US Court Forces SEC to Foot Debt Box’s Legal Bill; Agency Seeks $158M Additional Funding

March 19, 2024

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now under fire as a federal judge has mandated the agency to cover legal expenses for DEBT Box. This ruling follows the SEC’s recent request to Congress for a $158 million extra funding, citing evolving market dynamics, notably in the cryptocurrency sphere, which it described as the “Wild West.”

Last year, the watchdog initiated legal action against DEBT Box, a Utah-based cryptocurrency firm, accusing it of fraudulent activities. This led to the imposition of a temporary asset freeze and a restraining order against the company. 

The SEC alleged that DEBT Box misrepresented its operations to customers, claiming to sell licenses for cryptocurrency mining while generating tokens through code. In response, DEBT Box sought to dissolve the temporary restraining order, contending that the SEC had misled the court regarding the company’s fund movements and bank account closures.

Chief Judge Robert Shelby of the U.S. District Court in Utah issued a scathing rebuke Monday, accusing the SEC’s attorneys of deliberate deception. He asserted that the attorneys misled the court during the application for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against DEBT Box and continued to do so during subsequent proceedings when DEBT Box sought to dissolve the order. Notably, Judge Shelby clarified that his ruling focused solely on the TRO matter, distinct from the underlying case.

“The SEC’s conduct constitutes a gross abuse of the power entrusted to it by Congress and substantially undermined the integrity of these proceedings and the judicial process,” the judge said. “Each piece of support the Commission offered in seeking the TRO – and then later reiterated in defending the TRO – proved to be some combination of false, mischaracterized, and misleading,” the court order stated. 

“Further, the Commission not only repeated and affirmed its misrepresentations in the face of contrary evidence, it presented new falsehoods to the court to subtly shift from its previous misrepresentations without acknowledging its previous errors.” The judge mandated that the SEC cover Debt Box’s attorneys’ fees and all costs incurred due to the SEC’s misconduct.

Prior to the judge’s decision, the SEC outlined its financial requirements in a comprehensive 148-page Congressional Budget Justification dated March 11. The agency proposed a budget of $2.594 billion for fiscal year 2025, representing an increase of over 6% compared to the $2.436 billion requested for 2024.

“Technology is rapidly transforming our markets and business models,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in the document. “There has been a dynamic change in communications to and among investors, from Reddit forums to celebrity influencers. Further, we’ve seen the Wild West of the crypto markets, rife with noncompliance, where investors have put hard-earned assets at risk in a highly speculative asset class.”

Gensler emphasized that these changes create greater potential for misconduct, asserting that the SEC, in its role as the cop on the beat, must effectively counteract bad actors. The agency specified that the extra funds would facilitate an increase in staffing across its divisions, with a target of 5,621 positions for 2025, compared to the previous year’s goal of 5,473 positions.

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