Risk & Compliance

Jury Clears Priest in ‘Short-and-Distort’ Scheme

Emmanuel Lemelson, who manages the Amvona hedge fund, was found liable only for making false statements about a biotech firm.
Matthew HellerNovember 8, 2021

A jury has found that a Greek Orthodox priest who manages a hedge fund made false statements about a biotech firm but did not engage in a “short-and-distort” scheme to defraud investors.

The verdicts in the case against Rev. Emmanuel Lemelson gave only a partial victory to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which alleged in a civil lawsuit that he made more than $1.3 million in illegal trading profits by lying about Ligand Pharmaceuticals to drive down its stock price.

Ruling only on issues of liability, the jury said Lemelson did not intentionally or recklessly engage in a scheme to defraud Ligand investors but that he did intentionally or recklessly make untrue statements of a material fact.

The trial judge will determine remedies, if any, at a later date. The SEC has indicated it will seek an order requiring Lemelson to disgorge any ill-gotten gains and pay civil penalties.

“Investment professionals play a crucial role in our markets and when they break the law they undermine investors’ trust,” Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a news release.

But Lemelson’s lawyer said the jury rejected the “most serious charges” and he would appeal the finding of liability for making false statements.

Lemelson, the founder of Lemelson Capital Management, manages the Amvona hedge fund, which has about $15 million in assets under management. According to the SEC, he began making untrue claims that Ligand was on the verge of bankruptcy and its flagship Hepatitis C drug Promacta would become obsolete shortly after he took an initial short position in May 2014.

“Lemelson intended to create a negative view of the company and its value and, consequently, to drive down the price of the company’s stock,” the commission alleged.

Jurors found he made three false statements, including by saying during a radio interview that Promacta was “literally going to go away” and that company representatives “basically agreed with him.”

The jury also ruled that Lemelson did not violate the Investment Advisers Act by making statements that misled investors or prospective investors in Amvona.