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SEC levies record $4.7 billion in fines in fiscal 2020

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission logo adorns an office door at the SEC headquarters in Washington, June 24, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission collected a record $4.7 billion in fines in fiscal 2020, buoyed by several large settlements even as agents were forced to work remotely for a large part of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SEC reported Monday that it assessed $1 billion in penalties and ordered $3.6 billion in ill-gotten funds disgorged across 715 separate cases.

While the caseload is the lowest in four years as agents faced “unprecedented challenges,” the total fine amount was a record for the SEC.

“Since mid-March, the entire [enforcement] division has been working from home, which has created unique impediments to several important aspects of our work, such as taking testimony from live witnesses, gathering evidence, and litigating our cases in court. Nevertheless, the division found ways to recommend meaningful cases to the Commission,” the agency said in its report.

A handful of sizeable cases drove the bulk of the agency’s collections, including when it ordered Telegram Group Inc to return $1.2 billion to investors and pay an $18.5 million penalty to resolve charges that it offered an unregistered digital token coin offering - the company neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s claims.

Other hefty fines include a $500 million penalty against Wells Fargo as part of a joint Justice Department investigation into its sales practices, and a $45 million penalty against Bausch Health, formerly Valeant Pharmaceuticals, for misleading disclosures.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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