Court found that the egregiousness of defendants’ behavior, the recurrent nature of the conduct, the lack of cooperation with authorities, defendants’ degree of scienter, and the risk of loss created by defendants’ actions all weighed in favor of imposing a substantial penalty.

This case arises out of allegations by the Commission in a complaint filed on July 30, 2009, that defendant Bard, an investment adviser, and his solely-owned company Vision Specialist Group, LLC, had violated the federal securities laws through fraudulent misrepresentations regarding client investments, account performance and advisory fees, the creation of false client account statements, and forgery of client documents. On November 10, 2011, the Court granted the Commission’s motion for summary judgment. The Court found Bard and Vision Specialist liable for violations of § 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, § 10(b) of the Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and §§ 206(1) and 206(2) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. In that order, the Court also entered permanent injunctions against the defendants for violations of those provisions, and held the defendants jointly and severally liable for disgorgement of $450,000, plus prejudgment interest in an amount to be determined.