Montreal man fined $11.2M, to serve jail time for market manipulation scheme

Quebec's securities regulator says Jean-François Amyot was involved in fraudulent penny stock practices it refers to as a "pump and dump" scheme.

Jean-François Amyot was also fined millions in the U.S. 2 years ago for similar scheme

Quebec’s securities regulator has fined five people and two companies more than $18 million for 'market manipulation.' (CanStock)

Quebec's securities regulator has fined a Montreal man $11.2 million and sentenced him to a three-month jail term for fraudulent penny stock practices it refers to as a "pump and dump" scheme.

Jean-François Amyot is one of five people and two companies that pleaded guilty to charges laid against them almost three years ago during a trial earlier this year.

They were accused of market manipulation involving five companies whose value L'Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF) says was falsely portrayed, tricking people into buying their stocks.

Amyot, Francis Mailhot, Daniel Ryan, Andrew Barakett, Eric Boyd, Conseils Hilbroy and IAB Média, companies both controlled by Amyot, were fined a total of $18.2 million. Amyot was sentenced to a three-month intermittent jail term and is the only person who will serve time for the scheme.

"The manipulation of securities on the markets is a very serious offence that deserves appropriate sanctions," AMF president Louis Morisset said in a statement.

"The convictions obtained in this case are the culmination of lengthy investigative procedures and the sustained work of our teams of investigators and prosecutors."

Pump and dump schemes involve promoters drawing attention to a stock, which inflates the stock volume and price. But investors don't know those promoters own a large number of the shares.

Once the stock price peaks, the promoters sell their shares, depressing the price and leaving investors with shares that are nearly worthless.

This is not the first time Amyot has had to pay up for a similar kind of scheme.

Fined in the U.S. two years ago

In October 2015, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered Amyot to more than $7 million in fines, calling him a "Canadian Pump-And-Dump Operator."

Hilbroy, IAB Média and Spencer Pharmaceutical Inc. were also involved in the U.S. accusations.

"According to the complaint, Amyot worked with the three companies ... to create and disseminate false and misleading press releases and to otherwise promote Spencer's stock, including via websites and newsletters," the SEC wrote. 

A series of those newsletters claimed Spencer had received an unsolicited buyout offer that turned out to be fake, it said.

The campaign "pumped up the price of Spencer's stock — at one point causing the price to more than double in two days — and consequently enabled Amyot to dump tens of millions of shares into the market at artificially inflated prices for gross proceeds in excess of $5 million."

Then, the SEC said, Amyot and the CEO of Spencer transferred millions of shares in an effort to evade registering them. It also fined Amyot $5,425 for not showing up for his trial.

In 2015 Journal de Montréal profile, Amyot said he'd moved to the Bahamas for a period of time in 2012 after receiving threats from organized crime members. He said he also had financial dealings there and intended to return. 

The article compared him to Jordan Belfort, the former stockbroker convicted of stock market manipulation portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street.

"My 2006 tax report showed $16 million," he told the Journal. "I must have made $100 million within 10 years."

And while he acknowledged his business dealings haven't been completely honest, he claimed they were not illegal. 

The newspaper reported most of the penny stocks Amyot sold have disappeared.