United States: The SEC's Authority To Enforce The Bank Secrecy Act Is Challenged

In the past few years, the SEC has become increasingly active in bringing enforcement actions based on broker-dealers' alleged failures to comply with requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), in particular that requirement that they file "Suspicious Activity Reports," or "SARs." The SEC's authority to bring such actions, however, has never been established by statute or appellate authority, and is being challenged in a petition for a writ of mandamus currently pending in the Second Circuit. Though the procedural posture of that case makes it an unlikely vehicle for resolving the question, the issue it raises is likely to recur so long as the SEC continues to bring such enforcement actions despite its lack of any clear authority to do so. Practitioners should be aware of this open issue so that it can be properly raised and preserved in BSA enforcement actions brought by the SEC.

The SEC's Lack of Civil Penalty Authority under the BSA

The Bank Secrecy Act, enacted in 1970 to combat money-laundering, gives general examination and enforcement authority to the Secretary of the Treasury. The Treasury Secretary is also authorized to "delegate duties and powers ... to an appropriate supervising agency." 31 U.S.C. § 5318. By regulation, Treasury has delegated "[a]uthority to examine institutions to determine compliance with the requirements of" the BSA to various other agencies. 31 C.F.R. § 1010.810(b). With respect to securities broker-dealers, such "authority to examine" has been delegated to the SEC. 31 C.F.R. § 1010.810(b)(6). However, Treasury has kept "[a]uthority for the imposition of civil penalties" with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, which is a bureau of Treasury. 31 C.F.R. § 1010.810(d).

Despite its lack of delegated authority, for more than a decade the SEC has initiated civil enforcement actions based on alleged failure of securities broker-dealers to comply with BSA requirements. In recent years, these enforcement actions have become more frequent, and have also changed in nature. Earlier enforcement actions typically focused on the requirement that broker-dealers establish and comply with a written Customer Identification Program. And in those cases where the SEC based its enforcement action on the requirement that broker-dealers file SARs, it was generally in circumstances where the broker-dealer in question failed to file any SARs at all for a protracted period. More recent enforcement actions, however, have challenged the adequacy of SARs that broker-dealers actually did file.

In these proceedings, the SEC has based its asserted enforcement authority under the BSA on Exchange Act Section 17(a), which allows the SEC to require that broker-dealers "make and keep for prescribed periods such records" that the Commission requires. Under that provision, the SEC promulgated Exchange Act Rule 17a-8—17 C.F.R. § 240.17a-8—which cross-references the regulations promulgated by the Treasury Department under the BSA and requires that securities broker-dealers comply with them. In effect, then, the SEC has invoked its books-and-records authority as a means to assert for itself authority to enforce the requirements of the BSA.

The Pending SEC v. Alpine Securities Corp. Litigation

Although the SEC has been bringing enforcement actions based on securities broker-dealers' alleged failures to comply with BSA requirements for more than a decade, its authority to do so was not challenged until recently. The SEC brought a BSA enforcement action against Alpine Securities Corp. in the summer of 2017 in the Southern District of New York. That suit is representative of the SEC's more recent BSA enforcement actions. According to the SEC's allegations, Alpine did have a BSA compliance program, and did file thousands of SARs. The SEC, however, alleges that the SARs that Alpine filed were inadequate in various ways. And as in other BSA enforcement actions brought by the SEC, the agency alleged that these inadequate SARs violated Section 17(a) of the Exchange Act and Rule 17a-8.

In early 2018, Alpine moved for summary judgment, arguing that the SEC lacks authority to bring enforcement actions seeking civil penalties for alleged violations of the Bank Secrecy Act. Alpine argued that the BSA expressly delegates authority to bring civil enforcement actions to the Treasury Secretary, and that the Treasury Secretary—while delegating authority to examine various institutions for BSA compliance to various other agencies—retained enforcement authority for itself. Alpine contended that the SEC's interpretation of the "books and record" provision as giving it the power to bring its own BSA enforcement actions was contrary to Congressional command, and that the SEC was improperly attempting to "bootstrap" itself into an area where it lacked jurisdiction.

