Saturday, January 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

In Stock Charges, Fake-News Mill Ran Near Tinseltown

Charging dozens with fraud, the Securities and Exchange Commission traced more than 400 articles puffing up biotech stocks to a company run by an aspiring film actress moonlighting in the fake-news business.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Fresh from supporting roles in three little-known genre flicks, an aspiring Hollywood actress has become the star of securities-fraud allegations related to fake-news mills.

Kamilla Bjorlin, identified by Dealbreaker as the actress Milla Bjorn, is one of the 27 people and firms that the Securities and Exchange Commission believes misled investors about supposedly independent reports that were actually puffing up the companies that paid them.

If Dealbreaker's ID of Bjorlin is correct, years before she landed a role in “Misconduct” — ironically, a tale about corruption at a pharmaceutical company starring Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins — she allegedly moonlighted as the founder of the Nevada-based stock-promotion company Lidingo Holdings.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has traced Lidingo to more than 400 articles about its clients and an affiliated promoter, Lavos LLC. Lavos’ CEO Manish Singh has already agreed to a settlement admitting his own and his company’s role in the allegations.

ImmunoCellular Therapeutics, Galena Biopharma and Lion Biotechnologies also reached deals with the commission in connection with Lidingo.

Regulators say that Lidingo hired writers to publish “bullish” articles depicting a market on the rise — often using multiple pseudonyms on different investment websites — without disclosing their subjects’ conflicts of interest.

One such writer, Brian Nichols, allegedly posed as “The Swiss Trader” on the site Seeking Alpha, where he pretended to have an “MBA in Finance” and a physics degree.

Under the alter ego “Amy Baldwin,” Nichols pretended to perform risk management for various companies for an undisclosed Fortune 20 company, regulators say.

“There was no real person at Lidingo with such credentials,” the SEC declared Monday in its 50-page complaint against Nichols.

Nichols, who also founded the self-described “financial news, research, opinion, and analysis” site BNL Finance, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Regulators say that the firm’s writers had a wide reach, with bylines on Forbes.com, Benzinga.com, WallStCheatSheet.com, SmallCapNetwork.com, TheStreet.com, MarketPlayground.com, Finance.Yahoo.com, InvestorVillage.com, fool.com, InvestorsHub.com, Investing.com and Minyanville.com.

The SEC also accused CSIR Group, a New York-based stock promotion company, and its owner Christine Petraglio, of a similar scheme.

Stephanie Avakian, the acting director of the commission’s enforcement division, sounded a warning to other fraudulent sites.

“If a company pays someone to publish or publicize articles about its stock, it must be disclosed to the investing public,” Avakian said in a statement. “These companies, promoters, and writers allegedly misled investors by disguising paid promotions as objective and independent analyses.”

The 17 people and firms that entered into deals with the commission agreed to disgorgement or penalties ranging from roughly $2,200 to nearly $3 million.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Bjorlin’s counsel or contact information were not available on the court docket, and her case is among the 10 that remain active.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...