The Securities and Exchange Commission is accusing Anton & Chia LLP, a Newport Beach accounting firm listed as the 26th biggest in Orange County, with fraudulent auditing of penny stocks.
The accounting firm “ignored numerous indications of fraudulent financial reporting” by three clients, SEC’s Enforcement Division said in a statement. The three firms, which were also charged and all trade for under 25 cents a share, are Premier Holding Corp. of Tustin (OTC: PRHL), Accelera Innovations Inc. of Frankfort, IL., (OTC: ACNV) and CannaVEST Corp., which is currently known as CV Sciences Inc. of Las Vegas (OTC: CVSI).
“Anton & Chia and its accountants left investors with false assurances that financial information for three microcap companies had been properly audited or reviewed,” Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, said in the statement. “They had the opportunity to stop multiple frauds in their tracks but failed to do so.”
Anton & Chia’s co-owners Gregory A. Wahl and Georgia Chung as well as former partner Michael Deutchman and former audit manager Tommy Shek are being charged along with the firm for their roles in the audits, the SEC said.
"We dispute all the claims," Wahl said in an interview. "There are two sides to every story.
"This is a situation of the big bad government picking on small companies."
Anton & Chia partner Richard J. Koch and former partner Rahuldev Gandhi settled SEC charges for their roles in the audits and interim reviews. They each agreed to pay $15,000 penalties and be suspended from appearing and practicing before the SEC as an accountant, which includes not participating in the financial reporting or audits of public companies. Gandhi is permitted to apply for reinstatement after three years and Koch can apply after two years.
The case will be scheduled for a public hearing before an administrative law judge, who will prepare an initial decision stating what, if any, remedial actions are appropriate.
In July, Anton & Chia ranked No. 26 on the Business Journal’s annual list of accounting firms, employing 46 in Orange County, including 15 certified public accountants and seven partners.