The district court judge—Judge Denise Cote—denied Alpine's motion. First, the court concluded that Alpine was wrong to characterize the SEC's suit as seeking to enforce the BSA, because the SEC in fact brought the suit under Section 17(a) and Rule 17a-8. Second, the court rejected Alpine's challenge to the SEC's interpretation of Section 17(a) of the Exchange Act. Applying the two-step framework from Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), the court concluded that Rule 17a-8, which requires compliance with certain BSA regulations, is a reasonable interpretation of Exchange Act Section 17(a). The court further observed that "neither the Exchange Act nor the BSA expressly precludes joint regulatory authority by FinCEN and the SEC over the reporting of potentially suspicious transactions."

Alpine moved for reconsideration of the court's order or, in the alternative, for certification of an interlocutory appeal. The court denied both motions. On June 22, 2018, Alpine filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Second Circuit, again arguing that the BSA expressly delegates enforcement authority to Treasury, and such authority cannot be usurped by the SEC. On July 9, the SEC filed an opposition to the mandamus petition.

Implications for White-Collar and Securities Practitioners

In light of the high bar for obtaining a writ of mandamus, the chances that the Second Circuit will grant the relief Alpine requests are likely low. The reasoning and conclusion of the district court's decision, however, are vulnerable to attack. The district court focused its analysis almost exclusively on Exchange Act Section 17(a) and Rule 17a-8, and rejected Alpine's challenge based on its determination that the SEC clearly has authority to impose record-keeping and production requirements on broker-dealers. In FDA v. Brown & Williamson, however, the Supreme Court emphasized that, "[i]n determining whether Congress has specifically addressed the question at issue, a reviewing court should not confine itself to examining a particular statutory provision in isolation." 529 U.S. 120, 132 (2000). Rather, courts must "interpret the statute as a symmetrical and coherent regulatory scheme," and must also take into account how one statute "may be affected by other Acts." Id. at 133 (internal citations omitted). Similarly, the Second Circuit has held that where an Act of Congress "specifically and unambiguously targets" a particular issue and "unambiguously" gives enforcement authority to a particular agency, another agency's "assertion of concurrent jurisdiction rings a discordant tone with the regulatory structure created by Congress." Nutritional Health All. v. FDA, 318 F.3d 92, 104 (2d Cir. 2003).

As long as the SEC continues to bring BSA enforcement actions, it appears inevitable that at some point a court of appeals will be called upon to determine whether the SEC does, in fact, have such enforcement authority. White-collar and securities practitioners defending broker-dealers in SEC enforcement actions based on the alleged failure to file SARs or comply with other requirements of the BSA should raise the issue during the investigation process and again during court proceedings to ensure that it is preserved, and ask the court to certify the question for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b) if the court determines that the SEC does have such authority. Although the district judge in the Alpine Securities case refused to certify an interlocutory appeal, in light of the dearth of appellate case law on the issue and the fundamental nature of the challenge, other district judges may be willing to certify.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
26 Sep 2018, Seminar, Tokyo, Japan

Orrick’s Global Japan Practice is hosting a series of “Orrick Library” seminars to explore legal issues in various fields in Japan as well as the United States, Asia and Europe

26 Sep 2018, Conference, New York, United States

Employment Partner, Mandy Perry and Chair of Orrick's Global Employment Law Practice, Mike Delikat will be participating in the Global Business Protections 2018: International Restrictive Covenants and Confidential Information Conference.

10 Oct 2018, Conference, Florida, United States
Julie Totten is Program Chair of this year’s conference, Lynne Hermle is speaking on women in the courtroom, boardroom, and c-suite, and Erin Connell is speaking on pay equity and pay transparency.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions