The Securities and Exchange Commission charged yesterday that the Penny Stock Newsletter of Columbia, Md., and its chairman, Jerome M. Wenger, defrauded subscribers by failing to disclose Wenger's financial interests in certain companies promoted in favorable stories.
Wenger agreed to a consent order barring him from associating with any regulated entity, including his own newsletter, for 30 days. In signing the consent order, Wenger neither admitted nor denied the SEC's charges that he violated conflict-of-interest and other securities rules.
Wenger was unavailable for comment, but his attorney, David Scher, said his client had consented to avoid the cost of protracted litigation. The SEC's case is another in a series of actions taken recently against publications that offer stock recommendations to the public.
Penny Stock News carried information about stocks selling for under $5 per share. Wenger, who owns 79 percent of the company, does not write articles but personally directed one of the authors to write a favorable article, according to the SEC.
According to the complaint, on four occasions between 1981 and 1983, Wenger bought securities shortly before they were recommended in Penny Stock. Two of his friends also did so eight times. Penny Stock states in its masthead that Wenger and his family "will not buy or sell securities for his account or his family's account 30 days prior to or following a recommendation."
In the summer of 1983, Penny Stock Newsletter received $20,000 in installments before and after a favorable article about a British company whose stock is traded in this country from a substantial shareholder in the stock of that company, according to the SEC. The fee was described as a pre-payment for advertising, but no ads ever appeared, the agency said.
The SEC also said Penny Stock Newsletter received a loan of $30,000 from a consultant associated with a shareholder in a Belgian firm and subsequently published a favorable article about the company. Moreover, Wenger allowed the consultant to write a front-page article about the firm without disclosing his interest, the SEC said.