I have represented both businesses and individuals before the Maryland Securities Commissioner on both civil and criminal charges stemming from selling unregistered securities. Most are under the impression that these enforcement actions by the Commissioner are civil in nature. Although this is most often the case, a criminal prosecution could result as well.
Selling unregistered securities or acting as an unregistered sales agent in Maryland is potentially punishable both with fines and imprisonment. Such penalties are contained in Title 11, the Maryland Securities Act, in the Corporations and Associations Article of the Maryland Code rather than the Criminal Law Article. Criminal penalties, however, are only likely to be imposed when a person willfully violates a provision of the Maryland Securities Act or an order of the Attorney General Securities Commission. MD. CODE., CORPS. & ASS’NS § 11-705. The statute specifically points out that “a person may not be imprisoned for the violation of any rule or order if the person proves that the person had no knowledge of the rule or order.” MD. CODE., CORPS. & ASS’NS § 11-705(a)(3).
While selling unregistered securities or acting as an unregistered sales agent are acts that could possibly be committed in conjunction with codified crimes such as embezzlement or larceny, there is not a specific statute in the Maryland Criminal Law Article that criminalizes selling unregistered securities or acting as an unregistered sales agent. Nevertheless, the Maryland legislature has enacted the Maryland Securities Act in Title 11 of the Corporations and Associations Article of the Maryland Code. The Division of Securities in the Office of the Attorney General is in charge of administering the Maryland Securities Act and can bring court action against violators of the Act. MD. CODE., CORPS. & ASS’NS § 11-201(a).
The Act states that a person violates the Maryland Securities Act if the person acts as a broker-dealer or agent and transacts business in the State of Maryland without being registered. MD. CODE., CORPS. & ASS’NS § 11-401. After giving notice and conducting a hearing, the Commissioner of the Division of Securities may fine any broker-dealer or agent up to a maximum amount of $5,000 for any single violation of the Maryland Securities Act. MD. CODE., CORPS. & ASS’NS § 11-417.
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