The Securities and Exchange Commission has suspended over-the-counter trading in a Denver oil firm and charged that a Colorado investment firm essentially cornered the market in the oil company's stock and artificially bid up the price of the stock.
Having manipulated the price of the stock and generated interest in it because of active trading, the brokerage firm then sat back to wait for other brokers with orders to fill to buy from them at the high price they had engineered, according to the complaint.
The SEC announced Monday its 10-day suspension of trading in the stock of Chipola Oil Corp. Chipola is a small energy firm generally considered to be a speculative investment. The suspension followed the entry of a court order based on a stipulation by both parties in U.S. District Court in Denver barring the securities firm Investment Bankers Inc. of Denver from doing any securities business pending a hearing. A motion by the SEC to appoint a receiver to take over the affairs of IBI was not acted upon by the court.
Announcing the suspension, the SEC said that Chipola's stock is unavailable to complete and settle transactions. The suspension followed immediately another 10-day hiatus in trading in the stock because of concern about trading activities, the recent increase in the price of the stock and other problems.
According to the SEC's complaint, IBI controls or owns almost all of the outstanding Chipola stock. IBI was the lead underwriter for a public offering of 20 million shares of Chipola stock at 10 cents a share completed May 8, 1981.
Subsequently, IBI and its officers kept effective control of the stock and its price, causing the price to be constantly raised with IBI the consistent high bidder. IBI also gained control of some 19.5 million shares. At one point, according to the complaint, IBI and two of its officers caused total volume in trading on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations to reach more than 7 million shares and caused the bid price to close at $1 a share in order to qualify Chipola for the Wall Street Journal's 10-most-active-stocks list.
What IBI did not disclose, according to the complaint, is that Chipola stock's market price was "dominated and controlled and artificially inflated" by IBI and that there was no bonafide independent competitive market for the stock.
The SEC charged that IBI violated antifraud provisions of federal securities laws that require the firm to maintain a certain amount of liquid assets (based on the SEC's own estimate that 19 cents a share is a valid price for the Chipola stock that constitutes one of the firm's major assets) and other consumer protection rules. As a result of its conduct, IBI is insolvent and unable to pay its bills and owes public investors some $5.6 million, the complaint said.