The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges in two cases involving companies that claimed in press releases to offer products to combat the COVID-19 virus – one against Applied BioSciences Corp. and one against Turbo Global Partners, Inc. and its CEO, Robert W. Singerman. The SEC previously suspended trading temporarily in the securities of Applied BioSciences and Turbo Global.
According to the SEC’s complaint against Applied BioSciences, filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, the company issued a press release on March 31 stating that it had begun offering and shipping supposed finger-prick COVID-19 tests to the general public that could be used for “Homes, Schools, Hospitals, Law Enforcement, Military, Public Servants or anyone wanting immediate and private results.” The complaint alleges that contrary to these claims, the tests were not intended for home use by the general public and could be administered only in consultation with a medical professional. The complaint further alleges that Applied BioSciences had not shipped any COVID-19 tests as of March 31, and its press release failed to disclose that the tests were not authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The SEC’s complaint against Turbo Global and Singerman, filed in federal court in the Middle District of Florida, alleges that the company issued false and misleading press releases on March 30 and April 3 regarding a purported “multi-national public-private-partnership” to sell thermal scanning equipment to detect individuals with fevers. According to the complaint, the company claimed in its press releases that this technology could be instrumental in “breaking the chain of virus transmission through early identification of elevated fever, one of the key early signs of COVID-19.” As alleged, the press releases also included statements, attributed to the CEO of Turbo Global’s supposed corporate partner in the partnership, that the technology “is 99.99% accurate” and was “designed to be deployed IMMEDIATELY in each State.” In fact, the complaint alleges, Turbo Global had no agreement to sell the product, there was no partnership involving any government entities, and the CEO of Turbo Global’s supposed corporate partner did not make or authorize the statements attributed to him. According to the complaint, Singerman drafted the releases, which he knew to be false. The SEC charged Singerman with fraud in 1999 based on his fraudulent sale of securities through a network of boiler rooms, and obtained a permanent injunction against him.
“We are actively monitoring the markets to detect potential fraudsters who seek to use the COVID-19 crisis as a basis for investment scams,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “As alleged in these complaints, Applied BioSciences and Turbo Global sought to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis by misleading investors about their ability to provide solutions.”
“These fraud actions demonstrate the SEC’s vigilance over public companies that make materially misleading claims in press releases,” said Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “We will continue to act swiftly when necessary to protect investors.”
The SEC’s complaint against Applied BioSciences charges the company with violating antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and seeks permanent injunctive relief and civil penalties. The SEC’s complaint against Turbo Global and Singerman charges them with violating antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and seeks permanent injunctive relief and civil penalties, and an officer and director bar against Singerman.
The investigation of Applied BioSciences has been conducted by Kristine Zaleskas, Dugan Bliss, and Thomas P. Smith, Jr., and supervised by Lara S. Mehraban, all of the New York Regional Office. The investigation of Turbo Global and Singerman has been conducted by Robert F. Schroeder, William P. Hicks, and M. Graham Loomis, and supervised by Justin Jeffries, all of the Atlanta Regional Office. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy previously issued an investor alert cautioning investors to be aware of COVID-19 scams.