Chicago man fined $600,000 for margin call avoidance scheme

Court permanently bars Whitney from commodities industry

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) obtained a federal court consent order of permanent injunction requiring defendant, Kent R.E. Whitney (Whitney), a former floor broker of Chicago, Ill., to pay a $600,000 civil monetary penalty for making false and misleading statements to Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) representatives, futures commission merchants (FCMs), and others in connection with an elaborate scheme to trade options without posting the required margin (see CFTC Press Release 5952-10, December 10, 2010). 

The consent order, entered May 22, 2012, by Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, also imposes permanent trading and registration bans against Whitney and permanently prohibits him from further violations of the Commodity Exchange Act and CFTC regulations, as charged. 

The order finds that on several occasions between May 2008 and April 2010, Whitney engaged in a fraudulent scheme to avoid substantial margin calls when placing orders for commodity options traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and the CME.  Specifically, the order finds that Whitney perpetrated a margin avoidance scheme with out-of-the-money options (options with no intrinsic value) by knowingly making false and misleading statements to a representative of the CME, representatives of FCMs, and others.

As part of the scheme, as described in the consent order, one or two business days before expiration of the front month options, Whitney placed to the NYMEX and CME trading floors orders to sell a large volume of front month out-of-the-money options.  According to the consent order, at the time Whitney placed the options orders, he knowingly provided clearing firms with invalid account numbers for the trade allocations.  In doing so, the order finds, Whitney implicitly represented that the accounts were open and held sufficient margin to cover the trades and/or deceptively failed to disclose that the accounts were, in fact, closed and thus held no funds for margin.

The order finds that because the account numbers Whitney provided were invalid or closed, the clearing firms that received the initial allocations rejected the trades and returned the trades to the clearing firms of the executing floor brokers.  The next business day, Whitney provided valid account numbers to clear the trades, the order further finds.  By this process, Whitney shifted the overnight margin risk to the clearing firms of the executing brokers, thus avoiding the posting of margin, according to the order.

As the next business day was usually the expiration day of the front month options contract, when the clearing firm Whitney used did not require margin calls, neither Whitney nor the accounts he used received any margin calls and the out-of-the-money options usually expired worthless, the order finds.  The order concludes that through this scheme, Whitney avoided posting over $96 million in margin calls, and the accounts Whitney traded then collected the premiums.

The CFTC acknowledges and thanks CME for its assistance in this matter. 

CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this matter are Michael R. Berlowitz, W. Derek Shakabpa, David Acevedo, Michael Geiser, Judith M. Slowly, Trevor Kokal, Lenel Hickson Jr., Stephen J. Obie, and Vincent McGonagle.

Comments
comments powered by Disqus