Insights on Deducting “Legitimate Expenses” from Disgorgement Awards
One open question from the Supreme Court’s Liu decision relates to determining “legitimate expenses” that must be deducted from disgorgement awards so the “net profits” can be distributed to victims. At a recent SEC Speaks conference, Enforcement Division Chief Counsel Joseph Brenner and Chief Litigation Counsel Bridget Fitzpatrick provided insight for those trying to understand what might constitute “legitimate expenses” in context of a disgorgement award. A McGuireWoods memo summarizes remarks from the conference, including these relating to determining legitimate expenses:
Chief Counsel Brenner noted that the Enforcement Division would be on the lookout for “expenses” that in its view were just wrongful gains under another name, such as expenses that furthered the scheme, or deductions for the defendant’s personal services to the fraudulent enterprise. If defense counsel believe there are legitimate expenses that should be deducted from a potential disgorgement amount, Chief Counsel Brenner recommended counsel to consider the following questions:
1. What makes the expense legitimate within Liu’s framework — in particular, did the expense provide actual value to investors, was the expense consistent with how investors understood their money would be used, or is the expense really just disguised profits?
2. If the expenses are legitimate, how closely were those expenses tied to the unlawful profits? Thus, the Enforcement Division may not view all “legitimate” expenses as deductible if they were in furtherance of the violation.
3. What is the right amount of the offset?
With respect to the third point, Chief Counsel Brenner stated that, in the Enforcement Division’s view, counsel must come prepared to demonstrate both the entitlement to a deduction for a legitimate expense and its amount. Based on practical experience gained since Liu, the Staff stated that counsel can make a more persuasive case for a reduction from the full amount of disgorgement by doing the work up front to support both the basis for the deductible legitimate expense and, critically, its amount. In the Staff’s view, it is not sufficient for counsel to claim it is too difficult or resource-intensive to quantify the expense, or to claim that the analysis supporting a request was work product that the Staff could not review.
-Lynn Jokela, TheCorporateCounsel.net October 27, 2020
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